I follow a number of blogs about music — one of my favorite is “The Bulletproof Musician” written by Dr. Noa Kageyama at the Juilliard School, on overcoming stage fright, practicing, and other articles about performance anxiety. Dr Kageyama started the violin while a toddler and performed with Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, the famous violin teacher. Read Kageyama’s fascinating story here on how he became a sports psychologist.
But I also am intensely interested in the blog of Heidi Bender, an adult beginner to organ playing. She has been taking lessons for six years now, and her dream is to become a church organist, while concurrently holding down a full-time job as a data manager. She says the question she is asked most often is why she decided to become a church organist, and she usually answers “My church didn’t have an organist and I thought I could fill that role! Or, I always wanted to try it.”
Today’s blog was titled “August 2015 Lesson—When it feels like you are never going to get it,” and it seems Heidi is frustrated because she went to her lesson thinking she could mark her assignments “finished.” However, four of her six pieces she was asked to bring again to the next lesson for further work.
“I sat on the organ bench hearing again that the tempo isn’t quite right. And syncopation continues to be my nemesis. Lesson after lesson, the same issues are repeated. I sometimes feel like I am never going to get it!
The fugue from Prelude and Fugue in F Major (BWV 556) has now been on my assignment list for 2 years! For at least the last 6 months, Michael has said “I’m going to need to hear at one more lesson”.
I wanted to cry. But didn’t. How could this be happening again after I felt so confident before my lesson?”
Now I have to confess that I have never met Heidi, nor do I know her background. Has she ever taken music lessons before? Did she ever play the piano (not that I think mastering the piano is a pre-requisite for studying the organ). From her blog I gleaned that she practices 2-3 hours a week and has lessons once a month.
I have taught a number of adult beginners, and their pace of learning varies widely. My newest student is Scott Fikse, the new choir director at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu. In my opinion, he is taking to the organ like a duck takes to water! Others, though, have struggled and I always tell them they have to be patient with themselves, because it will take time and persistence. It also will help greatly if children and adults can practice daily . . . I tell my young students that they need to practice every day, just like they brush their teeth or take a bath … (and then I found out not all of them take a bath every day!) And it needs to be the right kind of practice — perfectly — no use practicing mistakes!
But I know that some people have equated learning a musical instrument with learning a foreign language — it’s a lot easier to do when you are a child! Consider the “mother tongue” method by Shinichi Suzuki, who developed his ideas through a strong belief in the ideas of “Talent Education”, a philosophy of instruction that is based on the premise that talent, musical or otherwise, is something that can be developed in any child. (Wikipedia) The story is that when Suzuki visited Germany, he was so amazed that the children there spoke German, a very complicated and difficult language in his opinion. He then realized the implications of the fact that children the world over learn to speak their native language with ease. He began to apply the basic principles of language acquisition to the learning of music, and called his method the mother-tongue approach. Through listening and constant repetition, children can master musical instruments, just as they master their native tongue.
I like to tell the story of the late Eloise Hayes, who came to study with me after taking early retirement from the University of Hawaii. She had taken piano lessons since she was a child, but when retirement had given her time on her hands, she decided to play the organ. Oh, and how she struggled! She had the additional disadvantages of trembling hands (although I do not think she had Parkinson’s) and two hip replacements, but she persisted. I would say that it was only after ten or more years of organ study (and when she had reached her eighties!) that we finally had a break-through. At last she had overcome the technical challenges and was able to express music and sensitivity on the organ. It had taken a long time . . . but she was victorious in the end.
Keep at it, Heidi!