Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Do Ré Mi ou C D E...

Let the cultural war begin!

I'll start by giving you a bit of background. I grew up playing the piano. Sometimes I wanted to, other times my parents made me, but ultimately I'm glad I did it as it's become part of who I am. For a longtime after leaving home I didn't have a piano. And I missed it. Now that I do finally have my own, I don't play it all the time, but I am glad that it's there when I do want to sit down and "tinkle the ivories" so to speak. It's fun. It's soothing. And sometimes banging out a bit of Chopin really helps relieve a bit of frustration.

And so, with this in mind while raising my own children, I wanted to give them something similar. I suppose I would have to say that my mindset is that by getting my children involved in music lessons, I'm giving them the gift of music and something they will keep the rest of their lives.

It's a lovely thought isn't it. I thought so too. Until we moved to France.

Yes, France. That lovely country where apparently everyone who doesn't live here wants to move. I recalled this thought as my husband and I watched Julie & Julia last night. Sitting there on the sofa as Julia arrived in her new premises in Paris and gushed about how lovely it all is, I blurted out "yes, I can see how anyone watching this film would think France is utopic."

And then I turned to hubby and with a somewhat evil and definitely mischievous look in my eye, suggested someone make a film about children and parents and music school in France to give the viewers the other side of the coin.... The dark side as I like to call it.

Where to begin? I guess by explaining that in France, you're not actually allowed to learn music for fun. No. You're not. It's very serious business. Even if you are only 6. I found this out when we moved here and was told my daughter couldn't possibly enroll in the local music school in order to continue her piano lessons. For you see, it was January and school had already been in session and it's just not done. So it was either wait 9 months to start again or find a private, in-home teacher.

I went with the latter and hired a private tutor. The following week she turned up at the house in her very large gold Mercedes, standing about 6ft4 in her flowing dress, wearing a rather boatish-sized shoe and sporting a suspicous looking 5 o'clock shadow though it was only 1 in the afternoon. Though it is part of life, my stomach dropped at the thought of how to explain this to a 5 and 8 year old, especially since the 5 year old was on to her and proceeded to say so, directly to her face. Despite the somewhat bumpy start, we did have a few good months of lessons until summer when my oldest decided she wanted to play the cello and cello meant école de musique.

Those who grew up in France may very well be aware. And perhaps it's a club where they are sworn to secrecy, determined to let the uninformed suffer through and naively sign up for what they think is going to be simple and fun music lessons with a bit of theory thrown in. Oh how they must snicker as we sign on that dotted line, ignoring the finer points of the contract. For simple does not enter into the vocabulary of the école de musique. I have, in fact, been told by the current director that music school is not for fun. It is school and it is hard work. School is not fun.

Understatement of the year. The past 2 years of my life have consisted of driving back and forth to the music school at various times of the day and on various days of the week. There is music theory on one day and then there is practical, where you actually get to play the instrument not just talk about it, on another. With the 2 children in classes (my second has taken up the flute) we have also had 2 years of chorus as well as various concerts and demonstrations thrown in, mostly at highly inconvenient times. This year, much to my relief, we have been deemed to have done our time with chorus and I had a fleeting thought that in fact it may be a bit less stressful. Fleeting. Very fleeting. My oldest came home on Monday and announced that she's expected at orchestra class this year. At another time and day of course.

That was it. The proverbial straw that broke the camel's back or as the French would say, goutte qui fait déborder le vase or, to translate, drop that made the vase overflow. And overflow it did. In the form of a complete and total meltdown in the offices of the music school and in front of a group of completely flabbergasted French men and women who obviously couldn't comprehend how having to be at the music school at 8 different times during the week could pose even the slightest problem. Ben alors?

As I search for a way for my children to learn music for the pleasure of it, we remain prisoners of the music school. I guess the problem is that culturally we are just very different. I want my children to learn music for their general education but mostly just to enjoy it and have fun. They, apparently, are hoping to form the next world reknown composer. They must already know that there is no hope in our house for that. Not only is the mother (that would be me) an American basketcase, but my youngest has just turned 4 and as of yet no symphonies has been composed. Not even the smallest concerto.

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