Sunday, March 17, 2013

Balancing opportunity and commitment

What happens when your child has a commitment to something and then an opportunity comes up that is too good to pass up, but will take her away from her commitment?
What do you do?
This happened to my daughter. She is in an 'elite' chamber ensemble and they rehearse every Friday from 4 to 7.30pm. Sometimes, things come up that she would like to attend but she doesn't because the expectation is chamber comes first; "Friday is sacred to Chamber," quips the chamber director.

Once in a while though, as in the case of having the chance to play with Amanda Fucking Palmer-in a cabaret rock band, the decision as far as daughter is concerned is to ditch Chamber.
Maddie playing with Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, Phoenix, Toronto Nov 2012
She plays and has one of the most memorial times of her life. She is completely inspired. Her instructor/chamber mistress gives her grief: "You are letting down the group,"  guilting her out with words such as, "you are being selfish. If you were playing rep in a hockey team, would you do that?"

Another occasion where opportunity knocked and daughter answered was just the other week when she was asked to help out with a prestigious orchestra (they were lacking a player) and she decided to leave chamber a half hour earlier. She worked really hard to learn in four days time, musical pieces that took the orchestra entire months to learn. She had a great experience and again learned lots- especially what it feels like to play in another orchestra setting. Again, the director was unhappy. She claimed that my daughter would not have been able to take advantage of these opportunities if it had not been for having weekly chamber rehearsals and learning to play in an ensemble.  Who is in the right? The director or my daughter?

I say both. Commitment to the group is crucial if the group is to remain elite. And yes, playing with this elite ensemble has helped daughter develop her skills and get good. Of course it has. But I think that within reasonable limits, chamber should not hinder her wider experiences playing in the community.

Why won't the teacher see this as a launching pad to other experiences and adventures- that will inspire and broaden the students love and commitment to violin? If she were more reasonable she would see that going out and garnering more experiences enhances the learning daughter is doing in chamber-by bringing those other experiences to the group. An understanding teacher would be proud of her student's achievement instead of being angry and offended. A supportive instructor would applaud the student; encourage her. Instead, my daughter is met with hostility. But commitment to the chamber should not mean enslavement.
In the long run, an inflexible hold on the members of the group ends up creating an uninspiring environment that drives the best students away.
What do you think? How do you balance commitment with opportunity?


8 comments:

JMaltman said...

I'm with you on this. If she was missing chamber for something unrelated, then she'd be prioritizing something different. But she's still prioritizing her music, she'd just gaining access to some even cooler opportunities. The teacher should be proud, and just wishing they didn't have to conflict.

beatrice ekoko said...

@JMaltman- exactly! Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Well, the instructor can't have kids just going off whenever they feel like it. What if all the kids did like your daughter? There wouldn't be an elite chamber ensemble without commitment.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, be a good drone, never miss chamber for other amazing (once in a lifetime) opportunities to play in better settings…….Not

stephanie thomas berry said...

It sounds like Friday afternoon is a really bad time to have chamber rehearsal! And probably it would be helpful if there were some sort of policy in regards to other musical opportunities, instead of this business of what appears to be the director taking such things personally. But her dedication also sets a good example for your daughter.

Anonymous said...

I see a number of flaws in your article, the main flaw being the fact that you used the term "ditch" to describe missing the commitment to take up the new opportunity.

Once committed to a group organization, it is your daughter's responsibility (and yours! as her mother) to follow through. Yes, it lets down the group everytime someone misses. The group can't play as well together, they will have to repeat a lesson the following week to "catch" up your daughter and morale is lowered. As Anonymous said above, the instructor certainly can't permit students to attend whenever they feel like it - what kind of group would it be?

If you and your daughter felt that the opportunity was such a great one, why not get in touch with the director of the chamber group and discuss it with her? With advance notice and an honest discussion about how valid an opportunity you see this as being, you could have given your daughter the chance to learn to take responsibility for her actions. You could have given the director the chance to give her permission for your daughter to be absent, and the chance to give your daughter advance notice of what she would be missing and how she could catch up.

What great life lessons you and she missed out on this time. Instead you have chosen to bear a grudge against someone who you have trusted to help give your daughter a music education for wanting to keep up that learning pattern.

PS. The "prestigious guest" orchestra in question is not a prestigious one. Almost everyone who auditions is accepted, nobody practices regularly, and there are rarely proper sectional learning opportunities. This has been fact for over 40 years.

beatrice ekoko said...

@anon- thanks for your comment. Your suggestions are helpful. I must say, there is certainly no grudge i am bearing. It is more a discussion. What would other people do? Have they had similar situations? can they share their experiences? etc etc.

Anonymous said...

In that case, you would probably encourage a better discussion with a less biased original post. ;)

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