DEAR ABBY: I had to respond to the letter from "Discordant Family" (Sept. 1). I agree with you that the children should not be forced to play piano. However, let me offer an alternative. Many young pianists quit because practicing is such a solitary chore. I'd recommend finding the kids a community music program they would enjoy.
Perhaps their friends are involved with a chamber or duet group, or a music camp. Set the completion of the group project as a goal and allow them to move on (if they still want to) once they've reached that goal rather than quit on the spot.
I, too, wanted to quit piano lessons at 13, but my mother insisted I persist until age 16. Then I joined my high school's theater program as its pianist. Being part of community music-making is standard for most musicians, but it's rare for young pianists. There is an added social element. They develop other skills, and the emphasis on practice and perfection is greatly reduced when the focus shifts to working well in a group.
Since "Discordant" is so set on music for her kids, I hope she'll consider this option, but also identify the aspects of piano playing her kids dislike and attempt to reduce or remove them. Switching from classical to pop music or starting a band with their friends are other possibilities.
I'm 26 now and have made a career as a collaborative pianist for musical theater, operas, choirs and soloist accompaniment. It's given me an opportunity to travel, meet Broadway actors, play in rock bands, learn language skills -- and more! -- HAPPY PIANIST IN AUSTIN
DEAR PIANIST: Thank you for your helpful suggestions. Forcing children to do something they hate seems, to me, counterproductive when there are so many constructive, creative things they could be doing. My newspaper readers comment:
DEAR ABBY: Each child is unique and needs individual consideration. Because the l3-year-old wants to stop playing the piano is no reason for the 11- and 5-year-old to quit, too. How about talking it over with the piano teacher? Maybe it's time for a new approach. The teen could learn to play jazz piano or perhaps switch to a different instrument, such as the guitar. Making music part of life is a joy when it is approached in the right spirit. -- PIANO TEACHER WHO HAS SEEN AND HEARD IT ALL
DEAR ABBY: I took lessons from three teachers before I found one who inspired me and gave me music I wanted to play. My son and daughter also took lessons from him. I played piano professionally in the '60s and '70s, and my son has followed in that path. I believe it is all in finding the right teacher. What a difference it makes. -- JANET IN ST. LOUIS
DEAR ABBY: "Discordant" said she has never met anyone who was glad about having stopped piano lessons. Well, one of the happiest days of my life was when I quit. I read music and hit the keys in order, but I have no sense of timing. Practice did not make perfect, and I was prevented from applying myself to areas for which I was better suited. -- FREED FROM THE TORTURE
DEAR ABBY: The problem that mom is having is in giving her kids wiggle room. Middle-school-aged children should not be allowed to make a decision about something so important based on how they "feel." I sweetened the offer for my daughter by allowing her to practice in lieu of doing some household chores. It worked like a charm. Now, at 21, she loves music, plays when she can and intends to return to it after college. -- STAND FIRM! IN MONTANA
DEAR ABBY: I was forced to take piano lessons. At age 13, I begged to quit. My parents made a compromise. Lessons only during the school year, summers off. After a poor start, I began to enjoy the lessons, ended up studying piano for 18 years and turned pro. -- PEGGY IN LAS VEGAS