This morning I was practicing the piano reduction of the Christmas suite from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. Sometimes, when I am out tuning pianos for the Holiday Season, I get a chance to play little snippets of it and I see the joy it brings to my audience. I often imagine the joy I will be able to bring to larger audiences if I ever manage to perfect the whole thing for performance. I think about how I will inspire many young hearts to turn to the piano as a lifelong companion and I think about how so many lives would be changed forever for the much better.
But, alas, there is a reality. Piano, especially anything approaching classic approaches to piano, requires a skill set that has no model in our modern society, outside of, perhaps, the gymnastics academies and dance studios. This skill set is something we used to call sitsfleisch, German for sit flesh, the ability to sit down and concentrate of something. Kids aren’t really born with it. It needs to be modeled and taught by their parents. But none of them have it. None of their parents had it either.
So, the children will hear me play, just like the small child currently living with me. I see his response to my playing. He, naturally, wants to play. And so he does, making some kind of noise and rhythm. At four, he’s a little young to be ready to handle organized learning. But, he has access to the keyboard, and he’s seen someone who loves to play it, so a little of it has rubbed off on him. His father will encourage him more in the future. And, when he is ready, he will play.
But what about the children who pass by and hear me play? Most of their parents are more than ready to whisk them on their way. Parents are much to busy to notice or even understand what is being awakened in their children. Even if they do notice, they march on and the idea of having a child who plays piano quickly fades. The child is enticed with TV, video games and toys, all in an effort to pacify him or her for another day. Few are those who stop to understand that the piano and learning how to play it represents a far greater satisfaction for the hungers of a child, and, soon, the hungers of an adult, than any video.
My point today is not to solicit new piano students. It is a life lesson in what it takes to make change in someone’s life. There are many people, organizations, foundations ready and willing to bring change to the lives of people, especially children. But, none of these can offer the children anything without roots. I may inspire them to play piano, but if someone doesn’t help that inspiration grow roots, it will soon die. Others may offer assistance with food programs or housing programs or help with education. But, most of the time, these programs are only offering another fish to live for another day. They are not teaching how to fish. They are not modeling the fisherman’s life, so that the children learn to fish and live for a lifetime without needing a fish every day. Mentors can do that, but the mentors come and go, and it’s hard for them to lay down roots that will last when they are gone.
As a musician, I have watched my value drop over the decades. There was a time when I would have been help up as a role model. Parents would have encouraged their children to aspire to be more like me. I could have made a comfortable living off the value that was assigned to what I do. But now I am asked, more and more, to give myself away. I am still doing my best to be a model. But the bills mount up and I am forced to turn to other things which are now assigned more value. Paperwork is not much more important than making the music and bringing joy to hearts. A world of greed and deadlines has forced everyone to be selfish with time, to be self-absorbed, with no time to interact with others. Their is precious little time to for music and other such frivolities. Of, course, there is always time for the constant, mind-numbing hip-hop or other background drone that keeps us from dying from the monotony of the rat race. But music that causes us to stop and smell the roses is a luxury we can’t afford.
Who’s going to change the world for our children? You, parents. You must do it. For most of you, that’s going to mean first changing yourself. It’s going to mean realizing that trinkets and TV are no substitute for you. It’s going to mean realizing that having children means you are now number two in your life. Your child comes first. That is, after all, why you decided to be a parent, isn’t it? You want to help raise the next generation. You want him or her to have it better than you do. Well, then, what are you willing to sacrifice to change the world? If you can’t put your children first in your life, it would be better that you gave them to someone who will. No child deserves to be the “mistake that’s ruining my life.”
Politics is important, but only in the sense that our government is an extension of ourselves. Government will never be able to fix the problem of dysfunctional families. Strong families can survive without strong government, but not the other way around. Strong families are led by selfless parents, parents who are servants on behalf of the family. Good government is provided by those willing to sacrifice for their constituents, their political family. If we expect change toward good government, it’s up to the parents to model selflessness for their children. If we expect the government to provide for our children without inserting ourselves personally into the equation, we are barking up the wrong tree.