Have you ever noticed how so much of our life involves the act of letting go? It always thrills my heart to watch a gust of wind swirl the falling autumn leaves in a crazy dance across the parking lot and sidewalks. Yet, the trees have to release their beautiful colored leaves in exchange for bare branches – all for the promise of future growth.
As a parent, I have had to learn to let go of my eldest child – an emerging young adult with great capacity – whose opinion I respect, whose friendship I treasure, and whose heart and convictions I admire. Will she be all right making decisions on her own in far off Spain without us? I guess the only way to know is to let her go. Will she take ownership of all that we have poured into her? My mother’s heart trembles, but my educator’s heart is filled with excitement. At some point I have to choose to let go to allow the growth process to happen. This is the release that allows the bud to blossom – it is not to be confused with abandonment. I’m still here for her, but I release control over my desire to control everything that happens.
Is it that different with the students that we teach and mentor? It is important to structure, plan, nurture, pace, motivate, and teach our students how to do things correctly and well. But at some point, we have to allow them the space to take what we give them and make it their own – to take ownership of a project, a piece, a principle. This might take some floundering and (horror of horrors!) mistakes on their part. It might even take a diversion from the “plan.” Do we have the vision and courage to allow that to happen while partnering with them through the process?
From the viewpoint of music study, teachers are often under pressure to focus primarily on technique and repertoire. After all, we have limited lesson time. We fear that if we take time to focus on aural skills and analysis, improvisation, composition or ensemble activities that our students will be short-changed pianistically. Yet, I would argue that these are the very skills that allow us to connect to making music at the instrument. For adolescent students that are having trouble with motivation and practice, a detour to one or two of these areas of study can be very fulfilling for both teacher and student. We still get to our destination and are richer from the experience. I encourage you to experiment and give this a try. Or perhaps, delve into an area that you have never had time to explore with your students.
All this does involve the act of letting go. We have to let go of our plans and expectations enough to allow ourselves space to step back to see the forest from the trees. Then we can take a deep breath and choose to enjoy the view and the journey.