Cello Practice – Tears and Farts

We are so lucky to have an amazing music program here in Historic Northeast Kansas City. I want to say that first because, in the end, that is the most important part of this little homeschool story.

Em was in the first group of students to begin in January 2014 at Harmony Project. As residents in what is considered an economically depressed area of the city, all of the students who attend music class at Harmony Project are given free music lessons, equipment, and musical training. No matter what the parents earn, or what economic status you are, if you live in the community your child can participate as long as they maintain good grades, are well behaved in class and don’t miss too many classes.

After learning how to read music, participating in the choir, and being introduced to the recorder, Em chose the cello and received a child-sized, gorgeous, shiny new stringed instrument in August 2014.

Did I mention that this was all free of charge? Including the equipment?!

There have been ups and downs – in practice (which happens less than what is needed) and sometimes in interpersonal relations with the other students. In the first months of Harmony Project, Em was the ONLY homeschooled student. Now there is a total of five students who are homeschooled, while the remaining children attend public or charter schools. Before the other homeschoolers joined her, she was teased by the other children.

“You can’t learn at home, you have to go to school. Homeschooled means you aren’t learning anything.”

That lasted until she pulled out the multi-syllable words, led the class in modeling responsible behavior and won the hearts of the teachers. After that, kids didn’t tease her and she made friends.

Practicing has always been difficult, however, more so now that her training continues to accelerate 18 months later. And today, she was in tears, and not for the first time.

Her teacher is intense, but I know she also has kindness in her, as do all of the Harmony Project staff. Em was frustrated over her own lack of progress and worried that her teacher Ms. Ezgi would be disappointed in her. We talked about it, and she tried one of the pieces again, only to end up crying even more. “She’s going to be mad at me!”

“Ms. Ezgi wants for you to do well, Em, just as much as we do. And I know you want to do a good job as well.” I counseled her, “Would it help if I talked to her?”

She shook her head miserably. We tried another piece. As she played, I did what I promised I wouldn’t do, I sent a letter to the director, Ms. Carmen Espinosa, and told her of my plight…

Carmen-

Em was practicing today on her cello and was in tears. I feel very bad even telling you, because she asked me not to say anything to you or Ms. Ezgi.

Over and over we say to her, “The best way to get better is to practice.” She knows, and she is trying, but is very, very discouraged right now.

I know that the arts are demanding, and I will understand if the following request is out of line with the teaching etiquette, but if there is any way that Ms. Ezgi could take Em aside and tell her she recognizes that Em is trying, and improving, it would give Em the “atta girl” she needs to keep trying. But please ask Ms. Ezgi to NOT say anything about me emailing.

If this isn’t appropriate, I understand. I just want Em to stay in the class and learn more about music. She has such a love for it, but she is also a little girl who wears her heart on her sleeve and feels that she is failing Ms. Ezgi and the rest of the class because she cannot seem to learn as quickly.

I will work with her on practicing more. No matter what, please do not say anything to Em about me emailing you. She is determined to fix this on her own. I just wanted you to have a heads up.

A few minutes later, I received a response…

Hi Christine,

I really appreciate you telling me this. It´s hard for me to keep track with so many students…

I will talk to Ezgi and I´m sure she will have some encouraging words for Emily today. And we will all keep your email a secret.

And also… I know Emily is a very sensitive girl, and we know she is practicing hard. And we are proud of her. But please please please tell her that music is supposed to be fun, as frustrating as it might seem at times. The frustration should never overcome the joy of learning music, because if it does, something is not right, and we have to figure out what that is.

Let´s hope she gets more motivated after class today.

And please keep me posted… I appreciate it, because I really care about my students and hate to see them cry!

Thank you!

Carmen

I felt so relieved! Just a few words of encouragement from her teacher will keep this little girl practicing more than ever.

As I read over the email silently, Em’s bow work across the strings of the cello made a distinct fart sound. We both had a good giggle over that!

This evening as I picked Em up from her class, I asked, as I always do, “How was class?”

“It was GREAT! Mama, you were right, all of that practicing paid off and I got all of the notes right and Ms. Ezgi was happy and she told me I did really, really well!”

Broken promises or not, that’s one I don’t feel bad about breaking. It was just what my little girl needed! Harmony Project, and its teachers and support staff are such a gift to our neighborhood. We are very, VERY lucky to have them!

p.s. I’m finally finding an approach that works when Em practices. I don’t know if this will work for other parents, but feel free to try it!

  1. Be Present – We are present during her practice. Either my husband or I sits and listens while she plays.
  2. Give Limited Feedback – I know nothing about music – I can’t read it and I have never played an instrument, but I wing it. “So that last bit right there, it seemed kind of hesitant. Or perhaps off. Do you find it difficult? Perhaps you can focus on that?”
  3. Encourage Practice – As a child, I was told I was smart, over and over. Which resulted in me completely losing it when I was presented with a challenge. Instead, I tell Em, “Practice and practice and practice. With repetition comes improvement.”
  4. Encourage challenge – When Em hits a part that she finds challenging, I often suggest she work on that small part a little more. “Choose what is most challenging to you, and play just that.” This hones her focus on the trouble areas.
  5. Encourage Honest Self-Assessment – Instead of answering Em’s question when she asks, “Did I do it good enough that time?” I ask her, “What do you think? Is it the best you can do right now?” She isn’t playing to please ME. I want her to reach out and stretch her abilities, and feel proud all in her own right.
  6. Mix it up – Have them play outside, in the park, for their friends, after dinner, or in different parts of the house. Music is portable and who knows you might meet along the way.
  7. Have FUN! – I’m taking Carmen’s advice to heart. We giggle when the cello “farts” and we revel in the long finishing sounds at the end of a piece she is currently practicing!
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2 Responses to Cello Practice – Tears and Farts

  1. Amy Jones says:

    Carmen was excellent with Belen last Fall when there was a weepy, hesitant phase. And Eden is over the moon there. I’m so glad you referred us!!