Back when I was but a lad, I played the trumpet in the Woodridge High School marching band. I also played in the jazz band, the orchestra, and even the pep band.
On average, I was to practice 15 minutes day. In reality, I never did. This was because, and I say this with no small amount of bitterness, the clarinet and flute section seemed to practice even less than me, so our band class was spent listening to them work out their issues.
If my memory is correct, I was also briefly a member of the French club, I played on the soccer team, and wrote for the school newspaper, the award-winning Bulldog Beat.
In the evenings, I could be found building Big Macs at the McDonald’s in the Valley, or stocking shelves and/or digging ditches for Frecka Plumbing. There are unconfirmed rumors that on my evenings off, I would spend immeasurable amounts of time and energy improving my cowtipping technique.
In short, it’s safe to say that I was the Renaissance Man of the Cuyahoga Valley. And in all of these pursuits, I was stupendously average.
But in Russia, things are different. In Russia, generally speaking, the children do not have multiple pursuits, and they are never average. Instead, they specialize. So, usually around the age of 3 or 4, the parents need to understand what special talent their child has and help them focus on that for the rest of their life.
So, you could perhaps begin to observe that your teething toddler is proficient in foreign languages, or figure skating, or perhaps dance. Then you will send them to a specialized school that will be on top of their regular schooling. This decision is of life importance, as it will affect the next 15 years of your life.
Allow me to illustrate with my own children. It came as no surprise to us that they had followed in my footsteps musically, so we decided to sign them up for music school.
What does that mean? After their regular school studies they go to a music school that is an actual school building of its own. And it means a full musical education for our four children:
- Individual lessons twice weekly for each child on their respective instruments (domra, percussion, and 2 children on the violin).
- Choir practice weekly for our 3 boys.
- Folk orchestra rehearsal for our son on the domra twice weekly.
- Junior violin ensemble practice weekly (for our junior violinist).
- Senior violin ensemble practice twice weekly (for our senior violinist).
- Group lessons weekly in theory and ear training for each child.
- Music history and literature lessons weekly for our two older children.
And the result of all of this? It is a recital. Or rather, I should say, an endless stream of recitals. It is important for their education that they perform, so we have multiple recitals, often weekly, for our multiple children.
For example, our son’s first drum recital recently:
Or a domra ensemble recital:
Violin ensemble recital:
Choir competition. The boys sang “We Need One Victory” and naturally with that song, they won:
And here is kind of the great culmination the Mother of all Recital moments when the entire school of roughly 300 children plays together (note that the front rows of the audience are also choir members):
It really is a great group of teachers that our kids love. And the level of this kind of specialized education certainly beats anything (no offense to my former band teachers) that I remember from the States. And there is something oddly fascinating about watching my boys sing Russian patriotic songs with gusto.
But you have to wonder where will all of this musical talent go? I mean, it’s not just our children practicing for hours every day, it’s children all over Russia. Well, let me introduce to Russia’s greatest recital, which unsurprisingly, is done only once yearly during Russia’s main holiday: New Year’s. The recital lasts for more than 3 hours and everyone watches pretty much every Russian musician play music and dance, because there is enough time for that. And by “everyone watches”, I mean about half the population.
Here is the short 3 hour 20 minute clip of 2009’s New Year concert. If you don’t have 3 hours, please do yourself a favor and watch sections randomly throughout this YouTube clip. You won’t be disappointed:
America has a long way to go to reach this performance level. Or attention span at any given concert. Also, makes the old apple falling in NYC seem fairly paltry in comparison.
What do you think? Is it better for our children to be specialized or to be a jack of all trades yet master of none? I don’t have an answer to that question, but we are unquestionably grateful for the top notch education our kids are getting here.
Oh yeah, the part about my musical ability passing onto the kids was a joke. Here’s a Christmasy theme song by my wife:
Because since she’s been driving the next generation to their share of performances, maybe we should let her have a recital once in awhile as well.