The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music holiday gifts, Part 3: You can help someone listen to music – or to make it. | December 22, 2009

By Jacob Stockinger

We’re three days out from Christmas and some of you may still be wondering about what special and unusual Christmas gift – or holiday gift – to get for someone close to you.

In the past week or so, I have suggested classical recordings, audio CDs and video DVDs, to give.

I have also suggested books.

I have suggested offering time and companionship to people, especially the young and the old, along with tickets to a live event in your area.

Today, I want to suggest what may be the ultimate classical music gift: Music lessons.

It might sound presumptuous to buy music lessons for someone else.

And you do have to be careful.

You ought to know the person’s taste in music and whatever that person would like to do – play the piano or guitar; or sing; or play a string, brass or wind instruments; or pursue percussion.

But it can work out well.

I know from personal experience.

Twenty years ago, I gave voice lessons someone who had always wanted to sing but never had training. I called the University of Wisconsin School of Music and talked to a member of the voice faculty who, in turn, suggested a local voice teacher who had studied with him.

I spoke to that local voice teacher and arranged for two months of lessons as trial gift, a starter gift if you will.

It worked out very well. My recipient liked lessons so much, she continued to take them for a few more years.

Then she was good enough to pass auditions for the UW Choral Union (below, rehearsing), a community-campus chorus that has one big program each semester. One semester she sings with the UW Chamber Orchestra, the other semester with the UW Symphony Orchestra; and sometimes a cappella.

It turns out she likes singing much more in groups that solo.

Since then, she has gone on to sung Mozart and Haydn masses; requiems by Brahms, Mozart and Verdi; and other works by Bruckner, Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Stravinsky, Bernstein and many others.

She enjoys the once-a-week rehearsals and enjoys the two performances. And so do I, and so do some of her friends – her “fans.”

I know what she loves. As an avid amateur pianist, I know there is nothing to compare with knowing music from the inside, from actually making it.

So there is still time to consider making a gift of music lessons. It doesn’t seem so unusual for young people, especially during a bad economic time when schools are cutting back on arts activities.

But it also a great gift for older people, especially people who are retired or are about to retire and have more time for practicing and pursuing a new avocation.

If you live in the Madison area, you might try calling the UW School of Music (608 263-1900) or Edgewood College (608 257-4861). You can call the Madison Area Piano Teachers Association (608 831-2796). You can call Ward Brodt Music Mall (608 661-8600). (Be sure to ask about renting an instrument if that is also necessary.)

You can also ask around. You’d be surprised what your friends know.

And of course you can always hop on the Internet and go to Google or some other search engine and type in your city or town with the appropriate instruments or specialty.

Chances are you will find a way to connect and find the right person for the right student at the right price.

Be sure to try to match the student and the teacher. Not all teachers are equally good with adult students; some are not good with young children or teenagers; others are not all are good with absolute beginners

But ask the right questions and you may well end up with a gift that brings deep satisfaction for a long time.

A very long time.

Have you ever given – or received – music lessons as a gift?

How did it work out?

The Ear wants to hear.


Posted in Classical music

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