MsDD is a good musician. That’s not just me being one of those mothers: she’s been learning the clarinet since she was six and has played all sorts of solos and led windbands. I supervised her daily practices until she went to secondary school and had to catch the bus at 7.37 every morning. Now practice is her responsibility.
She also plays the piano and the sax. She does these things because she loves them not because we think it’s a skill she SHOULD have. You wouldn’t believe the amount of parents I’ve spoken to who make their children engage in music when the child simply isn’t interested. Where’s the joy in that?
Now, good musicans are very much in demand and MsDD is a member of lots of ensembles. Her school has music at its heart – and she is also a long-standing member of the excellent BYMT. Being in demand can lead to conflicting commitments, and we spent much of last term juggling her BYMT concert commitments with her playing in the house band for her school’s sixth form production and school concerts and all sorts of other things. That she is keen on acting, and good at it, only adds a further complication in terms of waiting around outside school and chauffeuring her between gigs. Our own activities have to take a lower priority and I’ve been cross at missing a couple of my much-loved choir rehearsals in order to be #mumtaxi. Talented children depend on lots of practical support.
As you might know, MsDD has also struggled with debilitating dizzy spells for nearly three years after a virus knocked out the balance systems in her right ear, or so it is thought. I keep meaning to write about this and I shall in due course. This time last year, the Audiological Consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children had put her on a course of tablets that, if anything, made her dizzy spells worse, and she was spending hours every day in the school nurse’s office. Of course, all the school work she missed had to be caught up, and then there was her homework so, unfortunately, her music practice went by the board.
Everyone around her was so sympathetic, and her clarinet teacher suggested that she delay the Grade 8 clarinet exam that she was scheduled to take in May because she had not had enough preparation time to do herself justice. MsDD is a Distinction student, a grade she has consistently achieved in music exams. So we put back her exam until the final week of the Advent Term.
You can see what happened: MsDD was so occupied in all of her other musical activities that she had inadequate time to practise, and managed just to pass her Grade 6 piano and Grade 8 clarinet. She is devastated by this but more by the knowledge that she should have worked harder, done more practice in the summer when she had seven weeks of holiday to practise her scales and her technical exercises and to fine tune the nuances of her pieces.
She initially saw it as just the latest slap in the face for her but now recognises the truth: that the slap was self-administered. It causes me nothing but anguish because I foresaw this and encouraged her to practise and warned her that she had not practised enough when she had the chance and… Well, you get the picture.
The truth is, MsDD rested on her laurels. She gained a Distinction mark at Grade 7 so she felt she didn’t need to do the work. Mum was just being stupid and ridiculous and lame and negative. And then mum was right. And MsDD was ashamed at her lack of humility and so, so sorry. All she wanted to do was to turn the clock back and put in the work but it was too late. We’ve spent rather too long reflecting on this in tearful misery in the past week. Disappointment is truly a bitter emotion.
I’m most sad that she thought she didn’t have to listen to me, and that her mark was a reflection of her not doing her best. It would be fine if she wasn’t such a great musician, but she really is. Grade 8 is high stakes, because it’s the last one, equivalent to an A level, and you want to do as well as you can. And, truth is, she hasn’t done as well as she could. We all know that.
I’m reminded of when I was in Beijing and there was an American fellow-student who was infatuated with me. I wasn’t interested for a variety of reasons. One day his mother came to visit him and we had dinner at a local restaurant. Afterwards he told me his mother had said, “You can do better,” when he asked what she thought of me. I was crushed and spent days crying, such was the effect on my fragile self-esteem.
MsDD and I have talked about the exam results and her remorse and her shame. It’s a valuable lesson, isn’t it, to appreciate the connection between the effort you put in and the result you get out? We learn through our mistakes, which is why it’s so important to do badly at something sometimes rather than not be allowed to fail. I hope that MsDD will use this experience to inform her choices in the future. She will now concentrate on her technique and her repertoire and she’s looking to do well in her Music Diploma before she leaves school.
Of equal importance, however, is to accept the setbacks and move on and not let them gnaw away at your self confidence. Making a mistake in your approach to one aspect of your life does not make you a bad person in the rest of your life. Just because you’re not one person’s cup of tea, it doesn’t mean that you’re shameful or hateful or ugly or not worth people’s time. In my view, it’s much better to learn that early than later on.
Onwards and upwards.