There is one comment that I often hear from parents that still catches me off guard: “He really responds to music!” The sentiment is usually expressed with a mix of surprise and awe, but seeing children respond to music with delight, enthusiasm, passion, abandon, inventiveness and curiosity would likely surprise few teachers of young children. We are more surprised – concerned, even – when we don’t see those things.
Our notions of what children are able to perceive have changed drastically in the last 40 years. Whereas we used to regard infants and young children as blank slates waiting to be inscribed, every month brings more reports on the remarkably sensitive distinctions babies are able to make in the language and music that they hear. By the time they are 4 years old, they have logged thousands of hours listening to the sounds that surround them. They are absolutely ready to engage.
Along with the surprise that parents often express when they see their child so passionately responding to an art form that they themselves may now have little involvement with or feeling for, a question sometimes follows, “Do you think he is gifted?” (Not always stated so baldly, but…) Though I often suppress it, my first instinct is to unequivocally shout, “Yes!” no matter what child I am talking about. Having watched so many children over the years, I am constantly reminded that most are supremely gifted artists in that stage of their lives. We all used to be so: actively engaged in our environment during our waking ours, as all committed artists are; constantly creating and exploring in order to make sense of – and take delight in – our surroundings, ourselves and others.
Over the coming year, if you peak in the door or window, you may see your child skipping with abandon, totally immersed in a drama or story, or lost in a sound world of his or her own creation. Our culture has made a fetish of musical ability – either you have it or your don’t, and only the lucky few who do should spend their days making music. However, the longer I teach, the more respect and awe I have for that special moment in their lives when they are all able to do these things with complete unselfconsciousness.
I am very interested to know what music is to them, and I will carefully try to introduce to them my own conception of it as well. It will be difficult to for them to express what they are learning in class, because in the early ages they are completely full of their own music, and I am loath to disturb that process. (See my earlier blog post for more on this subject). I do have an agenda – a curriculum, if you must – but my primary goal is to let them enjoy their gift while it is still unequivocally theirs.