I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that at some point you’ve known someone who every once in a while would say “I always wanted to learn how to play the [insert instrument here].” And when it was said that he or she still could learn to play said instrument, maybe one of the reasons for not doing so, along with lack of money and time, was something about being “too old” to start learning an instrument. This reason always confused me, especially since as a child, I had a teacher tell me that being a musician was cooler than being a dancer, cause you could play professionally for pretty much as long as you wanted, while you’re only in peak physical condition for dancing until your mid-to-late-20s(Just to clarify, I am not anti-dancer, I am paraphrasing a teacher). So where did this age limit come from? My theory is that it’s in place because little kids are adorable when they make mistakes.
When I started to learn to play the cello at age 7, there were weekly recitals. I didn’t play in all of them, but every kid in this organisation played in a few a year. The skill levels ranged widely, with the high school kids playing fairly advanced pieces while the youngest children couldn’t get a clear sound out of their instrument. What was important was, everyone performed, and if you slacked off on your practising, well, you still had to perform. And it was all okay. The audience was very understanding, and everyone learned proper stage etiquette. That organisation was more professional in running its recitals than some of the school groups I’ve been in since.
But of course, people grow up, and it’s not so cute to watch an adult make a mistake, not to mention that the adults don’t like to be seen making those mistakes. So we end up with tons of small concerts for children beginners and almost none for the older beginners. Every music performance with adult players features very skilled players, so the beginners think that they’re not good enough to perform yet. Even worse, other people hold the adult beginners to higher standards than they should because they forget that they are beginning, and just think “performance.”
I started to learn how to play the guitar in September. Around the middle of this semester, my teacher told me she wanted to get her students playing in front of an audience, at a concert that will be happening this Sunday. It was originally planned that we’d play in an ensemble, and then a few of us could play solo pieces. The ensemble fell through due to a lack of people, but I was still working on my solo piece. Yesterday, my teacher told me that I probably wouldn’t be allowed to play in the recital because I didn’t meet her standards to perform. I started to say something about how my parents had already made plans to drive 7 hours to see this recital, and she said something about how I shouldn’t embarrass myself in front of my parents and the rest of the audience, and wait until I could have a good experience performing. Now, I’m not perfect on this piece in any sense of the word, and a more experienced guitarist would probably play it twice as fast as I do, but I’m not bad for a beginner. I would almost certainly make a few mistakes, but none on the embarrassment level. Most importantly, just because I’d make a few mistakes does not mean that I would not have a good experience.
Performing isn’t just about showing off what you can do, or entertaining your audience. It gets you used to being on stage, allowing you to deal with performance anxiety, and teaching you how to deal with making mistakes in front of an audience. You can be a great player and still not know how to recover from making a mistake. By acting as if it will be the end of the world if we mess up in front of an audience, we are putting the audience the role of something to be feared, as opposed to people who want to see us succeed. If we keep putting off performance until we’re perfect, we’ll either never perform, or we’ll never be satisfied with ourselves as musicians.
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