16: Practice Makes Perfect

16: Practice Makes Perfect

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Practice Makes Perfect

It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live.

~Mae Jemison

“Time to practice piano!” I shouted up the stairs. I must have hollered that sentence a thousand times. My son started playing piano in kindergarten. I realize that it’s a bit early, but he comes from a musical family and piano lessons are a tradition. Besides, he’s very musical.

I’d beam with pride during his piano recitals as his little fingers sailed across the keyboard playing tunes by Mozart and Schumann. “That’s our son,” I’d whisper to my husband, as he’d dismiss me with a “Shush, be quiet.”

Although I’d revel in my son’s musical accomplishments, the fact was that he would rather have been spending his time playing baseball or making videos with his friends. Every week, as the piano instructor arrived at our door, I’d coax (or bribe) my son to go downstairs for his lesson. “Don’t keep John waiting. The sooner you start, the earlier you’ll finish. I’ll buy you a Starbucks oatmeal cookie; just go down there.” He’d reluctantly leave his room (and his action figures) and start his lesson.

James loved his action figures. He used to create stop-motion videos of his action figures battling each other and upload them onto YouTube. He was passionate about film and animation.

Like my husband, my son is not a complainer. He took his piano lessons religiously every week and — although I had to constantly urge him to practice — he never complained.

As he got older, however, school became more intensive and homework required more time. It was hard to juggle it all. I remember thinking that my friend who had a daughter in middle school was pushing her unnecessarily with too many activities, like tap, ballet, and hip hop, but I wasn’t looking at my own situation, which was very similar.

James’s short films became more and more interesting as he matured and his passion for filmmaking never seemed to tire. It was obvious that he found joy in filmmaking, not in piano, and I realized one day that in order to be really good at something, you have to let other things go.

And so, as much as it surprised me to utter these words, I did: “I think James should give up piano.”

My husband (a musician) looked confused. James was the soloist in the jazz band at school and had played well year after year. He had perfect pitch to boot. “Why would you suggest that?” he replied.

“Because it doesn’t make him happy. Making videos makes him happy and he can’t do everything! He has too many activities. Between schoolwork and sports… it’s just too much. No one can do everything!”

And so, after some thought, my husband asked the key question, “Does he ever sit down and play piano just for fun?”

“Never,” I answered.

That settled it.

His recital was a couple of weeks away and we didn’t say anything to James until it was over. On the way home in the car, we asked nonchalantly if he’d like to discontinue piano lessons.

There was silence for a few minutes. Then he answered. “Let’s not schedule any lessons for the summer. I’ll decide in September.” His answer was so mature it knocked my socks off.

By the end of the summer, after many sunny days of tennis (which had replaced baseball) and filmmaking, he brought up the subject of piano.

“I’d rather not take any more piano lessons, if that’s okay.”

It was more than okay! It would free up time during the school year to do what he really loved.

Music is what I (and my husband) had wanted for him, but it’s not what he wanted. I wasn’t listening to the real music… the music of my son’s heart!

I have never had to yell the word “practice” again. He naturally follows his passion. James is blooming as a young film editor and making friends along the way.

Last year, his short film came in second place in a tri-state film festival and today he is shooting a music video for an aspiring singer with passions of her own. The song is called “Believe” and is being co-directed by American Idol contestant Robbie Rosen.

The song lyrics remind the listener to stay positive, not give up, and believe.

I believe that God has his own plans for my son.

And I believe that He gave my son the passions of his heart in order for him to become the person “He” wants him to be. Not the person “I” want him to be. He’s well on his way and I love watching him as he practices being himself every single day.

~Mary C. M. Phillips

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