INFLUENCES ON MUSIC PARTICIPATION
Three notable influences of family, church, and culture emerged as strongly related to focus group participants’ involvement or noninvolvement in music. Sometimes only one influence was discernible, and in other instances two or more were evidenced simultaneously. In addition, we noticed that both music participants and nonparticipants experienced these influences on different levels. We discovered that the influences of church and culture generally appeared to have positive effects on music participation, but that family influence could have either positive or negative effects. In addition, influences from earlier in participants’ lives seemed to play a role in their current attitudes toward music participation.
Some of the music participants had been raised in families in which formal music performance was valued and played an important role. Parents concertized regularly, and children were constantly exposed to music as parents practiced long hours to prepare for performances. It was generally expected that children would follow in their parents’ footsteps by becoming proficient musicians. In one such family, Kay’s mother was both a music performer and teacher, and music participation seemed like a natural and yet expected thing for Kay to do:
I kind of came by it honestly if you will, because my mother was a musician. She was a voice and piano teacher, and she gave lessons in her home, so I was exposed to it all the time. She was also a soloist in a lot of groups and choirs and she performed in the operettas, and so I was exposed to it, and I guess I almost had to [participate] in some ways, although I never felt that way, but it was just a given that I was going to be involved in music somehow. (Kay)
Charles also shared that he had relatives who were regular performers. He humorously described how his parents began his music instruction too early and then had to pull him out; however, because they valued music so deeply, they did not let him quit permanently but postponed lessons until he was older:
My father played the piano by ear and played it quite well, played it in many keys. . . . My aunt, his sister . . . was a church musician, organist, and choirmaster—choir mistress— whatever, and she once played a concerto with the Toronto Symphony and was very proud of it even up to the time of her passing. . I remember the great feeling I had when she sat down at the piano as a very senior musician and played a Chopin work for us to enjoy . . . and it was a just a treat. My mother . . . took up one of the string instruments, the mandolin . . . and played that. I got started in music at the behest of my parents. I think that all parents think that their child is going to be a virtuoso and so they started me so early I was reciting notes in my sleep, and that was considered a very bad thing. . Much as they might have enjoyed having a virtuoso on their hands, [they] realized that was not a good way to go.
So later on I studied with [a master teacher]. I think I was about 12 years old. I was much more interested in baseball than music . . . but then over the years I studied music again and again, . . the piano again and again, and I also took on the trumpet. (Charles)
Other music participants came from families in which informal music making played an important role and was a cherished, regular family activity. Immediate and extended families got together often to sing around the piano or play instruments together, and this served as a medium through which family cohesiveness and rapport were developed and maintained. It also served as an inexpensive, convenient form of entertainment. Delores had strong, positive memories of her family’s informal sing-alongs around the piano and described these in glowing terms:
We had a Baldwin [piano]. We didn’t have any other instruments, but each one, my aunt, my grandmother, and everyone played. You know, you played and you sang. And, as a kid that’s all I remember. I got old, but I remember those wonderful times together. And my aunts and uncles inherited wonderful voices. I mean they sang in cantatas and musicals. They were phenomenal. I got [hand gesture indicating “not much talent”]. . . It’s just that the memories are wonderful. (Delores)
In a slightly different but still informal type of experience, Donald’s family’s music making was highlighted by his grandfather’s playing of a Hardanger fiddle from Norway, accompanied by his mother on an old pump organ. He loved his family’s informal music making and directly related it to feelings of relaxation and happiness, as well as his own ability to play by ear:
I didn’t have any music lessons, . but I always loved music. I liked to listen to it. . In our whole family there was a lot of music going on. My grandfather was a fiddle player from Norway and I have his fiddle. It’s a double string, I’ve never seen one of them before . . and he really knew how to play it and my mother, she would accompany him on an old pedal organ, and she could play any instrument that she picked up. Never had a lesson in her life, and she just played it. And I played mostly by ear. I tried to play the accordion for a while, and I took some lessons on it and I was in the Army at the time and it was kind of hard to get to play. I couldn’t play in the barracks, everybody would be hollering at me . . but like I say,
I always enjoyed music. . . I don’t read the music right now so I can’t just sit down and play on the accordion or anything. I’d have to take some more lessons, but I have it in me I guess, because I picked up a mouth organ and I can play it, no training of any kind—just play it. Must have been a little offshoot of my mother, got some of that in me, but I do love music and it soothes a person, and you whistle or you sing or something and it’s just a nice relaxing thing. And it keeps you happy, I guess. (Donald)
Three of the eight nonparticipants also mentioned positive family influence related to musical involvement. Everett, whose experiences will be shared in more detail later on, remembered positive experiences of performing on the trumpet in church as a boy with his mother as his accompanist. For two other participants, family influence had more of an effect on their abilities to enjoy music as listeners than on their desire to be music participants.
