sibling issues

Anne said: Jan 4, 2009
 17 posts

My 11-year-old son began Suzuki violin at age 3. It took a long time to get through Book 1 (four years), but now he plays beautifully in mid Book 5…has a beautiful tone, a great sense of musicality, and plays with a lot of heart, he was concert master for the elementary schools’ district orchestra, plays in the middle school elite chamber orchestra, etc. Recently, though, two issues are kind of coming to a head…

First, middle school has been a rough transition—so much more homework, harder orchestra pieces (he’s in 3 orchestras and won’t drop one), harder Suzuki pieces, lots more practice, and then general growing pains. He recently went through quite a rough patch where he wasn’t advancing at all in his Suzuki pieces, but I think we’re coming out of that (his wise teacher told me that often at this age/level there’s a bit of a backslide before they take off again).

Thus, the age/level issues probably wouldn’t matter so much if it weren’t for the other issue…his 6-year-old sister has really taken off with violin. She’s just finished the 1st Vivaldi in Book 4. When he heard her start the piece, his face just fell. Top that off, he found an old recital program from when he was her age—he had performed Etude! Now he’s asking if I think she’s better or smarter than he is; while I try to minimize comparisons and point out all of his wonderful qualities, and emphasize that it is his beautiful playing that has inspired his sister, I am really, really worried about what will happen we she catches up, or even passes him. I thought this would happen eventually, but later. My son is great and loves playing, how do I keep him from getting discouraged? (His teacher is also very sensitive to this matter. One possible route she suggested is his trying viola. He does enjoy the viola and plays it in the school orchestra, but he doesn’t want to give up violin completely).

At the same time, I don’t think I should be holding his sister back… but she’s one group/orchestra level below him… he is very worried about when she’s at the level where she can be in his orchestra (maybe next year). Also, she gets so much attention from other parents and older students (they’re in a very big Suzuki program). (Another discussion thread should probably be how to deal with the attention she gets—I don’t want it going to her head and I definitely don’t want it to be one of her primary motivating factors.) I’m also worried that my enthusiasm for her progress translates to him as lack of enthusiasm for his, or something along those lines.

I tell both, talent is as talent does… in the end the one who puts in the most work will reap the most rewards. As my son said yesterday, right now, that’s his sister… she thinks “practicing is the best thing in the whole world”. Logically, for a normal 11-year-old boy, there are lots of things more interesting than practicing right now. Our 1 hour a day is a struggle, but it gets done.

Sorry for the disorganized thoughts. So, I guess my questions are, how to I help my son continue proud and enthusiastic about his accomplishments? How do I deal with the sibling comparisons/rivalry? How do I support both in the unique ways they each need support, helping them each reach their maximum potential and, most importantly, keep loving the violin? (Again, their teacher is very sensitive to this issue and has been helpful; I’m just wondering if I can find more helpful ideas).

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