Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Musical Soiree Anyone?

If the topic of music lessons or choice of musical instruments comes up in parenting circles, many approaches and philosophies can ricochet around the room. Since I have invested many dollars and hours on music lessons--with several different instruments (x six kids)--I have a few strategies and even still, some questions myself. I consider myself an amateur musician, and the aim was not to prepare them to be virtuosos or divas. Nevertheless, after sitting elbow-to-elbow on the piano bench with my kids when they were younger or helping them with instruments (I didn't even know about), I hoped they would somehow absorb the rhythms and tempo in their souls. Consequently, I was always on the look out--searching ways to have fun with music--to not seem tedious and boring. What would give them that spark or kindling to practice--you know, the big "P" word?

A few of them were able to play in some famous concert halls growing up, but none have chosen it as a profession, which is absolutely fine. Yet it was my hope that music could heal their hearts in times of disappointment or loss. And have their hearts swell with joy too, giving them moments of soul-washing elation. From a family history perspective, I would tell them that after their grandpa learned to play the violin growing up, he was blinded a few weeks after landing on D-Day. Playing musical instruments (he learned three others after he was blinded) enriched his life immeasurably. In his two year rehabilitation, he learned to play the saxophone--to help with the dexterity of his hands. And he always had a harmonica in his pocket to play at a playground or gathering. Later in retirement he played the violin in a band for people in rest homes--sometimes for the residents who were even younger than himself. My daughter, at age five below, begged to learn to play the violin like her grandpa. My family history story about her grandpa worked!

This daughter, for the first few months of playing the violin at age five, would practice on the top of her playhouse--pretending to be the fiddler in 'Fiddler on the Roof.' All of our neighbors in Baltimore, but one, thought it was charmingly delightful. But we honored our next door neighbor's request to "bring the music inside"--until she learned to play a little more in tune. It takes a lot of perseverance, fun, practice, and love to get from this

to this! Two of our daughters, Sarah who accompanied her sister on the piano for her Senior violin concert. Sarah now accompanies a musical group for a major US university, just for the pure enjoyment. and plays for for a lot of activities and gatherings in her community.
One of the best ways I have found to trigger motivation to practice myself, (because I am an adult learner of the cello), with my children, and people here in Qatar is to have a musical soiree. It is simply a gathering of people who want to share their musical talents, and applaud others. I have been organizing musical gatherings for years, but with the absence of many musical choices or venues (there are still some wonderful ones, just fewer), we Qatar expats hold our musical soirees regularly. Nothing else on our schedules can eclipse them. We create our own shows, and even make-shift concert halls here. Sometimes in a room flickering with dozens of candles, I close my eyes for a moment, feeling as if I could be in a Paris salon in the 1700's. Other times my living room has transformed to a 1970's cafe with James Taylor.

My husband says one of the best things about coming to live this Qatar expat life is to monthly attend my cellos teacher's house to hear her Baroque Ensemble she has organized--all of the instruments are Baroque and played faithfully in that style. There is even a harpsichord that is the center piece of the living room. My cello teacher organizes a musical salon every month that we eagerly anticipate with professional musicians from mostly Germany, but some from Prague, Bulgaria, New Zealand, and other far off places. Most of them play in the Doha Philharmonic. There are usually only about 50-70 people at the salon with a delicious international potluck afterwards. But we all know we are the recipients of an exceptional gift every month at the Baroque Ensemble. Each child that comes, including the adults, are riveted and transfixed, as the Baroque music permeates us. For anybody who is trying to learn an instrument, it is a catalyst to keep on practicing so that you can transmit the magic too.

At my cello teacher's house, her little boy prepares to pull the curtain for the Baroque Ensemble--in his own living room.

You can see it is a special moment when he will pull the curtain for the enchanting musical wonderland his mother directs. Children and cats wander through the house. There is an occasional ruffle of a child's play. But it is all that more special. We feel like we are perhaps in Bach's home himself.

Katrin, my cello teacher, an opera singer from Germany, and the harpsichord player from South Africa. It is a rare treat to hear professional musicians monthly in someone's home--for the pure pleasure of playing music together. The price? Bring a potluck dish.
To give children a love and gift for music is like giving them another language. As Hans Christian Anderson, the Danish fairy tale writer said, "Where words fail, music speaks." I know that my son with autism has a tremendous connection with music, and did from an very early age. Sometimes his singing has caused people to shed tears with his pure sincerity. That's what music does: it touches The Divine in all of us--not only entertaining us, but giving us holy moments. To understand that golden tongue of music requires practice, encouragement, and I believe, going to some musical soirees where friends and strangers can applaud your efforts. My favorite compliment after any soiree I have hosted is when a parent comes to me and says, "My child came home after the soiree and started practicing for the next one." Soirees have the power to encourage children (and me too) in the journey of learning instruments--plus creating a wonderful community in the process. 

                Here are a few pictures from our soirees in Qatar--lots of magic floating through the air!

A group of teenagers entertaining us, with rousing claps and whistles in the background. A little sister is looking on, in complete rapture.
This family has six kids, and never fails to come to our soiree. The oldest brother is accompanying his little sister on the ukulele. Each month people prepare to perform for the audience in  our living room.  

V. singing a song from Jamaica. Although our living room is not a concert hall, it still takes guts and courage to preform for strangers and friends.

Steve giving the younger generation some Beatles, and after an encore, played some more.

K is an adult learner of the violin. She says that she determined to play every month at the soiree so it prods her to practice.
                                  Here are some video clips of some soirees in our home through the years.

Here is a youtube of our 19 year old son who had an English choir boy voice when he was 11:
youtube.com/watch?v=KPbPBecWpY8 A few years later he sang this song with his cousin at his grandpa's 

Last Christmas, with my daughter at the piano, playing Christmas songs with our friends from Normandie, France. Do you notice the backdrop of the Christmas tree fabric that I got from Ikea? There aren't many Christmas trees in Doha!

Herman, our good friend from Ukraine, who teaches piano, guitar, and voice here. We always feel so lucky when he comes to play for us--sometimes crooning like Frank Sinatra. He transforms us to different places with his Ukrainian folk songs and can even sing some French songs in French. 

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