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Throwback: Don't Stop The Music (12 January 2014)

Originally published on I Love Children:

We started on music classes with Nurtured By Love in June last year and both girls have been on the Suzuki Pre-Twinklers Programme for about 6 months now.

I had blogged about music class back then and shared my reasons for choosing to go with the school’s Suzuki Early Childhood Education classes (SECE) based on the programme’s merits, namely:

– Speech acquisition

– Singing in tune

– Rhythmic awareness

– Sensitivity

– Good coordination

– Comprehension of language and stories

– Creativity

– Confidence

– Memory skills

Half a year into the programme, it is clear that Coco has made progress, not just in musical terms, but also when it comes to maintaining focus and concentration, and exercising discipline and self-restraint. There are still days when she has ants in her pants, but upon being made to take a time-out (by me, the teachers encourage parents to take the initiative to decide when to step in and discipline our own child) and stand outside the classroom, she would tearfully ask to be let back into class and would promise to behave – a promise that she proved to keep.

To be honest, it hasn’t been smooth-sailing throughout. I’m flat out exhausted after class each week, even when Dan accompanies me (I now bring both girls on my own) because each session involves 102% of energy going into participating, guiding, educating, disciplining and making the full 50 minutes enjoyable for both kids. Parental involvement is a big thing in the SECE programme – Dr Suzuki believed that parental guidance, not talent, is the key to a child’s success in life (“The fate of a child is in the hands of his parents” – Shinichi Suzuki).

Plus, the SECE programme comprises two sets of simple nursery rhymes and songs and activities, which are alternated every week. The repetition was boring me to bits and the thought of keeping it up for TWO MORE YEARS until both girls were ready to take on a musical instrument was just unbearable.

By December last year, the temptation to look for an alternative music school that would let me leave the kids in the good hands of the teachers while I moseyed off for some ‘me’ time, or a programme that would entertain them with new songs and activities every week so that they wouldn’t cook up antics to stave off boredom, was becoming hard to resist.

Thankfully, as the school keeps class sizes small at a maximum of 6 students and their accompanying parent, we are familiar with both the teachers and comfortable enough to admit frankly that we were harbouring thoughts of quitting music class. I shared my dilemma about being so terribly bored by the same old repertoire of songs and activities, and yet feeling like a bad, BAD parent for being tempted to pull both girls out of the programme when they are clearly enjoying themselves for most of the class.

The heart-to-heart talk proved to be a good move. I realised that in focusing on my own boredom, I had taken for granted the girls’ seemingly small – but actually significant – achievements. For example, being able to keep a steady beat and recite rhymes in their entirety – no mean feat for an infant who is only just discovering her limbs and a toddler who has barely learned to speak. On their part, the teachers looked for ways to make it less boring for parents by guiding us on signs of progress to look out for and by helping to highlight ‘golden moments’ in class when a child masters a task for the first time. Since then, I have become more observant, appreciative and conscientious in journalling every small step of their musical journey. We had some newcomers to the class last week and it suddenly became clear to me how far Coco has come in terms of her ability to concentrate, ability to act on an instruction, self-control in waiting for her turn and complimenting her classmates after their turns (“Well done, Maia!”) – despite her being younger than the new students. This is another principle that Dr Suzuki espoused in the journey to success, “First character, then ability.”

Coincidentally, Dan and I sat down to watch August Rush one night after the girls had gone to bed and the movie inspired me on multiple levels. I realised how much I missed music – both listening to it and playing it on the piano. It dawned on me that any form of musical education and training, whether it be through formal classes in Juilliard, or rapping in a ghetto, or gospel singing in a church, or busking on the street, was a privilege – one that was built on the pillars of the not-so-fun stuff like discipline, endurance and patience. It wasn’t about buying myself an hour away from the kids by paying someone else to entertain them with music-related activities that are obviously popular with kids but may not necessarily be meaningful.

So while there may be other ‘music programmes’ out there that are more fun and entertaining, where kids can sing, dance, bang freely on musical instruments, jump around and move as they like to the music in the care of teachers / baby-sitters, we believe in the merits of the SECE programme and have chosen to see it through to fruition – even if it means having to sing the likes of ‘Michael Finnigin’, ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ and ‘Ring O’Round the Rosies’ for at least TWO. MORE. YEARS.

Why? Because being involved in the delicate work of nurturing a beautiful character and in the process, being your child’s mentor in music appreciation and playing an active role in realising her musical ability, is indeed a privilege and honour for any parent.

I’m already seeing the rewards of spending more time at the piano – be it playing for myself or for my daughters. Hearing Coco’s insistent requests for “More songs! Mummy, play more songs!” and Claire’s valiant attempts at gurgling along, is, well, music to my ears.

“If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.” – Dr Shinichi Suzuki

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