Lately a number of exchanges with students and parents made me think of a young adult novel called The Mozart Season.  It tells the coming of age story of Allegra, a girl whose preparation for a concerto competition at the end of the summer turns out to be a voyage of self-discovery.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot to love about this book. It paints a portrait of a thriving classical music community that nurtures young people.  It celebrates friendships between girls who talk about things other than boys and who are all smart and quirky.  It values persistence and an honest search for the self.

But when I put it down at the end of my first read-through in more than a decade, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I wasn’t completely satisfied.

Finally I realized that what was missing was the value of the technical struggle.

Allegra doesn’t struggle with technique; ostensibly she seems to have mastered the violin by the age of 12.  She doesn’t speak of longing to be able to play something that’s just out of reach for now.

She also doesn’t struggle with spending time practicing.  Becoming immersed in the flow of solitary work seems to come naturally to her.

In short, Allegra seems to be a perfect musician – trying to figure herself out, yes, but the pieces are all there.

But if Allegra’s technique is effortless at the age of 12, where does she go from here?

These automatic things make it seem like destiny or fate is what makes you successful in music.

If music is presented as a matter of “talent,” then students wonder if it’s normal to work hard on technique.

If it’s possible to be “done” learning an instrument by the age of 12, then students risk thinking that technique is something you learn once and then put to use, rather than something you chip away at over a lifetime.

If practicing alone is easy, then students who feel anxious or lonely when they do this might conclude that it just “isn’t for them,” when what they really need is help learning how to immerse themselves.
It’s not that I won’t continue to recommend this beautiful book to students.

I just want to ask a question: what range of stories do we tell our students, and what preparation do those stories give them for a lifetime of artistic challenge?