“Encouragement to Fail,” my last theme, is the first step toward happily inviting our musical promise to step out into the world. It’s a good start, but we need more. It is our failure as a culture to encourage our musicianship that has caused so much damage—and renewed time and again my determination to turn things around. People whose musical promise has been left to go to seed or been aggressively trampled by terrible music teachers or been funneled into the narrow band of consuming pop music are not in danger of being homicidal or psychologically damaged beyond repair. But I do believe that they feel less then they could or should be, deprived of a language they need to speak the parts that words cannot. And the times demand of us— and perhaps have always demanded of us— that we meet the challenges ahead with the full measure of our human inheritance, that we claim our birthrights and step towards that feeling of connection and belonging and beauty that arts can offer. Happy people are less and less a luxury and more and more a necessity and where music brings happiness, let it resound!
But it’s how we encourage musical potential that needs attention. All most people can think of is more private piano lessons and helicoptering parents making sure the kiddies dutifully finish with their scales. But if we finally treat music as a language, the language of the heart with its own lexicon of verbs and nouns and adjectives and grammatical syntax and dialects and slang, then the necessary step is obvious: immerse children in a music-rich environment that they will absorb in nature’s way—ie, the same we they learned to speak and understand their mother tongue. And not just with recordings— can you imagine a kid learning to speak by playing those Berlitz tapes? Singing every day with kids, dancing, drumming, jamming on pentatonic xylophones or the black keys of the piano, putting kids under the grand piano to read or draw or daydream while you play some rollicking Bach or blues. The lessons and classes and formal aspects of music study can come later or side-by-side, but first comes conversation with musical adults.
Ah, but there’s the rub. If the musical adults were once children whose musicality was left untouched, then there’s no model for the kids. Do you see how bad ideas get rolling and replicate and cause problems generations down the line? The model for the kind of musical environment I’m describing above are places like Bali or Ghana or Bulgaria or Ireland or Appalachia a few generations back, all places where an unmusical adult was—and still is— a weird notion and a rare occurrence. “Music education” in these places means something quite different and proceeds from a remarkable foundation of musicianship already in place.
People, we have a lot of work to do. And that’s good news for me. I’m here to remediate untapped potential. As Tom Robbins said, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”
For a modest fee, of course.