Why I Support My Child Pursuing A Career In The Performing Arts

Larissa Dann

'Mum. I really want to study music when I go to University next year.'

I gaze at this young man, my son, so hopeful, so intense. The rational mother wants to say,

'How can you make a living from music? Why not aim for science, or law?'

The emotive, empathic mother wants to listen,

'You love music, and want to see where it takes you'.

What do I say? What do I do?

I remember how we came to this juncture.

There he is, my seven-year-old boy, tongue poking out of pursed lips as he concentrates. His head bends over the tiny keyboard resting between his knees, presenting a challenge as small fingers seek to span the keys.

This is the second week of a voluntary school keyboard course, and my reluctant son has agreed to give up a lunch time every week to learn music with a group of other children. Just for a term, to see how he likes it.

At home, the score lies in front of him on the floor. His eyes narrow as his brain translates this new language to his hands. Suddenly, a black dot on five lines is transformed into a sound, as his finger strikes a key. One note is followed by another, tentatively, until . . . ha . . . there is a recognisable tune! His blue eyes look up at me, and I know something has clicked. The change in him is both subtle and huge. Is it the crinkle in his eyes as he smiles, or the subtle shift in posture, that indicates pride in himself at having mastered this one line of melody?

Two years later, and my son’s new teacher is an inspiration. This educator’s focus is not on passing exams, but simply stoking his students’ love of their instrument. He does not choose music from a set program, but with the input of his pupil. Selecting a piece that will challenge the child, he asks,

‘Do you like this one?’

My son shakes his head.

‘What about this?’ and my son nods.

The teacher does not patronise, but is genuinely, respectfully, interested in my boy’s thoughts and experience. I am satisfied. More importantly, so is he.

My son is hooked. He practices, incessantly, on our old, out-of-tune, and very loud, piano. At times, when my headache is too much, I ask him to stop. He looks at me, clearly annoyed, knowing that other parents have to plead with their children to start practicing.

Reluctantly, he turns away from the pattern of black and white ivory. Then, as if by its own accord, his hand snakes behind his back and I hear a plonk as just one, defiant, note escapes from the piano.

Time passes, and my young man is in his penultimate year in high school. He has to begin thinking about his future, to help him select appropriate subjects to study. What does he want to do when he leaves school?

As a parent, I am torn. I have encouraged his participation in out-of-school music camps and tuition. I am sure that his love of performing music has helped him both academically and socially; that his ‘spark’ helped keep him out of trouble in adolescence.

I’m not so sure, though, that choosing music as a career will be to his long-term benefit. His school marks are high – he does well in science, in maths, in English. Shouldn't he look to embrace a profession that would provide him with a solid financial future, superannuation, a work history that will be acceptable and transferable through the years? Perhaps he could do law, or science, and play music on the side. Couldn’t piano just be his hobby? Get a little band together? Wouldn’t that keep him happy?

Should I try to influence him, talk to him about the risk to his future earning capacity? (I know that the average income for artists in Australia, including musicians, is around 21% less that the workforce average.) I cannot see how the notoriously fickle and low-paid performance of music will help him buy a house, or support a family.

I pare back my concerns to the foundations of my parenting approach. Whose problem is this, really?

I ask myself some difficult questions.

Does my son owe me anything? Absolutely not!

Am I thinking of him, or me? Do I want my ‘success’ as a mother to be based on my son’s choice to enter a 'high status' profession, such medicine, or law? Hmmm.

Do I trust him to find his own way? He has up to now. He’ll have some hills to climb, and he may take a tumble or two. But this is his journey to take.

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