My wife, Helen, and I went into a restaurant last week and spotted one of my students, 7-year-old Bayla. I greeted her and her family before sitting down.
Later, her mother shared with me how shocked Bayla was to see me in a restaurant. She could not imagine me outside of the music studio where she sees me each week.
I’ve had similar stories from parents after a young student encounters me outside of my teaching space. Children are imaginative, but not so much that they can perceive realities beyond what they experience.
I am reminded of my own limited imagination.
Growing up in a musical home, I could not imagine music beyond the walls that I experienced. I studied classical violin from the age of 4. And through my entire childhood, I was never was in contact with someone that played anything besides classical music on the violin.
I knew it existed from television, radio and occasional performances of folk music. But I had no personal encounter with someone playing music this way.
I wasn’t without imagination as a child, but I simply could not imagine myself playing anything but classical. And because of that, I missed out on an experience I think I would have enjoyed when I was young.
Prior to meeting me in a restaurant, if you were to ask Bayla if I ever left my studio, she would have probably said “yes.” But ‘thinking’ something and experiencing it are different things.
It is not enough for students to hear Irish, Swedish, Jazz or Classical music. Until they meet and connect with someone who plays it, different styles will exist simply as sound. They won’t hear it as something they can do.
But sitting with someone who can play (and show them they can play) something different, shatters the barriers that naturally exist in a young musician’s imagination.
It is never too early for parents and teachers to give students experiences beyond listening that will fill in the limitations of imagination.