"Today, your child was introduced to several string orchestra instruments: violin, viola, cello, and bass. Interested students can register for lessons on the enclosed form."
Wow, is it time for my daughter to start playing a musical instrument? Wasn't it just yesterday that I was running home and begging Mom for violin lessons?
I remember my constant refrain: "Please, Mom? I want to play!" My relentless begging was brought on by nothing short of magic: The electricity ignited when the elementary school music teacher held a violin under my chin. As she fingered "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," I ran the soft bow hairs back and forth across the shiny, silver strings. Together, we made music. Instantly, I was hooked.
"I played a song already! Can't I take lessons?" I asked.
Smiling, Mom relented. An old violin, borrowed from my aunt, became a source of pride. Its aged, amber wood lacked the luster of my friends' rental instruments, but its warm, melodic tone made up for any lack in appearance.
Once I passed through the initial squeaky phase, I learned to produce simple, legato melodies. The old bow, restrung and properly rosined, slid smoothly across the strings, like my skates gliding across the glistening patch of ice at the neighborhood rink.
With three years of piano lessons under my belt, music was a familiar, comfortable friend. Easily, I rose to the top of my lesson group, playing "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" as a soloist in the elementary school Christmas concert.
By junior high, I sat first chair in the school orchestra – a coveted position I maintained throughout high school. Music became part of me. It felt important to be a violinist pursuing classic, timeless beauty.
Tonight, a Mozart CD plays while I prepare dinner for my family. Frequently, I attend orchestral concerts with my husband. In church, as a string trio plays Vivaldi, I close my eyes, lost in the phrasing and dynamics. Classical music inspires me, and I want, and sort of expect, my daughter to share my passion.
"Did you try an orchestral instrument today?" I asked.
"Yeah, we all did – in the gym." my daughter Emily said, shrugging her shoulders. "I played the violin, and it was really awful!"
She laughed. "I put the wrong end of the bow on the strings, and it went screech! I don't ever want to play that thing again!"
"Weren't there other instruments? A cello or a bass?" I asked with hope.
"Yeah, there was even a viola," she said. "I just don't really want to play."
Don't want to play? No "Ode To Joy" or "Brandenburg Concerto"? No arpeggios, pizzicato, or vibrato? I swallowed hard, and stopped before saying, "Really, you should give it a try." I forced myself to pause, to think a bit. Should I really push my daughter, or wait until she is interested on her own?
Sure, kids gain a great deal from music lessons – discipline, confidence, and a sense of accomplishment – but Emily already takes piano lessons (a non-negotiable extracurricular at our house.) Shouldn't I let her pursue her own dreams?
Standing outside the 4-H barn at the county fair a few days later, Emily couldn't seem to separate herself from a honey-hued mare.
"I love her, Mama," she said with a sigh. "Isn't she nice?"
"I could call about riding lessons," I offered, glancing over at the nearby riding ring and its unfamiliar world of Western hats, English saddles, and shiny black boots.
"Oh, yes! I would definitely like that!" Emily said with a little squeal.
I nodded. "It's settled then. Horse riding it will be."
Still, I worried Isn't riding expensive? What if Emily falls off a horse? But deep down, I knew that it was worse not to allow my daughter to discover her own interests. And so, the next morning I dialed a local horse farm, my heart leading me down a road that feels unfamiliar to me, yet just right for my daughter.
Though I'm still hoping Emily picks up a musical instrument someday, for now, I am letting her take the reins.
Who knows? Maybe she will teach me a thing or two about the freedom that comes from riding a pony around a trail, or the responsibility that comes from feeding and grooming a horse.
It turns out that violin playing isn't the only path to contentment.
That's a trail my daughter must forge on her own.