When Brendan asked us at the beginning of the school year if he could join the orchestra Matt and I were both taken by surprise. It wasn’t something that he’d talked to us about dozens of times, the subject really came out of the blue. After we started looking into it with him we found out that there had been information sent home at the end of the previous school year that Brendan never brought home. That suggested to us that he must not have been too interested if he didn’t bring that home.
His sudden interest aside we decided that as long as he was interested that we would allow him to take part, conditionally. We were up front with him about our expectations and laid them out very precisely. We made sure he understood all of the following:
1. He needed to stick with it for a couple of months before deciding if he liked it or not. We didn’t want him dropping out because it was “too hard” at first. Learning a new instrument is always hard and if he could just get through that initial difficult period then he might like it. After that couple of months we would allow him to quit if he ended up not liking it.
2. Playing an instrument is a commitment and we expected him to practice. His teacher expects them to practice 100 minutes a week which breaks down nicely to 20 minutes per day and we don’t make him practice on the days he has orchestra at school. That way he ends up playing his instrument 7 days a week. We did make sure he understood that once in a great while (such as Christmas day, or days when he was sick) we would understand if getting practice in just wasn’t practical, but that WE needed to make that call–not him. If we started having to fight him to practice his instrument then he would be forced to withdraw from the program.
3. Homework always comes first. If keeping up with his school work and his instrument became too much of a burden then the instrument would have to go simple as that.
Brendan readily agreed to all of our conditions so we signed him up and got him his cello. Since then we’ve had very little issue with him being in orchestra. Once or twice in the last 6 months he’s complained a little about practicing, but even as he’s grumbling he’s unpacking the instrument to get it done. And a couple of times he’s fallen behind on his work in school, but one reminder from us that falling behind means no more cello and he starts working extra hard to make sure he gets all caught up.
Not only that, but last week a flyer came home for an optional day camp that would run all day Saturday at the end of March. It’s free to all orchestra students and only costs us for his lunch. When I talked to Brendan about it he was extremely enthusiastic about the whole thing and begged us to let him go. We saw no reason at all to deny him the opportunity to go and play his instrument with other orchestra students for an entire Saturday and quickly got him signed up.
Knowing what I do now about the way the school runs their music programs I have been expecting information to come home about band, which students can begin starting in 5th grade. Brendan brought home a note from his orchestra teacher last week telling us what to expect. She had a form for us to fill out indicating whether Brendan would be continuing with orchestra into 5th grade, which we indicated he would be, and then a note explaining that all of the kids would be given the opportunity to try out the different band instruments at school to see what they would be good at playing.
I vaguely remember doing the same thing when I was in elementary school and only hope that Brendan does better with it than I did. I wanted more than anything to play a brass instrument but had difficulty pursing my lips enough to make sounds come out of the instruments, so I was stuck with woodwinds. Not knowing anything about the instruments I was talked into playing the oboe. A decision I regretted for the rest of my short band career. I wasn’t very good at playing the instrument to begin with, and then because hardly anyone ever chooses the oboe I stuck out like a sore thumb which was never a comfortable experience for me.
Before going through this Brendan was fairly certain that he wanted to play the drums. But now that he’s had the chance to play with some instruments he thinks he wants to play a brass instrument instead. We haven’t gotten word on if he would be able to do that or not. Either way he’s certain that at least next year he would like to continue with both orchestra and band. And we’ve gotten word from his instructor that he can continue with both through middle school at least.
We figure at some point that he will probably want to choose either band or orchestra and drop the other one, which is fine with us as well. But as long as he’s happy playing two instruments and wants to stick with them then we will allow him to do so. He’s already shown more interest and talent for playing an instrument than his dad and I combined. Hopefully this is something he can nurture and develop for a long time to come.