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Raised by Hippies

I was raised by hippies, who were raised by beatniks. My parents’ generation actively defied convention whenever possible. My mom had long, straight hair. My dad had a long beard. We even made our own yogurt.

My aunt and uncle had both been city kids who moved to the country to be self-sustaining. I remember going to their farm and jumping in haystacks, walking by the stream, picking raspberries and being chased by their billy goat. Man, I hated that goat. But I loved that farm.

The one television we owned was almost never on, but there was always music playing. Dad even trusted me with one of the only responsibilities he took seriously: flipping the LP when side one was finished. My parents’ friends were an eclectic mix who rarely talked about their day jobs. Instead, they stayed up late listening to Dark Side Of The Moon and discussing everything from homemade granola recipes to government conspiracies. I was treated like a small adult, allowed to be around grown-up conversations and encouraged to ask questions.

The hippie parenting style was quite nurturing with an emphasis on peace, love and music. I was encouraged to follow my own path. Everything was cool as long as I wasn’t hurting anybody else. My parents often explained to my teachers that they didn’t see the harm in me drawing and reading instead of playing sports. Like most of my friends, I felt safe and accepted, but without much direction.

Eight-tracks & Cordless Telephones
My generation experienced lackluster school music education that used the recorder to teach music theory — no offense to recorder manufacturers, but it wasn’t exactly an inspiring instrument. Some parents enrolled their young children in organ lessons, but these teach-to-sell programs were designed to get adults minimally competent. This was our only exposure to formal music instruction since no one took private piano or guitar lessons.

This era brought us the first practical, affordable and portable music mediums: eight-tracks and cassette tapes. For the first time, people began consuming more music than they produced. For the masses, music had become as passive an activity as watching TV. The result was that most parents in my generation have no idea how to help their kids discover music. They believe making music is important for children, but they’re not exactly sure why. However, they do know that they missed out on something special.

When I was born, there was one popular book about parenting, Dr. Spock’s Baby And Child Care. Today, lists more than 70,000 titles. Today’s parents are hungry for information, and as their kids grow out of diapers, their favorite topic is education.

Today’s parents remember the day that the video game console, cordless telephone and VCR came out. They were the first generation whose parents had more than one electronic option to keep their kids occupied while both parents worked. Now, my generation desperately wants to help its children find a balance in an increasingly distracting world.

Laying a Foundation
Last year, I began speaking to parent groups about “making practice time peaceful time,” and the results have been incredible. Parents who never had music lessons are excited to hear how easy it can be to help their kids develop good practice habits. They sometimes get frustrated that their teachers didn’t explain the importance of a good instrument in the home. In an hour, they leave with simple, practical advice and the tools they need to help their kids.

As an industry and as music making advocates, we can only benefit by reaching out to parents in a new and constructive way. We need to help them understand that making music is not about having talent, it’s OK to change teachers as their children progress, and when students say something’s “too hard,” they’re just about to turn a corner.

Hippie parents were right: Kids should be allowed to follow their own musical path. Parents need to lay a strong foundation for success. This means helping children establish good practicing habits, providing them with an encouraging space and a quality instrument for practice, and supporting them along the way.

Remember, parents don’t know what they don’t know. Help them understand, and we’ll enjoy all the peace, love and music my hippie parents dreamed of. MI

Grant Billings is the owner of Steinway Piano Gallery in Madison, Wis., and a Music Inc. columnist.