The Parents’ Perspective: Skipping School for the Sake of Music

For our fourth blog of The Parents’ Perspective we asked for both parent and reader feedback on which topic to discuss – skipping school for the sake of music, or dealing with stage fright and nerves. Both are great (and important) topics, but we had overwhelming interest in discussing the matter of skipping school for the sake of music, so that’s what you’ll read about today. We will talk about stage fright in a later post.

Being a parent of a young musician certainly isn’t easy, especially when confronted with the choice of sending your child to school or allowing them to compete in a competition that may further their musical career. Below are opinions, personal stories, and advice from parents of From the Top alums. There are many perspectives on this subject and we hope this provokes further conversation. Please feel free to comment below and keep the dialogue going.

At Times, Skipping School Was Ok For Us

Judy Merritt (Edward Merritt, double bass, Show 100)

If either of my children had to miss school for the sake of music, I always arranged with their teachers that the children could somehow get credit for the musical work; they always were required by us (the parents) to make up tests, etc. Missing/skipping school for the sake of music was simply okay with us, so long as all responsibilities were taken care of. He missed school only a couple times a year and it always seemed to be beneficial academically and musically.

Vicky Robbins (Sean Robbins, slack key guitar, Show 210)

Whenever Sean did take time off from school, it was always for the sake of music! It may have been for a special workshop with a master teacher or to perform. Another reason he missed a day of school was to provide Arts Leadership in his community by visiting 4th grade classrooms at a local elementary school. He talked about his instrument, played and answered students’ questions. Skipping school only happens for a good musical reason and it definitely makes him a better student, musician and person.

Susie Wuest (Eric Wuest, violin, Show 030)

Skipping school was never really an issue with Eric. There were a few times Eric was excused for a local concert and there was one year when I needed to arrange for Eric to take a NYS Regent’s exam at another school so that he could start the Tanglewood summer program on time. Fortunately, school was very easy for Eric so it was not hard for him to make up anything he missed. But generally he didn’t want to miss classes.

Achieving Balance Between Academics and Music is Necessary

Emmanuel Cabezas (Gabriel Cabezas, cello, Shows 128, 155, 192, and 217)

Both my wife and I, in concurrence with Gabriel, felt strongly that both schoolwork and music-related responsibilities should be honored and completed fully to the extent of one’s ability (all this while keeping social development active).

In missing school to pursue a music opportunity, we found that Gabriel learned other valuable lessons:

– A strong relationship developed between school administrators, teachers and Gabriel concerning the matter of keeping up with learning effectively, completing assignments timely and efficiently, and enjoying the school experience socially.

– A sound understanding of responsibility and accountability became part of Gabriel’s daily life. In order to perform, he had to keep up with his school-related work; and in order to attend public school, he had to prepare for his concerts efficiently.

– Gabriel’s organizational skills strengthened acutely as time passed and he learned the skills necessary to balance the scholarly duties with the music-related requirements of his life, and to eventually unite them fully into his current endeavor: continuing to learn and perform at a music conservatory.

Skipping for the sake of music, when necessary, actually prepared Gabriel for undertaking higher education and continuing his development as an aspiring musician.

Karen Willett (Adam Birdsall, piano, Shows 082 and 144)

Even though my son’s piano instructor encouraged it, my son never skipped school just to prepare for a competition or recital. The only time he missed school was if we needed to travel for a competition, and that was only a few times a year. When my son was in junior high we needed to sit down and talk through this. On one hand his instructor, who he greatly admired, was telling him school wasn’t as important as piano. But on the other hand his parents were telling him school was very important, and that we could make both work.

During all of high school he took college level math courses at the University outside of his regular school day. He was a 4.0 student, National Merit Finalist, etc. He was also very involved in the extracurricular programs of Destination Imagination and Future Problem Solving (both are creative problem solving programs), so much so he competed at the international level in both. With this level of commitment outside of his regular public school schedule, time was dear. We tried to teach him to use it well.

During the spring months there are lots of competitions in both piano and creative problem solving programs. Year after year, some of them fell on the same day. It didn’t seem to affect him too much; he usually placed well or won in both. We were trying to teach him the importance of both in his life.

As a parent I often agonized over these decisions. Would my son crash and burn under the pressure? Are we making good choices? I kept my eyes and ears and heart open, and responded if problems arose. Luckily for us, problems were few, and my son thrived.

I think what we chose to do was right for our child. That doesn’t mean it is right for every child. He is currently in his third year of a double degree program in classical piano performance and chemistry. By insisting on keeping school a priority during elementary, middle and high school while studying piano we set him up with the confidence he would need to handle it at the college level.

Wishing Schools Had Been More Accommodating

Jasmine Moghissi (Dominic Favia, trumpet, Show 215)

Dominic has done things like local honor bands, national competitions, From the Top, the National Symphony Orchestra Youth Fellowship Program, and various music conferences over the years, all of which take him out of school. Last year, as a junior he missed a total of an entire month. Although he was taking a heavy load of classes (4 AP) and most of his grades were A’s, he really struggled through the year to keep up. His teachers did not support him at all. For instance, when he went to From the Top, his AP English teacher gave him the assignments to complete while he was gone (which he did). When he returned she told him she had changed her mind, and assigned something else to the class, and she expected the new assignment to be completed in the next few days.

Dominic is a strong student and very conscientious, and works very hard to participate. We, as parents, have worked hard to make sure he continues with his academics, to give him more options in the future. You’d think his teachers would assist in that, rather than try to make his life more difficult. It would be very easy for him to take easy classes and just drift through high school.

Music is what he wants to do for the rest of his life. By allowing him to “skip” school, he is able to learn many other things that will assist him in his future career. I now see why many musicians are home-schooled, but that was just not an option for us. I am very disappointed that a school system that prides itself on achievement is not more accommodating to kids who are obviously high achievers, and still want to learn.

Home-Schooling Was the Way to Go

Naomi Aldort (Oliver Aldort, cello, Show 126)
Author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves

I never thought missing school is a problem. To me, anything a child does in freedom amounts to much greater education than being indoctrinated in a school.

My own sons never went to school. Not only did it do no harm, it actually spared them much harm caused by school and helped them to be self-directed and loving to learn and to practice of their own free will. I did not have to monitor their practice or studies.

At age sixteen, Oliver was accepted to Colburn School of Music (college level) where he currently studies. Since he never went to school, he had to pass the GED tests in order to apply. He studied on his own for three weeks and passed them all. He is not an academic genius. Rather, what they teach in school over 12 years is very little. It takes so long in school because it goes against the learning nature of the child. Teaching in groups, against the will of the children and in ways and set ups that don’t fit their brain, timing and inner drive, is very difficulty and unproductive.

Oliver is a shining student whose main passion is music and he is consumed by it and is interested in everything, i.e. learning all the times. He thrives on high demand because he was never forced to take lessons or to practice. He goes on his own to every concert he can, and studies way more than what is being asked of him. His love of learning is alive because he was never forced to.
©Copyright Naomi Aldort