This past August (2017), my two children ages seven and ten began attending Regents, a Classical Christian school in Charlottesville, VA. Though I didn’t know a whole lot about classical education when we considered schools, I was immediately impressed when we went to visit the school. The children were respectful (i.e. they all stood when we entered the room and in unison recited “Good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Constant”), they were knowledgeable (i.e. the first graders sang a very long song about mammals, using some words that I can’t even pronounce, a song that my son has since learned in his first grade class), and there was a love there among the faculty and the students that was clearly from the Lord: a love for the Lord, a love for each other, and a love for the community.
On Parents’ Back to School Night, the principal, Mrs. Palumbo, addressed all the parents regarding what Regents would be teaching our children this year and how the focus was to be on truth, goodness and beauty. She explained the difference between true beauty and false beauty, and she referenced the book “Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness and Beauty” by Stephen Turley. I was completely intrigued and made a mental note to research this topic further. It wasn’t until this March that I tracked down this book and began to read it.
In August, I also switched careers and began teaching Suzuki piano (hence this website and this blog!) I had been taught the Suzuki method as a child, but did not know any of the philosophy behind the Suzuki method. While attending classes to become certified as a teacher, I was exposed to Dr. Suzuki’s book “Nurtured by Love” and William and Constance Starr’s “To Learn with Love” (excellent reads by the way). I also was reading “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp at the time. All of these books combined with Mrs. Palumbo’s talk at Parents’ Night seemed to have a similar theme: Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Each time I sat down at the piano and began to play, I was inspired not just by the great works of the composers, but by the glory of God that was being revealed to me through them.
As I attempt to reconcile the world of music and my career as a Suzuki piano teacher with my relationship with the Lord, I often ask myself “Why do I teach piano?” And I have four different answers:
The shallow answer: a paycheck
The deeper answer: to educate others on how to play a musical instrument
The even deeper answer: to build character, teach discipline, the appreciation of goodness, truth and beauty
The deepest answer: to point others to God’s creation, His Holiness, His Goodness, His love for us, His sending for us a Savior to provide salvation to us
I was talking to my husband today about how I feel a restlessness and a burden to take my calling of teaching music a step further to be bolder in my faith and to share the love of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ with others. How do I accomplish this? I am already earning a paycheck. Level 1 complete. I am already teaching others how to play the musical instrument we call piano. Level 2 complete. I would even venture to say that I am beginning to achieve level 3 with some of my students. But how do I break new ground into the deepest passion of my heart, that level 4? It’s entirely possible to teach music, simply to teach music. Sure, it is a beautiful art form, but it is so much more than that. I have made it clear to my supervisor that my goal is not to manufacture concert pianists. He knows that I take a holistic approach and want to pour into my students as little people who will change the world.
Although I am unsure of Dr. Suzuki’s religious affiliation (I have read he was Buddhist, but also have read that he converted to Catholicism because his wife was Catholic), I have not as of yet read any of his philosophy that gave credit to God. His philosophy is almost glorification of music itself, or glorification of education and development of character. Consider the following quotes from Dr. Suzuki:
“For the sake of our children, let us educate them from the cradle to have a noble mind, a high sense of values, and splendid ability. At our institute we use violin playing to develop these qualities in children.” Nurtured by Love, p. 17
“One day the principle of Talent Education, based on way we learn our mother tongue, will certainly change the course of education. No one will be left behind; and based on love, it will foster truth, joy, and beauty as part of a child’s character.” Nurtured by Love, p. 58
“First character, then ability.” ― Shinichi Suzuki
“What is man’s ultimate in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” – Shinichi Suzuki
“Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.” ― Shinichi Suzuki
These are beautiful sentiments. However, as deep as they may seem, they still leave me wondering, “how do I connect the world of music with the God of the universe and give credit where credit is truly due?” I feel the Lord’s presence when I play. When I examine an extremely difficult piece, my thought is not simply “Wow, Bach is amazing!” but “Wow, God was extremely detailed in how He created the human mind” Or when I hear or play an extremely beautiful piece, my thought has graduated from “Beethoven was able to produce such beauty out of such hardship” (though I still have those kinds of thoughts) to “This beauty reflects the beauty of the Lord” I was reminded of a quote that I believe Mrs. Palumbo also used in her talk on that first parents’ night in August. It went like this:
“Every time you feel in God’s creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say ‘O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight, and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy art thou Thyself, Creator of all!” – Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain
I am encouraged and feeling challenged to exercise Matt. 5: 16 which states, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good work, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” In a similar way, 1 Peter 3: 15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” It is not enough to teach children how to produce beautiful music. I must give credit where credit is due. Praise be to God!