Tuesday, April 3, 2012


We all want to be recognized for our talents, whatever they may be. Recognition can come in many forms, and it often becomes more about our own acceptance than it is about validation from another source.

Last week, my ten-year-old saxophone student revealed to me during his lesson that he did not make it into the advanced band at his school. He was very upset, which is understandable, but the comments he made regarding this disappointment were so negative—even to the point of making mild threats toward his teacher—that I had to remind him that being positive will yield better results. I didn’t tell him all the reasons I thought he probably did not get promoted to the highest level. There are at least a few. Instead, I tried to explain to him that there are many factors that go into a band director’s decisions regarding placement in different band levels. I even suggested that perhaps the director thought he would be a good motivator for his intermediate band peers, and kept him from the advanced band for that reason. When my student grumbled that he wouldn’t play in intermediate band—it was advanced band or nothing—I used an anecdote from my own youth to explain why it might be a great opportunity for him to accept the position in that band and continue to grow as a music student. After several attempts at making him see all the possible sides to the equation, he was less frustrated, but he still fell back on his claim that his teacher “always hated him.” With this comment and his attitude toward the whole issue, I offered that perhaps his negativity was something the teacher saw as a reason to keep him in a developing band. I told him that if he worked hard and kept a positive attitude, then perhaps he would prove to the band director that he was ready for the advanced band. Besides, I reminded him, when he gets to seventh grade, he’ll have a different band director, and that may put him in a better match for a teacher-student relationship. My student did soften a bit by the end of our conversation, and during the lesson, he took my constructive criticism to heart. He’s got a long way to go, but he has improved so much already, and I reminded him of all the evidence of this.

What is it that we seek as a symbol of recognition for our talents? Is it awards? Public mention? Publication of our writing? Sales of our products? Shows in galleries or performance venues? Or even just a thumbs-up on Facebook? I find that I haven’t been putting myself out there enough recently to receive the recognition I feel I am due. So, I can’t complain. But with a short story recently being published, and more opportunities in which to play my saxophone, I do receive the encouragement to continue doing what I do. What I should be taking from these validating events is a motivating nudge to push myself harder toward my goals. I’m hoping to make this happen soon.

For my saxophone student, it may be several years before he understands that it takes more than just showing up with an instrument in his hands to prove his eagerness to succeed. But I hope I can help him to continue to grow and get closer to the recognition he seeks. Whatever that may be.