Conversation and information about music and liturgy from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Last Sunday my junior high day school choir sang a Brazillian Cantate Domino for the Divine Service. It was not folk music per se, but a contemporary composition in a samba style, called "Cantate Brasilia", by Roger Emerson. One of the choristers plays percussion in the school band, and so had been given a conga part, but for greater authenticity I wanted to add the clave & shaker parts suggested by the composer. Of course, several choristers wanted to play the claves - but there was not way they could sing their part while playin a samba clave ("+ , e,1 a, + "). So a couple of nights beforehand I asked my daughter if she would play claves on Sunday, and she said, 'cool'.

After dinner on Friday, I took her into our music room and modeled the clave part for her. No music required. She listened once to the rhythm, as I played it first by itself and then while counting the pulse. She asked for the sticks and then played it perfectly. Upon repetition she made a slight error, which I corrected her by remindeing her that the groove starts on the "and of one". Done. We then went to the piano so I could play the whole piece and show her the breaks, and then we added a couple of accents to the breaks. It took about five minutes. The next night, we did the piece one more time together, adding my older son, Trevor, on shakers and then were ready to go on Sunday.

Now, the reason for the above title is not because I think my daughter is musically extraordinary - I teach her piano lessons and know her weaknesses, after all! Nor is it because of her servant heart, as wonderful as that is. (Lots of young people are eager to help, we adults just don't ask them enough.) No, the title is because of the reactions I heard from folks after the service, about how talented my kids are and then their reaction to discovering that we put the percussion for the song together in less than five minutes.

It is true that my kids are talented & musical, but there really is nothing extraordinary about their talent - however wonderful I think they are. Most people think that such musicianship is some big "gift" and suppose that it somehow "runs in our family", either through genetics or through hearing lots of music or through both. But what most people don't understand is that musical aptitudes and hearing music in early childhood are only foundations that may be built upon. The real reason Caitlin or anyone can do the wonderful thing of picking up a groovy clave part in short order and then play it well is because they are musically educated.

This education can't just happen by sending a child to choir once a week. It requires regular music instruction in music throughout elementary school, ideally accompanied by private instruction on an instrument. And it needs to be real, that is, classical, instruction. If they are to learn, the focus for grammar school children must be that they learn to count the pulse, hear the music, and play the notes. Sadly, much for what passes for "musical instruction" these days is just "edutainment", focused more on "community building" and "self-expression" than actual achievement. That may be more fun for the teachers (the focused repetition children need is much more boring for them than for the students), but it doesn't nurture comprehensive musicianship.

And that's what Caitlin has: comprehensive musicianship. Sure, she is a work in progress (I teach her piano lessons, remember?!). But even though she most likely will not major in music like her older brother she will always be able to make music for herself and for her community because she has learned the art of music.

That's my point here: the art of music is learned. Caitlin does not have unique chromosones or extraordinary grey matter between her ears, and still she is a WONDERFUL musician. Any Caitlin can do wonderful things with music, if their natural talents are patiently nurtured in the art of music. May we lead people to understand this, that more parents may see the potential in their children to achieve great things music.