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Julie Meets Hubris

My breath quickened and I wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt. I glanced for the millionth time at the order of service. Two more songs, a prayer, and then it was my turn to ascend the stage.

I was 13 years old when I sang my first real solo at my family’s little church on a Sunday morning. Singing a solo during the church service on a Sunday morning was a huge deal-primarily reserved for the musical elite-seasoned, heavy hitters who knew how to pick the right hymns, make confident eye-contact with the congregation and deliver their memorized music with grace and poise. I had put in my time singing in duets, trios and choir ensembles at the Sunday evening services. “Special Music” as it was called, on Sunday nights was dedicated to amateurs; kids and teens trying out the instruments they were learning and vocalists who struggled with pitch.

Ever since I had discovered I could carry a tune and liked being in front of people, my musical aspirations were laser focused on the highest musical level a girl my age could go at church, the envied position of the vocal solo during a Sunday morning service. Thankfully, I was well connected. My family were regular and loyal attenders and my mom had been a leader in nearly every ministry area. When I finally saw my name listed alone on the monthly Special Music schedule, I was ecstatic. I felt a strong sense of pride that the music director had finally noticed my talent and that I was the first of my circle of friends to have achieved such an honor. The week before I was to make my debut, I selected a somewhat challenging song and ran through it once with the church pianist, confident that my natural musical ability would carry me through in the moment.

The morning of my solo arrived and I climbed the steps of the stage, wobbling in oversized high heels that I’d worn only for this special occasion. Standing behind the microphone and looking out into the faces of the congregation staring back at me, I suddenly felt very out of my league. The pianist played my introduction and missing my cue, I began to sing, skipping the first part of the song. The pianist struggled to follow as I jumped around in the music, squeaked through the high notes and skipped verses. I suddenly wished I knew the song better. It was a disaster and even as I watched the music leader’s face as I croaked and cracked my way through it I knew there wouldn’t be another invitation to this sacred setting until I’d put my time in again and proved I was prepared.

Starting With the Right Tools

The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools. ~Confucius

Desire. Motivation. These are excellent and necessary traits to become successful. But more importantly…you need the right tools. A year or so after the Sunday morning service debacle, my parents enrolled me in voice lessons. It was then that my voice teacher taught me how to pick a song that was suited for my range, sing without running out of breath, practice my music and given the techniques and confidence to sing in front of a crowd. As a voice and piano teacher now, one of my primary goals is to provide my students with the necessary tools to learn and create music.

Talent vs Education

Education in music is most sovereign because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the innermost soul and take strongest hold upon it. ~Plato

While I highly value and appreciate raw music talent, the effects of music education are so far-reaching it’s impossible to deny its positive benefits. A couple of years ago, a study by Northwestern University’s professor Nina Kraus found that children who studied an instrument had stronger language and sound development skills than their peers. After studying a group of students in an after-school music program, Kraus noted that “even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement — attendance and class participation — predicted the strength of neural processing after music training." Basically, it’s not enough to just listen to or be exposed to music. Neurological growth occurs in the active participation and discipline of consistent music lessons. Similar studies have been found for adults who participate in music lessons.

Where to Begin

A goal is a dream with a deadline. ~Napoleon Hill

The beauty of private music lessons is that I’m able to assess each student’s learning process so when I’m providing the right “tools”, I’m really creating processes for them to discover how they learn and retain information. For a brand new piano student, sitting and looking at a full keyboard for the first time can be intimidating. But when I can help the student look at a keyboard in a new way-a way that makes sense to them, they can then use that same mental process to break down new concepts, musical or otherwise.

What is your musical goal? Is it to sing a solo at your church service? Be able to sit down at the piano after a long day and play a beautiful piece of music? If it’s for your children, you’ll never regret the values, neurological growth and discipline they’ll glean from a music education.

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