A lot of folks have asked me if we homeschool throughout the year, or if we take off the summer months. That’s always a relatively difficult question, because we are pretty fluid with our definition of “school.” We do put aside the more traditional curricula choices such as history and science (though we still watch fun videos on both topics), but we retain most everything else. I ask the kids to work on math for about a half hour each day to prevent summer slide. Although they get a little grumpy about that, they embrace everything else without much nudging from me.
So what is “everything else?” It is all the things that the kids want to study. They read like fiends, and my biggest job is to keep fresh and interesting material close at hand. They play with legos. They paint and write and start small businesses. They form bands and practice music. Ian wrote something on the order of 15 songs this summer and completed an arrangement of John Coltraine’s “Bessie’s Blues” that he’s been working on for more than a year. The University of Mary Jazz Band will be performing it this fall, and we can’t wait.
Music instruction for a lot of people means signing their kid up for band. Some, especially pianists and violinists, will go the extra step and find a private instructor. But music can be so much more than that. To begin with, private instruction can be extremely beneficial for every instrument, whether your child plays the bassoon or the flute. But as Ian tells kids at Career Day, there is a world of opportunity beyond these two outlets.
Music is such a wide open field. There’s performance using sheet music, and there’s improvisation. You can work as a soloist, in a duo, trio, 5-piece, or huge concert band. So many styles too – jazz, rock, latin, classical, and dozens more; Ian encourages kids not to just settle for one, but to branch out and experience all they can. Some of the best music is written to blur the boundaries, combining middle eastern music with celtic, or classical with rock, etc. And then of course there is the world of arranging and composing and theory. Studying music at any of these levels takes the child so far beyond the traditional concert band experience.
Finding excellent music teachers, whether they are band directors, private teachers, or youtube or dvd instructors is key to this kind of deep exploration. All of Ian’s teachers regularly point him to great percussionists and composers so that he can study and practice their different styles. This summer we happened to be in Minneapolis at the same time as the great jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb. The last surviving player on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album, Cobb has played with just about everybody over the years, including Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Sonny Stitt, and of course all the amazing musicians in the Miles Davis band.
We discovered that Cobb provides private lessons, and a phone call later, Ian was signed up for a half-hour session. It was a wonderful experience, and just a like a great teacher should, Cobb rattled off a list of other musicians that Ian should watch out for and study. His list included those wonderful peers of Cobb’s who are now passed on, but also several up and coming musicians of the younger generation. I was struck once again how important the music community is to the development of each individual musician.
The other big thing we did this summer in music was to put Ian in a studio so that he could record one of the songs he had written. The two-man team (Kevin Smith at Six Plus 1 Studios and Gavin Smith of BGS Productions) put together a beautiful live recording and a studio video, both of which will be released in the coming weeks. Ian really enjoyed the experience and noted how difficult it is to get a song perfect from beginning to end, especially when you have a team of people who are waiting for you to get it right. Such lovely folks, though. They both worked to put Ian at ease.
I believe these kinds of experiences are possible both at home and in the school system. Collaboration with local musicians, teachers and studios is just a phone call away. Schools can also host “battles of the bands,” encouraging kids to form new combinations and explore improv and songwriting together. One of the greatest opportunities for Ian in the middle school jazz band was the University of Mary Jazz Festival: two full days of performance and workshops with brilliant faculty and musicians from around the country.
So what about you? How do you and your child approach music?