At my sons’ school there are many many children that play instruments. In fact, the music teacher told me recently that there are 80 children who play piano in our public school of 420.
This is most likely due to the socio-economic, and demographic of the school. We have many children of Asian (Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong, Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese) and sub-continent (Indian, Pakistan, Sri Lankan) descent who are second generation Australians. First generation Australian immigrants are famous for how much they give to their children – financially, emotionally and temporally. This is understandable, as Australia has so many opportunities that the parents never would have had, so they want their children to take advantage of these opportunities.
I should know, I was born in South Africa, as was my father, and we moved to Australia for the freedom and opportunities. My father always says he loves reading the paper here as he says the news is so trivial compared to other countries in real strife.
Anyway, back to the school, with eighty pianists.
Though Thomas has been learning piano since he was 4 years old, he is not at the level of many of these students. Each term there is a music soiree for individual performances where children, who learn music at the school or privately, play for the parents and teachers. The standard is high and there are some beautiful little musicians. I would estimate 75% would be Suzuki trained by the pieces they selected to play, or simply their tone and musicality.
So it was with a great deal of surprise, that Thomas brought home a note saying he was one of the seven pianists selected for the school Music Enrichment Orchestra. This is the most senior orchestra in the school, conducted by a volunteer parent who is an esteemed doctor of music.
(On speaking to the music teacher about Tom’s selection, she said it was because of Tom’s eagerness to play the piano during the commencement of assembly each week. While the children all enter and get seated, an elongated process with young children, a child normally plays the piano in the background. Apparently Tom races to ask to be able to do it, and just tinkles away adjusting what and for how long he plays according to the progress of seating. Tom loves performing and is fearless in this regard. Yay Tom. Yay Suzuki method for performances since before he could play a note. Click here to see Tom’s first performance when he was four years old! And just for fun here is William performing at the same age.)
Thomas was sort of excited, and I was very excited! Piano is such a lonely instrument, that to be able to play in an orchestra with it, was beyond my expectations. The reason they have so many pianists is that the keyboards play instruments in the orchestra that no student actually plays. For example, Tom is playing the 2nd bassoon part in one of his pieces.
And therein lies the rub. The part that Tom has to sight read and play is one tone up from the melody. On the keyboard you can adjust for this, so that the melody sounds ‘true’. We don’t have a keyboard at home, only a beautiful upright grand.
It is a single handed part, however it has no natural melody or rhythm on its own and is very repetitive sounding (but actually with differences in each phrase). Apparently this is quite normal and that is what makes orchestral pieces so difficult. So for a Suzuki student, we have found this …. challenging.
From a practice perspective, even I dread practicing this piece. It is the slowest going learning of any piece with Thomas to date. I am not sure we are going to have it learnt in time for the first big District competition performance.
However, I, of course, googled this problem. And apparently many players in local orchestras get away with not knowing all the part or knowing it completely. All the other instruments drown out any mis-playing or missed notes.
Now with our Suzuki training, the thought makes my skin crawl that we go into a performance without perfection. So stay tuned for an update on how we go!
UPDATE: Since I wrote this blog post, we have devoted HOURS to the piece. And I can say that Tom has mastered it to about 8/10. It has been really, really hard – as Tom’s sight reading is not great and this piece is hard (lots of key changes and syncopated rhythm) – and my frustration levels were very high. I had to do some serious emotional regulation not to blow my top. But we did get there! Big competition is next week so I will definitely post a video!