Last week, my older son attended “Piano Camp” at a local college. More precisely, he spent a three hours a day for 6 days learning how to play a piano concerto with a chamber group, culminating in a concert for the public. He didn’t ask to go. He really didn’t want to go. But he went. He complained for three weeks before, comparing the prospect of a classroom with a dozen other young pianists to prison. He begged not to go, offering to pay me back the cost of the camp in exchange for clemency. No dice.
His father and I rarely extend our parental muscle to extracurricular activities aside from expecting him to start what he’s finished, barring truly unworkable conditions. When soccer fell out of favor, stopping midseason wasn’t a choice. Not wanting to sign up for soccer this spring, however, was entirely his choice. Lately, whether due to 13-year-old funk or to some challenging home situations, he’s been increasingly reluctant to extend beyond the familiar. Rocket club with a few guys he’s knows for years? Great. An evening talk on Flatland at our church, where he knows the turf but not the people coming? No go. So I did some digging and presented him with a collection of choices for a summer experience. It didn’t have to be academic, although that is what most of the offerings are for kids his age. He nixed anything that was overnight, all day, contained too much “down time”, academic, musical, nature-oriented, local, remote –you get the idea.
Then his piano teacher invited him to Concerto Camp. At three hours a day with a small group of (unfamiliar) kids at a familiar local college with one of the instructors being his own (familiar) piano teacher. He agreed, although not with enthusiasm. His father and I agreed he needed to reach out of his ever-shrinking comfort zone. I wrote the check, his teacher talked it up, he learned his piece with ease. And he started to grumble. Over the weeks before the camp, the grumbling increased in frequency, volume, and intensity. We were both fairly miserable by the time it started, but off he went.
Upon pick-up the first day, he said it was boring but not terrible. The grumbling intensified that evening, some driven by anxiety. He felt like the worst player there, the bottom of the totem pole. He worried about “sounding dumb”. While I knew he was far from the most accomplished pianist attending (a few were entering piano performance programs at prestigious universities come fall), I knew he was not out of his league in this setting. While he’s not a competitive kid, like most kids his age, he doesn’t want to stick out. And sticking out as the worst pianist (his perception) bothered him. By the end of the week, he wasn’t quite as negative, although his constant countdown until the end of the camp continued.
This week brought change. Monday, he told me, was actually fun. And while he was a bit nervous about his Tuesday performance, he was well-prepared and quite collected. And he was amazing. I couldn’t believe what he’d accomplished in six three-hour sessions. He was the second of six talented pianists, and while he fell on the end of the lesser experienced performers, he was definitely not our of his league. I dare say he even had fun, although I verify that with him and bit back the question on my mind: “Would you like to go next year?” I’m pretty sure I’d receive a negative on that. After all, at 13 admitting you liked something you vowed to hate could amount to treason against your tribe. I’ll save that question for next spring and continue to encourage him expand his world, reminding that despite the perceived risks, he might actually enjoy himself.
Here’s a shameless proud mom link to his piece, the Finale of one of Haydn’s Concerto in C.