children • education • parents
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On Elton John and Stuffed Frogs

June 14, 2017 by

Personally, I find Elton John inspirational. I don’t particularly wish to meet him, and I have absolutely no interest in his private life, but still, inspirational. I mean he doesn’t look like a piano player; everything about him is short and stubby, but boy can he pound out the tunes.

I badly want to be able to do that. I see myself sitting at the keyboard, fingers dancing and thumping over the keys, eyes closed, leaning into the microphone, the whole room bouncing. Bit of a problem that I don’t play piano, but I bet I could learn, and my fingers are a lot longer than his.

The thing about playing an instrument, though, is one really has to start learning how to play as a child. As a parent I used to be a little complexed about my kids learning instruments. From my observations of other families it seemed like a lot of work with very little return. The parents work and work and work on the kid to put in his practice time, it is always a drag, performances are a family embarrassment, and after a few years the kid gives it up.

Practicing instruments with Grandpa

On the other hand, consider the situation in which the kid is really good: he gets let out of class for special lessons, gives impressive performances, everyone thinks he is hot stuff, and before you know it he really believes he is something special and turns into a smug little stuffed frog. The very thought of one of my kids turning into a stuffed frog is enough to make me squirm.

The school children here at Darvell are incredibly lucky in that they are all given the opportunity to learn an instrument. They usually start as a class learning simple instruments like tone bells and recorders, and eventually move on to a more specialized instrument depending on ability, inclination, and the amount of noise their parents feel able to cope with.

After breakfast in our house we have one practicing trumpet and another learning to read music with a recorder. I’ve found that I love it. It’s great for a child to discover for himself the correlation between effort and accomplishment, how things that seem completely impossible are actually achievable, and the value of persistence; doing something again and again and again until you get it right.

In fact, I care a lot more about the values they're learning than the end result. I think it highly unlikely that any of my kids will become professional musicians and I don’t especially wish them to be. With a solid practice every day for a few years though, they should be respectable and who knows, we might even get a family karaoke band together. If I can only get one of my kids to learn piano, that will be the real kicker. Elton John, Neil Young, Billy Joel, bit of Springsteen (I just listened to the opening bars of “Thunder Road”; words fail).

There’s obviously a lot more to music than the two-dimensional love and longing of classic rock, although there are times in life when one is particularly susceptible to this; hearing that Gregg Allman died reminded me of a time when I considered his song “Whipping Post” to be my theme song. On our communities we do a lot of singing of all kinds: hymns, folk songs, choral pieces, sea chanties, and I’m increasingly drawn to music that resonates with what I would call more eternal longings: hope in difficulty, peace of heart amid confusion, expectation of the redemption of all things. And so – if I can get him to practice hard enough – I’m looking forward to singing, one day, “The Trumpet Shall Sound” from Handel’s Messiah, with my son playing the trumpet.


About the author


Ian Barth

Ian lives at the Darvell community in East Sussex, UK with his wife Olivia and their four boys.

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  • No, we’re not Hutterites, but as far as love for the music of Elton John, the author is speaking strictly for himself.

    Bruderhof Communities
  • I thought you people were Hutterites ? (Elton John, Neil Young, Billy Joel)

    Elam Riehl
  • Music is a great to create discipline and endurance to a young persons life. I myself as a young person was involved with vocal arts such as the Madrigal Singers, Chamber Choir, Musicals, Men's Barbershop Etc. Am I a professional singer or vocalist today. No! Though I am thankful for it. It helped us Socially, children who become involved in a musical group or ensemble learn important life skills, such as how to relate to others, how to work as a team and appreciate the rewards that come from working together, and the development of leadership skills and discipline. Also when you are playing in a band or orchestra, you have to be willing to wait your turn to play otherwise the sound is a mess. That inadvertently teaches patience. You need to work together in a group to make music. The reality of this is coming back to me this moment, I am starting to learn to play the guitar. It is a test of the patience along with sore fingers. That is for sure.

    Lawrence Wismer