I recently received word that one of my piano students is calling it quits. For the moment this young man is my oldest student, both in age and in tenure, but in a few weeks his piano career will end. If he follows the path of most people he will probably never take lessons again, which is a shame. He was not destined for a music career, but he had reached a level of reading ability and proficiency that most people never attain and that would have served him well as an adult. The problem is, without the pressure of a weekly lesson to make one practice, most people don't do so, and skills decline. Believe me, I know, because I don't take lessons anymore and I don't practice much these days! In my case I can get away with it because I am coasting on 18 years of study. Also, as a working accompanist I do still play a lot (albeit generally not the level of repertoire I peformed in college). But I fear that in a few years this young man will find himself saying (as I hear from so many adults these days), "I took lessons when I was a kid. I wish I hadn't quit. I can't play much anymore." Playing piano is not like driving a car or riding a bike. It doesn't come back to you after a 10-year interruption.
So why is this student quitting? High school. He will be attending a private high school this fall (he used to be home schooled), and his mother says that his schedule is such that he will be gone close to 12 hours per day. Then there's homework. Part of the time involved is the hour or more of commuting each day. He will also be playing football. But he played football last year and still managed to keep up piano (he did take a piano sabbatical for several weeks during football season). So it's not just the football. It's more than that.
High school. One of the reasons we have continued to home school even as my son has reached high school age is that we don't like turning our lives over to a school. I just don't understand why school needs to take so much time. When I was in high school, I showed up at 8:30 and left at 3:30 (by which time I had usually already completed my homework because there wasn't much anyway and I had time to do it during my 1-hour study hall and my 1-hour lunch period). I got home at 3:45 (granted, I only lived a few blocks from my high school) and proceeded to eat Twinkies and watch sitcom television. There was still plenty of time to do a few house chores and practice piano before supper (thus allowing more TV-watching time after supper). During my last two years, I even worked a part-time job at the local grocer. Was I able to do all this just because I went to a small rural high school, or have things changed since I was that age?
I think things have changed. I think that as educational bureacracy and funding have grown (be it public or private--they're birds of a feather in my opinion) and as public scrutiny of schools has intensified (I actually sympathize with the schools and teachers in this regard--there's really only so much they can do), schools have begun to put more demands on students and families, as if to say "See, we're doing more--we're working to raise those test scores and to justify all that money we're spending."
If my 14-year-old son were away from home 12 hours a day, leaving at 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. and returning at 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. with homework yet to complete, what would become of the two hours of chess that he studies each day? Or the two hours of piano and voice that he practices? What would become of our morning devotions and our family meals (of which we already don't seem to have enough)? What would become of the time he spends playing with his little brother, reading for his own pleasure, and helping out around the house? How would he ever even consider taking on a part-time job?
These are things that we are not willing to give up. So for now our high school student will study at home, supplemented with outside instruction as necessary. His education may not be as structured as I might like, and there might be a few gaps here and there (I trust him to fill those in as necessary--life has a way of making you do that), but in the meantime I will still have the pleasure of knowing my son, and he will have a life that is richer and more well-rounded than it otherwise would be.