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Would a Tiger Mother Let Her Son Play the Drums?

Drummer Boy
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Like another Chinese mother you may have heard of, I believe it’s important for children to learn to play an instrument. And I think it’s great to start kids early. After all, I took up piano lessons at the age of five, continuing for the next 12 years. So I was thrilled when my oldest son showed an early aptitude for music.

What I do want is for my boys to have some cultural literacy when it comes to music.

At my kids’ elementary school, the PTA raises money for a before school band class. So I was thrilled when Big Brother became old enough to join in the program. Of course, we signed him up to play the drums, and I groggily walked him to school – dragging Little Brother behind us—at the crack of dawn for practices. During their first concert in December, my eyes teared up when my baby was standing at the front of the school cafeteria tapping out the drum chorus that opened up the show.

When this fall rolled around, I assumed Big Brother would join the music program again – after all, this year he’d qualify for the Advanced Band. But when I pulled the sign-up sheet out of his folder and asked if he might now want to try a different instrument –maybe even one that actually involves reading sheet music? – I wasn’t prepared for the resistance.

“Well, I don’t know, I’m not that into band,” he hemmed.

“But you love music!” I insisted.

“I have kind of a lot of activities, I think I’m overscheduled.”

What self-help books has my ten-year-old been reading? Or is it playground discussion? Maybe it’s already not cool to be in the band. After all, Big Brother’s friends tend to favor playing soccer (or Xbox) rather than instruments.

But darn it, I want my kids to have some understanding of music. They don’t need to practice piano for an hour or three everyday. I don’t take them to audition for elite music instructors, and I have no dreams of them playing at Carnegie Hall. What I do want is for my boys to have some cultural literacy when it comes to music. They should understand that the Phantom of the Opera is not “classical music” and to recognize that sad tunes sound that way because they are in minor keys.

Plus, it’s fun. It’s been years since I’ve touched a keyboard. I admit, the years of practices and recitals took a toll on me. But I still love music: listening to it and making it – even if it doesn’t sound great. Singing the harmony line of a hymn, I understand what is meant by a full-body spiritual experience.

So I took Big Brother in to talk to the Band director. We came to the solution that he could attend practice one morning a week, instead of two, and maybe later he could join in for the second day. It’s been a few months now, and I hear no complaining on Tuesday mornings. He may not admit it, but I think he likes it too.

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