Great Expectations. Squandered Potential.

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Finding that the month of August was fast approaching and the weeks of preparation I had squandered were long behind me, I was once again housing a dreaded sense of apprehension in the pit of my stomach. It was at this time each year that I, without fail, would suffer a shocking realisation regarding the presently impending status of the annual concerto competition, and once again, I was ill prepared. It was not that I lacked the skill to perform my set composition satisfactorily, but rather, that at this point in my musical education I lacked any real ambition to improve. This, however, had not always been the case.

Not dissimilar to many other Australians, I was encouraged to pursue music at a young age. The expectation that I would excel in the study of music and in the art of performance was in my case, however, the result of my personal circumstances. My father, being a German-born violinist, had held principal positions in both the Melbourne Symphony and the Sydney Symphony, later assuming a prominent teaching position at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. On the other hand, my mother, an Australian-born pianist, had both performed and taught across central Europe and Australia, undertaking a similar position at the Sydney Conservatorium. It was because of my place in a lineage of prominent musicians that I was gifted a half-sized violin on my fourth birthday – a luxury and privilege that my father assured me that other children would be grateful to have.

When recalling my earliest years, much of the time I spent with my parents was whilst surrounded by the greatest musical institutions in my city. I would wander the foyers of the sandstone Conservatorium, suffering lengthy conversations and introductions with Sydney’s most admired musicians, all of whose names I would instantaneously forget. My father would escort me through security procedures at the Opera house, where I would spend my time drawing and contemplating why it was called ‘the green-room’. It was in these places that my mother would watch on joyfully as I learnt from my father the basic rudimental skills of holding a bow.

Following several years of study and practice, however, I had become disillusioned with the instrument my parents had chosen for me. I was performing at an adequate level for my age, but at the time I dreamt of being exceptional, and also of something much ‘cooler’. During the days of my vagabonding about the Conservatorium I had befriended a colleague of my parent’s, largely due to the intricacy of the contraption he kept in his room. In the fourth grade I requested to learn the bassoon, and it was following this that I would be accepted into a prestigious private all-boys school on a scholarship for musical distinction.

How I then developed from the young, eager to learn adolescent, into a stubborn teenager that was reluctant to rehearse I am unsure. It is possible that the weight of the additional co-curricular pressure in an already congested schedule led to my discouragement. It is also possible that the level of expectation I was held to by my peers and teachers was too substantial, and as such I made no effort to live up to it. After all, my parents were famous musicians, and so of course, I must be a virtuosic genius.

Perhaps I, however, like many of my classmates, simply grew tired of co-curricular involvement, preferring the alternative of girls, sport and video games. Regardless of what impetus had led to my dissuasion from pursuing musical excellence, by the time I had reached my final years of testing, I had lost the aspirations I once held as a child. And so, despite the surroundings of my youth, and a lengthy history of instrumental study and performance, I undertook a humanities degree, signalling the abandonment of any desires to become a musician.

My experience is not particularly remarkable, or that distinct from most others with the opportunities of a musical education. A zealous pressure on young children to excel is a parenting style all too common within circles of musical education, and is one that my parents, particularly as educators, are greatly aware of, and largely abhor.
All too frequently children are unable to dissuade family members from holding unrealistic expectations of their abilities, and it leads to disillusionment on one side and a desire to escape on the other. For many, it is not merely the expectations that can be disheartening, but also the fanatical encouragement to continue an activity so alienated from any current desires or aspirations.

I hope it is clear that I am not rejecting decisions made by my parents, and that I do not disapprove of musical education at a young age. I am grateful for the opportunities that I was given and, in a sense, feel apologetic for having squandered them. I do fundamentally believe that the experiences that resulted from my musical involvement ultimately led to my well-rounded development as a person. An appreciation for all performing arts and my eclectic music taste is, in my opinion, a result of my early education. Regardless, the limits of youthful potential and the possible detriment of overt forcefulness must be understood. It is because of my parent’s understanding of these ideas that I am, in hindsight, appreciative for my chances to perform.