I hate this time of year. I feel the summer running out and all of my good intentions to catch up on things going with it. The worst thing, though, is scheduling my students’ lessons for the fall semester. It seems that each year it gets tougher to accommodate their ever-increasing academic and extracurricular loads. I am amazed as I hear each of them list the dozen or so obligations they have, from after school tutoring to sports to dance to school functions.
And these are just the students in elementary school. Go to high school and you see juniors doing more college level classes in a semester than I did while actually in college! Between their parents, the school officials, and the general über-competitive mentality of our society today, they all feel that they must outdo everyone else or they will wind up working in fast food. A mother myself, I feel pressured to put my three year old not only into the top preschool but also into a plethora of enrichment classes—or else, I am told, my daughter’s little brain will never develop.
I remember when I was a kid. Yes, I had piano lessons, violin lessons, Girl Scouts, church. But these were activities I chose. I never had anything forced on me (well, church was). I also had a lot of free time. Time to play outside and bike and catch tadpoles. Time to go to movies, hang at the mall (yes, I did the mall). And because I had time to breathe, I had time to create. I had time to noodle on the piano and make up stuff. I had time to write stories. I had time to be imaginative and explore my interests without outside forces deciding what it was best to teach me to do. I had time to develop an inquisitive mind and other traits that helped me become a composer.
It seems so different with students today. Time and again I encounter students who, upon embarking on formal compositional studies, find themselves frozen, unable to write music. Somehow, in becoming the perfect student, they lost their ability to tap into their creativity, the very thing that brought them to composition. Thus, much of our first lessons are spent trying to foster in them the self-confidence to take chances, to think outside of the box, to explore in all areas of their lives, not just music.
No wonder they cannot write, for composing takes time. Not just the pragmatic aspect of scheduling time, but time in the sense of allowing one’s mind to settle down and open itself to contemplation with no set agenda. One cannot squash that type of time in between volleyball and AP history. Indeed, I doubt if one can schedule that type of time at all. For, rather than quantity, it is a quality of time, a quality that encourages and allows a child’s mind to explore and flourish and think independently in all ways.
So, in our desire to give our students every opportunity to master every skill, are we starving them of the ability to be creative? Are we unknowingly raising a generation that cannot lead unless told what to lead, cannot do unless told what is to be done? How will they react when confronted with new art, new music? Will they be as excited as a child with new crayons, or will they shut down because nobody told them how to respond?