Teaching a Young Child

Before I start, I wanted to give Christopher Stark a hearty congratulations for receiving the 2010 Underwood Commission from the American Composers Orchestra. We composers in Cincinnati are especially ecstatic for Chris's accomplishment, probably because he went here! And, we did recently hear a performance of Ignatian Exercises for chamber orchestra, performed by the CCM Chamber Players.


Before I went away for a bit, I was asked if I would be interested in teaching a nine-year-old how to "create things on the piano." I completely forgot about this proposition until a couple of days ago when I received a reminder email asking if I was still interested. Of course I was; I still am. And my silly thoughts of "What do I post on my blog? My composer life (and real life) is completely dull right now and I'm out of recordings to post, unlike the rest of my composer friends," turned into thoughts of "I have to teach this child something."

These meetings will not exactly be composition lessons. From what I understand, this child is a bit creative and has an ear for music; this person has been making up songs on the piano. The parents tried formal lessons a few years ago, but this didn't work at the time. Of course, the child has been learning the recorder in school and now wants to pick up an instrument in the school's band.

It sounds like the child is ready to begin learning an instrument and start these "creative meetings," especially because this person has the curiosity needed to begin musical learning. When I used to work at a Waldorf school in Vermont, I noticed third graders (I'm guessing the same age of this child) would begin their official musical training (a string instrument at this particular school) after learning how to play the soprano recorder. These children were also sung to constantly, I mean, they take attendance by singing to them in perfect fifths (or descending minor thirds? I forget).

Anyway, I realized that I need to see the point of these meetings. Do I want to teach this child proper musical skills and work on this person's ear (yes), or do I want to instil something bigger? What is the point of creative lessons at this young age?

From my understanding, Waldorf music education aims to produce active intuitive listeners, something we composers hope to encounter. It is not my job to quash the child's sense of adventure; rather, I hope I nurture this child's imagination.

So, what do I do during this 30-minute time period tomorrow? I will let you know how it goes.