Profiling Musical Potential in Small Children.....Really?

September 02, 2014
I received a phone call the other day from a somewhat distraught mother. She had been shopping for a piano teacher for her seven-year-old son who had studied piano for one year with a teacher who moved away. She had spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with many prospective teachers. Finally, she settled on a female teacher, who seemed very pleasant in their telephone conversations. The teacher requested the Mom and the little guy attend a preliminary meeting in the teacher's studio, to meet and to allow the teacher to listen to "audition" the young man.
Mom agreed, but not without a certain amount of apprehension. Her son was, by nature, very shy, nervous and lacking in confidence. He balked at the idea of playing for the new teacher on their first meeting - he hadn't touched the piano all summer and barely remembered anything he had learned. Mom insisted. The new teacher was so amicable on the phone, that Mom was certain there wouldn't be a problem.
At the studio, after a brief conversation with the teacher, the little boy was directed to the piano and directed to play. Nerves took over, he faltered, stumbled and just didn't do well. His anxiety manifested as unusual "squirminess" on his part, completely uncharacteristic. In less than a minute, the teacher stopped the exercise, thanked the duo and told Mom she would be contacting her to discuss lessons. They were in and out of the studio in less than ten minutes.
The next day, Mom received a call form the teacher. In a nutshell, she was told her son had minimal musical potential. The teacher's advice was to consider alternative activities to piano lessons. Shocked, Mom asked the teacher how she could ascertain her son's abilities based on less than sixty seconds of performance shrouded in uncertainty and anxiety. The teacher stated she had years of experience assessing musical ability and she was convinced the little boy had none.
I have been working with children of all ages and personalities for over four decades, and I feel completely inferior, because after all this time, I cannot assess a child's musical potential based on less than a minute's performance. I also do not have the ability to foresee whether that child will grow up to be a concert artist, doctor, lawyer or construction worker.
What I do know is that playing the piano requires ability and ability can be developed. Sitting..... listening..... concentrating..... technique..... sensitivity...... tone..... these are all abilities. We are not born with them, but we certainly can develop them, each of us to different levels and degrees - if we are provided with a nurturing environment and the tools to do so.
I wonder about that teacher's rejection of that little boy. Possibly she didn't want to deal with the challenge of calming him down or building his musical self-esteem - but profiling the little guy's musical ability with such sweeping, wide, broad strokes..... REALLY?

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