Why I Teach Music: To exercise the kindness that my own musical training has taught me, so I can help others.

Here’s a story I’d like to share, because I’m proud of my decision to take the part that I did for this boy I didn’t know and will likely never see again:

Last week I observed a class at at Suzuki summer festival in Wisconsin. In this activity, a circle of music students, ages 6-10ish, read their neighbor’s name tag in rhythm. The following child would do the same for their neighbor, and the circle continued until everyone got a turn.

There was one Asian American boy in the entire circle. His neighbor tried to say his name, unsuccessfully.
“Noooo!” he said, with a little grin.
His neighbor tried again. “Nooo.” he said again, losing his grin.
This went on a few more times. Giggles started to build around the room.
“My parents immigrated from China!” he explained to the whole class, frustrated.

The teacher stepped in and asked to see his name tag. She tried his name, too. “No!” he said as the class broke into laughter. He bursted into tears.

The teachers got right to him: “Even our Suzuki ears* aren’t trained for those sounds! We’ll have to learn them.” She held/rocked him with more words of comfort.

I debated for about 10 seconds on whether I’d be butting into this teacher’s classroom while I scanned the room. I decided that I was the most qualified person to do something about it, so I did and ran up to them.

“Do you understand Mandarin?” I asked the boy, in Mandarin. He nodded through his tears and I checked with the teacher to make sure I could take him aside (bless her, she asked if I was the child’s mother. “Uh, no, I’m just a teacher”).

Once away from the class I pulled out a notepad and a pen. With some broken combination of Mandarin and English I asked: “Will you write your name down in Mandarin so I can try to say it correctly?”

He wrote and I read/repeated the pronunciation until he was happy with my attempt. Then I wrote my own name and showed how our names shared homonym characters. I said a few more things to distract him until I could tell he was tired of chatting with me, so I sent him back to the circle. Soon he was giggling like nothing happened as kids do with their unbelievable resilience.

A teacher friend was also observing the class congratulated me on a job well done. I thought to myself, “Hey Universe, if you insist on putting little kids in these unintentionally unkind conditions, just make sure I’m around to fix it, mmkay?”

If I leaned nothing else that day, I was proud to have done something to show one child that he was not alone in that classroom!

* Suzuki students learn music as language immersion. Suzuki students tend to have excellent ‘ears’ and can decipher subtle differences in sounds more easily.