Priorities and when to throw in the towel

I just rang up a student’s parent. It started as a query about a missed lesson, but resulted in me giving the hard word about practice and priorities.

This student is one of those “high achievers”, whereby they do insane amounts of exams, scholarship exams and other academic activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award. This is totally above and beyond the usual workload of a typical student and in conjunction with learning French and Chemistry at school and extra curricular, as well as swimming, music groups and clarinet, one could be left wondering when this student ever has a chance to play any Play Station.

Essentially, this student doesn’t practise. In fact, when they came to their lesson last week, I could have sworn the piece actually got worse. For someone who has been wanting to do grade 8, this is not a good omen.

I ended up giving this student a piece of my mind as to what is important at this point in his life. I think my best line was…

You’re old enough now to not care.

It really needs the context of my entire rant to essentially sum of the fact that this kid doesn’t have to do all these things. He doesn’t have to do swimming, he doesn’t have to do totally innocuous exams and he definitely doesn’t have to do clarinet. The most important is that he shouldn’t feel guilted into having to do it and thus shouldn’t feel bad that they’ve ditched one activity in order to favour some other one.

It’s hard saying no to things, but ultimately it’s a relief. Better to focus on achieving a few things well, than doing a whole host of things poorly. Will there be regrets for not doing things? Perhaps, but ultimately I think the idea of having tried many things, getting a feel as to what works for you, then selecting those that you can really achieve in, is far more important. For this student, perhaps clarinet has reached that point.

There has to be a reason for doing something, ultimately. Swimming perhaps for a different social group, French because they want to do an exchange, certain exams because they’re a prerequisite for a certain University course.

This is going to sound weird coming from a clarinet teacher, but doing Grade 8 clarinet just for the  sake of reaching a certain level of achievement just doesn’t sound like a good reason compared to other goals one could aspire to. Grade 8 is one stone is a river full of stepping stones whereby you step through it to get to another stone, which could be University entrance, or that Summer Music School orchestra that plays with players from Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, or the community Concert Band where you can mentor your section. Gosh, perhaps they even want to teach part time and having done Grade 8 acts as a qualification.

In the end, sometimes one just has to accept that there are other challenges that are more worthy of our ever valuable time. In the end, we can always go back to those that haven’t yet been conquered.

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