Is the bar for proficiency now too high to encourage learning a musical instrument?

A couple of hundred years ago, only those living in major cities could hear professional performances of classical music. It was common for families and friends to gather in parlors to listen to amateurs perform music as best they could. The beauty of what they were playing transcended occasional mistakes, corrections, and misinterpretations.

But in the current world where great performances surround us from many sources, there no longer is a forum to encourage and reward the typical amateur. Who would perform in front of people who already know how something should sound?

So what does this mean for music? Probably a lot fewer will study an instrument, those that do will stop sooner, and listening to music has moved from the parlor to the speaker and earphones.

That fewer will study a musical instrument may be a loss for musical education and pleasure, but even greater will be the loss of the lesson learned through hard work from accomplishments.  That fewer will study a musical instrument may be a loss for musical education and pleasure, but even greater will be the loss of the lesson learned from what can be accomplishments through sustained hard work

That is a lesson that helps them meet challenges throughout their lives.

As it did for me.

I was around ten years old.  My family would vacation a few weeks each summer in Wildwood Crest, New Jersey,  at a cluster of small townhouses and apartments owned by my paternal grandmother.

My brothers Martin and Joe were in their mid-teens and very accomplished violinists, in part due to the insistence of our father that they practice two to three hours each day, often under his supervision.  In successive years Joe would succeed Martin as concertmaster of the All Philadelphia High School Orchestra.  And that was but the beginning of Joe’s illustrious lifetime avocation as an amateur violinists of professional competence.

As for me, I had chosen to play the piano to avoid Father’s attention and was somewhat supervised by Mother.  Starting at the age of four, by ten I played

so – so and like both of my brothers, had competed in the Friday evening amateur contest at the  then Wildwood Crest Pier and had won my age group.

Then came the end of the summer season and an opportunity for those who had won their categories on prior Fridays to compete for a grand prize.   I did not bother to practice for the occasion and my performance was mediocre.   Unlike one of my brothers who did compete and who won his category, I earned no prize other than the consolation of a box of salt water taffy.

My family had attended as well as relatives and summer friends and I felt deeply ashamed of my poor performance.  I recall crying as we headed home from the pier and tossing the box of salt water taffy as far as I could into the dunes.

I resolved then and there that I might not be as good as some others, but I would never again beat myself by failing to do my best, whatever the task. It was a lesson branded on my psyche.

Post script:   Sixty years later my cousin Bob Blumstein told me he had ‘rescued’ the taffy from the beach where I had tossed it!

Updated: June 29, 2022 — 5:30 pm