So let me just start by saying that I’m not a parent and I don’t have any kids. I don’t have any experience raising children and to be honest, I’m not even that great of a babysitter. But, I am a freaking awesome Auntie—the one who will surprise the kids with trips to Disney World, weekends at water parks, endless tokens at Dave & Busters or anything that will bring a smile to their faces and empty my wallet.
But I also understand that being a cool Aunt is pretty easy. I mean, I do all the surprise stuff, the fun stuff, the “auntie” stuff and leave the hard part to my sister; a cool aunt can laugh it off when cuss words slip or when irresponsible mistakes are made—they can even set bad examples without worrying too much about the consequences. No big deal, right? I can only imagine how difficult it must be to actually raise a child where every seemingly small decision counts and how they must ask themselves every moment of every waking day, “Am I doing this thing right?”
I’m not an expert on child psychology or child pedagogy in the least; however, I am somewhat of an expert on certain kinds of kids: the artistic kids to be exact! I, myself, was an artistic child and in my line of work as a professional singer and vocal coach, I am always surrounded by talented people, but most of all amazingly artistic kids.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of show moms, pageant moms, cheerleader moms and of course dance moms. There is the stereotype that behind every artistic child there is a grueling parent pushing them to be the best at all costs, in constant competition, ruining their lives for the sake of the art and inevitably stealing their childhood. I grew up wanting a mom like that and longing for a dad like that. Not one that would steal my childhood of course, but I longed for a parent that could at least see that there was something special about me, something worth fighting for, something worth sweating for or something to believe in other than the violent streets of Chicago.
I think that raising an artistic child must be the most difficult of all. If a parent is not artistic, their child’s talent may be viewed as a game or something silly—a waste of time that takes attention away from school. But even if that child comes from an artistic family there are challenges: how do you push the child without pushing too hard? How do you make them believe in their dreams without making those dreams your own? How do you make them take their gift seriously without having them resent their gift in the process? How do you help them understand that studying the violin is just as important as studying math without making them hate the teacher?
Some parents, even artistic parents, will sometimes take the opposite approach by leaving the talented child to their own devices. Maybe the artistic parent felt too pushed as a child, so they opted to show no interest at all letting the child decide if they want to practice or not, audition or not, completely removed from the artistic life of the child for fear of coming off as one of “those” parents.
I think it’s important for people to know that it’s not easy being an artistic kid, and that artistic kids are usually very lonely. One might think that they would be the life of kids’ parties and adored by other children because they are so talented, but it is that talent that isolates them the most. They often find themselves longing to fit into a world where Justin Bieber reigns over Mozart, where no one’s ever heard of Tchaikovsky and it’s cooler to play football than try out for the dance team or art club. They are made to feel bad for liking jazz, the opera, the classics, ballet, and art. They are teased and made fun of for the one thing that makes them so utterly miraculous.
One of the most painful days of my coaching career was about 10 years ago. It was the day I almost gave up coaching because my heart was broken in pieces. A 17-year-old Italian girl came to my house for a lesson, at the time I was teaching in my studio downstairs and I would have family and parents stay in the living room until the lesson was over. The ordinary-looking young girl and I went downstairs and after about 15 minutes of warm-ups she began her first song. She had a rare vocal gift that you don’t hear often, and it was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. She had effortless high notes, natural belting, beautiful head voice and a vibrato that should be boxed and sold. I was in awe and shocked. But most of all, the girl was an artist. It wasn’t her flawless voice that made her so special, but how she used it with such maturity, art and genius. This girl was a gem and it was one of those rare amazing moments when you know you are in the presence of something truly remarkable.
I immediately told her how rare she was, trying to control my emotions because I didn’t want to scare the poor girl. I told her that she was the perfect age to start doing auditions for Music Schools. This girl could probably win a vocal scholarship to any music school anywhere in the world and here she was just creating magical sounds like it was tying her shoestrings.
She looked completely unenthusiastic and kind of sad. I couldn’t quite understand why. She quietly told me that her father would never let her seriously study music and I thought, “don’t worry I’ll talk to him. I’ll tell him you are a true musical prodigy and he’ll change his mind”.
At the end of the lesson, I told her to stay downstairs, because I wanted to talk to her parents alone upstairs. As I began to enthusiastically tell them that their daughter was a musical genius, they showed a complete lack of interest that I’d never really seen. I thought I was giving them the best news a parent could get but instead, they gave me dirty looks and were very annoyed by my words. I told the father that she would get accepted to any vocal program she wanted, and she should start preparing auditions. The mother was silent, and the father simply said, “No.” I said, “No?” He said no again and that she would go to school and study economics. “But she wants to sing, and she’s the most amazingly talented singer I’ve ever heard!” He just started laughing and I felt foolish with my face on fire. The girl came upstairs and had a look on her face that said, “I told you so.” I told her to call next week to schedule another lesson the following month. Sadly, she looked at me with teary eyes and said, “ok.” I closed the door, and I started to cry. I thought, “Lord, why would you give that talent to someone who will never use it? Why didn’t you give that voice to someone with a supportive family or someone that cared?” “Why won’t she stand up to him?” “Why won’t she fight for her gift?”
I never saw her again.
But that day she came to my studio, I witnessed a miracle. Today, I hope that she is somewhere singing—maybe she has her own band or a community show. But the truth is…she’s probably that economist her father wanted her to be—an economist with the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard.
Artistic kids are little miracles. I mean, how else can you explain a talented Italian girl like this, or a 10-year-old little girl from Wisconsin who sounds just like Whitney Houston, or a 4-year-old boy with perfect pitch? How can you explain it? It’s supernatural really.
Now that I’m older I realize that the reason I pushed myself so hard when I was younger was that there was no one else there to push me. I would never have been so determined to sing if my family wasn’t so against it, but not everyone is like me. I’m hardheaded. I’m stubborn. And I like little kids like that. It’s a prerequisite for anyone who wants to live a truly artistic life.