Edward shared that he enjoyed listening to his grandmother play piano in the past and currently enjoyed listening to his wife play piano:
My grandmother was a concert pianist. She had a grand piano and I used to make her play for me all the time, so I mean I love music that way. Listening. . . . My wife teaches piano, so [now] I get that from her. I get to listen to her play. (Edward)
Xavier described his wife’s influence on his past participation in music, as well as his past and current enjoyment of music listening:
I follow with my wife. She’s in the choir and does activities with music. If we go to shows, if we go to the theater, if we go to concerts, it’s because she’s leading the way on it and I follow.
I love it . . but it’s not been the priority in my life, and I’m not kidding about that. I mean I’ve been in several choirs when I was young . . but really I always go at the Christmas time when they’re just looking for somebody for some more volume, okay? And I can contribute the volume but not quality. So that’s really been my background in music. They needed some more volume and although I must admit I don’t ever remember being asked back! So I’m not kidding when I say I’m only adding volume. . . Yet, when I go out to concerts or shows or whatever, I mean the radio station that I have on all the time in my car is Broadway, and I listen to that constantly whenever I’m in the car. . . You get all the Broadway songs and hits and I love it. And so when [my wife] says, “Let’s go someplace,” there’s no hesitation on my part. I say, “Let’s go!” Because I love to listen to music, it’s just that I really can’t contribute in a manner which I would think is going to provide some good quality. But as a listener I love it and enjoy it, I always have a good evening. . . I haven’t heard a bad song yet, that kind of thing. (Xavier)
Across groups, family influence was mostly perceived as positive. However, for a few, the influence was negative and caused them to participate less frequently, quit altogether, or quit for a period of time and return to music later in life, possibly within a different mode of participation. For example, Irving, a music participant, described how he felt generally discouraged because he believed his musical talents to be inferior to those of his father and brother. After a disastrous recital performance, complete with a vote of “no confidence” from his father, he quit playing piano forever (but later returned to music as a member of several choirs as a senior citizen):
My dad sang in the German Mannerchor for many years; tremendous voice, but never studied music. But would knock the walls down, he had such power. . . Then my brother got active, and he was a paid soprano, a boy soprano . in an Episcopal church, and eventually he was wooed by the church, and went into it and was very active for all his whole life. .
He kind of interested me [in music], but my musical career . . was rather short lived. I was a pianist, and I was terrible. I remember one time I was doing “Cielito Lindo” and it was in [a recital] . and my mother [had gone into] the hospital for something, I think it was kidney stones or something, so my dad . and my brother took me, and I went through about eight bars of “Cielito Lindo” and I made a mistake. And I just stopped, and I looked around, and there was a gasp in the audience as I turned around and started over again, and I had the feeling that they said, “Oh no, not this again!” And really, at that time dad said to me, “Maybe this isn't what you should be doing.” So I never got back to [playing piano] again. (Irving)
Another example of negative family influence was provided by Clarence, also a music participant, who related that his parents, though nonmusicians, valued music. Even though they were very poor, they managed to acquire a piano and insisted that each of their children take lessons. He colorfully described how this “forced study” was a less than positive experience and resulted in a change of instruments for him:
My mother and father had had poverty backgrounds . . . nothing to do with the arts. But my mother insisted when we were growing up that we play the piano. I don't know where she got a piano, but she had a piano, and we had to take piano lessons. From the nuns! With a metronome! Tick-tock! And you know the nuns with the face—only that much showing [gestures to show that only a portion of the face was showing]. Grrr! [sic] Mother Mary Agony! And I took the piano lessons for three years, and I went to my mother and said, . . . “I don't want to do piano anymore.” She says, “Fine. What are you going to take up next?” . . . I don't know why this happened, but I took up violin. (Clarence)
The only nonparticipant to describe a strong negative family influence that caused her to drop out of music forever was Carolyn, whose experiences of being forced to practice as punishment for misbehavior were described earlier. It is important to note once more the depth of the hurt she still felt from these experiences, even though many years had passed.
In further examining family influence on music participation and why the study of music could turn out to be a positive experience in one family and negative in another, we noticed that the quality and level of psychological support provided by the family appeared to be directly related to the quality of experience for the child. In families who used music as a means of communication and interaction, the experience was positive for all. Even in families who required the children to study music but provided them with a high level ofpositive support and encouragement, as well as high-quality instruction, the experience was generally positive. However, when a child felt unsupported, inferior, or ridiculed or was criticized by parents, instructors, or both, the experience was negative and the child quit as soon as he or she was allowed to do so. It is notable that music participant focus group members whose families reacted negatively to their music participation still chose to participate in music as senior citizens, though usually in a different way or in a different type of group. This was not the case with nonparticipants.