Thinking About Thinking

Don’t Teach Kids To Play Music, Teach Them To Love Music

Posted in Philosophy, Pop Culture by larrycheng on July 29, 2009

My favorite part of the TEDx Boston event yesterday was the themelet on music.  There were three musical performances all involving the younger generation topped off by the Youth Orchestra of the Americas (YOA) led by Benjamin Zander.  I don’t think it’s humanly possible to love classical music more than Benjamin Zander – he’s infectious.

Benjamin Zander’s presentation of music made me think about my own personal musical journey.  As a child, music came quite easily for me – both the piano and the violin.  Once my parents saw that I had some proficiency in music, they sacrificed a lot of time and money to get me great teaching and equipment.  I practiced a fair amount and learned to play a number of the great works by Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, etc.  And, at a young age, I even started competing.  Despite my improving capabilities, there was one major flaw in the whole program.  I never really fell in love with music – and that would ultimately be the limiting factor. 

There was a brief moment in my short music career where I could have really fallen for music.  For a few weeks, I got to take a break from classical music and had the chance to try my hand at jazz piano.  What’s unique about jazz is in its truest form, it’s about improvisation.  You don’t play jazz off of sheet music – it comes from within yourself.  I learned that for me, playing the notes on a page of sheet music was not playing music at all.  Ironically, it wasn’t until I threw away the notes, that I really started to feel like I was playing music.  Playing other people’s music was all well and good, but I had the best time making my own.  I always wondered if my brief flirtation with jazz had lasted longer, if I would have ultimately come to love music. 

I have always carried a broader lesson with me from this experience: it’s one thing to be good at something – it’s entirely another thing to be good at something and to also love it.  Anyone know a good jazz teacher?