American Concert Pianist, Steinway Artist, Susan Merdinger

The Making of a Musician...

It's been quite a week here in the Merdinger-Greene household! Our eldest daughter, mezzo-soprano Stefanie Greene, performed her Masters of Music Degree recital on March 19th at North Park University, performing works by Verdi, Strauss, Heggie, and Berlioz. Our middle daughter, Sarah Greene, appeared on the FOX TV show, Final series and season episode of Glee! and our son, Scott Greene, aka Megaphonix, has newly released tracks on Beatport! Husband Steve Greene did accompanying for young artists in solo and concerto competitions, and the week drew to a close with my sold-out chamber music program on the CSO Chamber Music Series at the Art Institute, in a performance of piano quintets by Field and Dvorak and the Grand Sextet of Glinka.
So much excitement and activity for one family in one week- a little bit much for some, but  you might say it was "business as usual" for The Five Greenes...
You see, we are a family of five professional musicians- and this didn't just "happen" overnight. It has taken two decades of work to raise three of the musicians, but the work really goes back much further than that. It goes back to my and Steve's parents, who somehow manage to nurture two professional musicians who then "found" each other at the Yale School of Music. And then it took me and Steve to do the same exact thing, not just for one child, but for ALL THREE!. Kind of a small miracle as I have witness our family and our lives unfold. But then, in this past week of intensive rehearsals with my colleagues of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it became apparent many of the CSO musicians, like me, also had spouses and at least one child who became a professional musician. And in reading the bios of all the composers and musicians before me, it is apparent that many professional musicians and composers came from long lines of distinguished musicians.
So, I realized it is not such a "miracle", but rather there must be some sort of "formula". It's not just in the "genes", but it must be in the environment, in the nurturing...So, this has led me to ponder the different influences and factors that lead to a person becoming a musician- if not a professional one, then at least a life-long lover of music. As hard as it is for me to believe, not everyone enjoys Classical Music, so I am striving to figure out how Classical Music will survive, if it is only passed down to children from parents who are musicians themselves or at least music aficionados. How do we ignite the passion in more young people and in people of our own age who have not become "hooked" yet?
I think I have figured out why some people become entranced with music....and sometimes this even happens well into adulthood...I have one adult piano student, who started lessons as a complete beginner about three years ago. It has become so important in his life, it is almost an obsession- yet he still struggles to get in the amount of practicing he would like to do. And that is what happens in childhood these days...Without an imperative to make music, a role model, an absolute non-negotiable sense that taking music lessons is a requirement of education of growing up, of becoming a complete human being, then most kids these days find themselves swallowed up by video games, social media, over-programming, excessive homework, and increased stress. And with this increased stress we are witnessing an increase in youth depression, family problems and even suicides.
One way to fix this is through music- an immersion in music can cure many ills, boost brain power, offer a social outlet, create calm, efficient and disciplined youths who will grow into productive and creative members of society- even if they do not become professional musicians. So how to accomplish the goal of every person in the USA being able to sing or play an instrument?
Through music education for BOTH PARENTS AND CHILDREN ALIKE. So many organizations now are doing reach-out programs to needy children in schools- but it is equally important to educate and draw in those young students' parents and grandparents. Classical music has to become more accessible, yet classical music and classical musicians have never faced the challenges that we face in our society right now. Reduced funding, dwindling audiences, increased competition from other forms of entertainment and sports. While the declining demand for classical musicians is a major concern, the irony is that there still is an increased supply of young people studying music who hope to have viable careers in music. But, if schools decrease funding for music education, then these musicians will not, and cannot find gainful employment teaching music to young and old people alike. Many of these professionally trained musicians will give up, go into other fields, and yes, they will continue to support classical music as they mature and work in other fields. But, will they encourage their children to persist in an endeavor which many find difficult, time consuming, conflicting with other activities, not to mention expensive? Factor in rentals and purchases of instruments to 10-15 years of private lessons before even going to college, and playing a musical instrument just doesn't seem to be worth it, compared to being on a sports team or debate team. It seems like a big sacrifice to give up a family vacation in order to afford a year's worth of piano or violin lessons. doesn't it?
Basically, MUSIC EDUCATION must start EARLY and be MANDATORY- just like READING OR MATH. It should not be considered as something that is dispensable and can be tossed aside when the economy tanks, or when reading and math test scores seem to be suffering...JUST the OPPOSITE should take place...More money into Music education and classes and private musical instruction for all children will do wonders for their academic achievement. If a child struggles with one instrument, try another, and another...until you find the right match.
The main reason musicians end up having children who are musicians, is that we VALUE the music education, we make SACRIFICES for it, and we serve as ROLE MODELS for our own children. Our children heard good music in the household every day of their lives, and it runs through their ears and in their brains...it makes them whole.
When I teach my students, I teach the WHOLE person- not just the music or the technical aspects- but the emotional and analytical aspects of music, the organization of music and time management, vocabulary through description of music, mathematical principles in music, psychological and sociological issues of music...in short, it is training to make a person WHOLE. Any person, every person. Give your children the gift of music, and MAKE them do it. Because, someday, they WILL thank you for it. Someday. Someday, it may just SAVE THEIR LIFE.

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