The Music Within
It’s Tuesday morning, and instead of hearing classroom noise or school bells indicating it’s time to change classes, our 14-year-old daughter Niki is in her room playing electric guitar and singing one of her new songs. Music is not just a hobby for Niki; it is her life. She has had several songs copyrighted, she solos at coffeehouses, she’s made a few demo tapes, she performs with an adult contemporary band, she offers piano lessons, and she recently completed enough songs for a CD. Niki has amazing musical abilities and instinctively knows how to play and write complicated songs.
Niki learns differently, and this became a problem in the third grade. The emphasis on sequential, lock-step learning was opposed to the way she thinks. When Niki wrote, for example, she developed a story or poem from a visual image in her head. While her teachers thought she was daydreaming, she was actually writing and editing. Once the picture was complete, she was able to put to paper a perfectly written draft. Her songwriting process is similar, except first Niki hears the melody in her head, then the lyrics form, and lastly the parts played by the individual instruments come to her.
School had become a constant source of frustration and agony for Niki. She felt that it was pointless and that she didn’t belong. At age nine, she began slipping into depression, and we began to take her concerns seriously.
A Different Direction
After considering the available alternatives, Niki decided that she needed to learn at home. She and I began creating a new educational model. Textbooks and worksheets were out; historical drama, costume design, messy art projects, and hands-on science investigations (both independent and with mentors) were in. We used the community as our classroom, and Niki’s studies were as relevant, integrated, and challenging as possible. Even math, her most dreaded subject, took on new meaning. Soon, Niki’s self-esteem and abilities soared.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” —Henry David Thoreau
The additional time and freedom enabled Niki to explore new talents, and she soon discovered her musical abilities. Using a small keyboard, she revealed that she could play any song off the radio, even after hearing it only once. At age ten, Niki was offered free piano lessons, a larger keyboard, and a chance to compete in the state piano competition. What she really wanted to do, however, was to write her own music. She decided to leave classical music and study the foundations of jazz and rock. At thirteen, she abandoned her plans for college and focused on a music career.
In the past year, musicians have taken Niki under their wings, and she has learned about the intricacies of recording, self-promotion, and the business side of the music industry. This has been an altogether different educational experience. The feedback from her demos has been remarkable, and we have had to come to terms with the fact that Niki will be ready to turn professional within the next year.
I have been recruited to be Niki’s business manager and choreographer, her younger brother Evan is now her drummer, and my husband is a weekend roadie. Although this is not the path I thought we would take, Niki has taught me the importance of being yourself and listening to the music within.