Pedal Point Music Blog

The Roof Is Higher On One Side

Friday, June 29, 2018 by William Suit | Uncategorized


I think I was probably eleven when my parents gave in to one of my phases of "When I grow up, I want to be..."  At this stage I wanted to be an artist.  I still have two prehistoric looking birds I painted and designed out of devil's claw (Proboscidea).   There was the woodburning set I used to etch out signs and designs from scraps of lumber I'd find. I made cornhusk dolls and put them in a local shop to sell.  I tried to construct creative items that I thought my parents might proudly display in the living room for others to see.  There was just no end to the creative ideas.

As a gift during this time, I received an elaborate starter art set.  It was a fantastic gift.  The black vinyl case with a shiny black carrying handle was full of pastels, oils, watercolors and all of the brushes needed to help a young artist express himself.  There were even a couple of canvas boards, which I quickly turned into pieces of art.  One of them was proudly displayed by my doctor.  Although, looking at it now, I'm sure he was just being nice.

During this time I had the novel idea that I would paint a watercolor of our home.  We lived in the country.  So, I had to improvise on some things, but the setting was ideal. The lush green leaves of the forest surrounding our little house entranced me as I painted away.  I perched myself near the top of an old 10 foot step ladder half way up our driveway for the best vantage point.

A few days later my "masterpiece" was finished and I covered it with a sheet in the living room to be unveiled at our nightly family gathering.  With dinner over and the kitchen cleaned, everyone gathered to share some time before bed.  Dad always started it by reading from the Bible.  Then we would all share something.  Everyone was anxious to see what I had hidden behind the veil.  So, I stood up and proudly walked over to the painting and announced my masterpiece.  Dramatically, I whisked the veil away and there it was!

My older sister smiled and shouted, "That's our house!"  Mom gave me a big hug and gushed over the artistry.  After a moment of celebration, it became painfully obvious that there was a very strong silence in the corner of the room.  My dad was sitting there expressionless, looking intently at the painting.  Everyone stopped and looked at him.  He looked at it again, tilted his head and observed, "The roof is higher on one side."

The room suddenly became cold and tense.  Mom's expression changed to a look of disdain as she glared at him.  I, being a sensitive child, crumbled and ran to my bedroom.  In fairness, dad later apologized for being critical and encouraged me to keep working on my craft, but I never forgot that moment or how it felt.

That moment sprung up to me a few years ago as I sat listening to the painful attempt of a child to play her assignment for me.  I suddenly sat back and heard myself calling out note corrections and phrasing.  I looked over and saw the child's expression was one of intent bewilderment.  This was not a delightful experience of learning.  It was pure torture to her.  I slumped back on my stool and sat  silently while she finished.  In my mind I heard it over and over, "The roof is higher on one side...the roof is higher on one side...the roof is higher on one side..."

That was the moment that turned my approach to my students.  In fairness, I've pretty much always been upbeat with my teaching, but I found an area in this of great importance that needed to change.  I decided that, moving forward, I would no longer interfere with a student's performance of a prepared piece, unless asked to do so.

When lessons begin, after settling in and warming up, I always sit back and listen, without comment until the student is finished.  I then go through the entire piece, pointing out everything that was done well, applauding the student for each accomplishment.  Only then, do I lead the student to areas of improvement.

I believe the best growth musicians experience, is growth from that which is done well.  Failure is a very weak foundation upon which to build accomplishment.  Does that mean there are no shortcomings or failures?  Absolutely not!  We all fail numerous times, before we accomplish our goals.  Yet, we rise above the failures by recognizing the path to accomplishment, not by assembling a bridge from our failures.

These children, trusted to me for thirty minutes each week, are seeking a path to accomplishment.  I'm excited to guide them to their goals and I applaud each step in the right direction.  That helps make this often difficult journey seem less daunting and more fun.  Shouldn't learning involve some pleasure?

In the end, I go with my sister's words, "That's our house!"  Her unprompted, innocent childlike view of my hopeless attempt at watercolor still gives me a sense of accomplishment every time I see it in storage.  By the way, the roof is higher on one side.