The Orchestra Mom

About once per week I get an email from The Orchestra Mom. I don’t know if she single-handedly put together my son’s before school elementary orchestra program, but it feels that way. Her emails are long and detailed. They tell me exactly how orchestra went, how the director taught, and then there are the lesson instructions. I should have my son practice with a metronome set to exactly 60 beats per minute, but don’t worry if he doesn’t get it right away. My son should practice singing the scales and I should sing them with him, and I should persevere even if my child doesn’t want to, because learning the scales and note names is really important. The music should be memorized through bar twelve and practiced at least three times per day. But don’t worry too much if my kid is still struggling because orchestra is supposed to be fun. The instructions go on for paragraphs.

All of her emails are like that. They are a mix of very precise instructions on exactly how everything should be done with small reassurances at the end of each paragraph that perfection is not expected. I read these emails with bemusement and I know that this mother is coming to orchestra from a very different place than I am. All her communications assume that parents put their kids in orchestra because it is good for the kids and that the kids will naturally resist until they finally get good enough that they’re able to realize that maybe they enjoy music after all.

I didn’t pick cello for my son, he picked it for himself. Out of all the things he could do in his out of school hours, he chose music. The worst thing I could do is to take that interest and turn it into a chore. So, if he doesn’t feel like practicing, I don’t make him. If we have a string of days without practice then he and I have a conversation where we talk about whether he still wants to do music. He always does, and then we rearrange his schedule so the practices fit better. He has a solo lesson on Tuesdays before school and orchestra on Friday before school. Some weeks those morning sessions are the only times he touches his cello. I’m okay with that, because he comes home smiling. I want him to enjoy the process of learning music. It is the process that matters to me, not him arriving at some imagined proficiency goal.

I feel empathy for the orchestra mom, because in other times and areas of my life, I’ve been her. I’ve been the one who cares passionately about a project, who knows exactly how it should be done, but who has to rely on others to follow through. I’ve had to dial back my intensity so that I don’t drive others away from a project. I’ve been (and sometimes still am) the mom who requires my kids to do things because it is good for them, not because they enjoy it. Sometimes I push in the hope that someday my kids will see the value in what I required them to do. I know that for some things they may never thank me. This is why I am so glad to not have to push for my son’s music. Instead I quietly file the emails as they come in and let my son practice, or not, as he chooses. I also send a quiet, sympathetic thought to the orchestra mom. I’m learning, slowly, how to push less and trust more. I hope that she can too, because her emails make me feel tired for her.