Thursday, December 24, 2009

Constructive Criticism

No matter how constructive you try to be, criticism is hard to take. And at first, constructive criticism always seems destructive.

Bianca is my music lover. She plays beautifully on the piano. Not only is she good at playing, but she just gets it. There’s something in her brain that allows her to feel something—to create—with her music that’s just not there for everyone. I played the piano for ten years in my childhood and never once thought that I could actually “create” out of what I knew—the notes on the page that signified a key, the timing, the key signatures. All that. But instinctively, Bianca creates. She has to have her muse (some days it’s far, far away but others it’s there and she spends a morning composing a new piece). She has this little folder full of her compositions and it shows the progression of her musical understanding. Now that she’s getting better, her pieces are getting more interesting—key signature changes, more complex rhythms—and more difficult for her to play. I thought it was funny that the song she wrote (and won) in Reflections this year (called “Birds' Chorus”) she had the hardest time playing.

After Bianca had been playing piano for two years, she decided she wanted to try out the orchestra at school. She learned to play the viola in a class setting. The problem with this is that the instructor doesn’t really have the time to individually help each student. While she’s learning the notes okay, her form isn’t great. She doesn’t use a lot of her bow and many times her bow slides off to the side, which makes her play more quietly and the sound is less pure. I noticed this at the Christmas concert last week when watching her in comparison with some of the other students. But now, as I try to encourage her to “use more bow” or to “slide straight up and down,” Bianca has just had it. She told me that moms aren’t supposed to criticize but to support their children. I understand what she’s saying. I really do. But how can I sit back and watch her doing something wrong and not correct it? If I don’t, who will?

I told her about my writing group. How I turn in my work and then I go and each person “constructively” tells me what I’m doing wrong, what I need to fix, and I leave most nights a little heartbroken. Yes, I’ve even cried on my drive home a couple times. It hurts to be criticized. BUT after a day or two contemplating what I’ve been told about my story, I start working. I rewrite and fix. And always, always after I’ve spent the time with my story, it’s better. It just is. And then I know that yes, I need to be a little heartbroken to get better.

Bianca listened to my story. I don’t know how much she related to playing the viola. I’m trying to back off. I guess I just need to let her learn on her own. But I still can’t get over that she’s going to learn some bad habits on her viola that are going to take her forever to correct if we don’t fix it soon. I know I’m a controlling mom. I know I push, sometimes too hard. But I feel like Bianca has been given a gift, a musical gift that not just everyone gets. I didn’t. I want her to live up to her potential. I want to build her up, but sometimes doesn’t she have to be broken down first? What’s acceptable for a mom to do? I want her to be the best she can. Is that so wrong?

Playing viola

1 comment:

rachel said...

I'm really glad you posted this, Jeana. Do you think that ultimately you will get her a private Viola teacher in addition to the orchestra? I just see how she has flourished under her current piano teacher. I remember listening to someone (and I still do this) other than my family tell me the exact same thing a family member has told me and I seem to take it more to heart.
Bianca is extremely talented. I'm glad you shared the writing group experience with her. You are such a wonderful mother. You encourage Bianca to grow and reach her potential and you are always on the front row cheering her on.
Mother/daughter relationships are complicated. You are pushing against each other at the same time becoming best friends. All I know is I sit and listen to the two of you playing a duet and you are figuring it out together.

On the piano and in life...