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Student and teacher at piano

The Juilliard School: Why the Arts are More Important Than Ever

This blog is written by Seth Baer, Bassoonist and Director of Juilliard’s Summer and Visiting Artist Programs.

How do we balance life, work, teaching, and parenting? We are all uniquely connected in these shared challenges and how we choose to approach them. With so many options and priorities, it can sometimes feel that the easiest things to eliminate are the non-essentials and for some, this could mean the arts. 

With a first grader and a pre-K4 at home, our principal focus was on our older child and making sure he was “keeping up” with classwork and requirements. Our days were focused on making sure he kept up with reading and writing, and we felt fortunate that he is a natural when it comes to math. In addition to his formal schooling needs, we also acted quickly to make time, space, and technology available for the arts. 

The shift to shelter-in-place here in Maplewood, NJ came somewhat gradually, so we were actually early in reaching out to our children’s piano teacher to request Zoom lessons – so early that he was still doing in-person lessons for some students, and has since shifted to all online.  We were wary of this transition working well for both our kids but it has been really successful.  Sophie, our daughter, was previously in a group class with friends and was reluctant to have a “solo” lesson like her big brother; she has, however, thrived in getting the individual attention.  Our son Max has continued to progress quite nicely and Mr. David, their teacher, feels that the need for Max to stop playing to listen across a computer connection actually stimulates an increase in attentiveness. 

Surprisingly, my kids have never wanted to practice more and love to show off for their grandparents on Facetime.  This has even become a bit competitive between them – a familiar theme which at times we hate, but when working for the powers of good… maybe it is worth it! 

Boy doing performing arts

At the start of April, Sophie was scheduled to start her first Beginning Ballet class.  We had hesitated in signing her up for things like this as she is very stubborn and does not do well with change, so there’s always a risk she will just reject new activities.  However, one of her friends was also enrolling so we thought it was worth trying.  Shortly after, we received word that this would transition to an online platform and we really did not know how this would go.  However, Sophie has a love of fashion and, being the beneficiary of having two older cousins, has inherited some very cute ballet outfits – this was our in. 

When the first day of class arrived, she was dressed and ready to go.  She was hesitant and reluctant but willing to try – and she loved it!  Now 4 weeks into class she is so excited about it, often sharing her dance moves with her friends (and some of my colleagues) on Facetime and Zoom.  Her teacher has casual dance parties during the week to supplement classes on Saturday mornings.  It’s become a point of excitement for her in the course of her week, providing her with a place to be expressive, creative, joyful, and energetic, while serving as a constant from week-to-week in this swirling cluster of time that can feel so amorphous.

Two girls doing ballet

We still stress the importance of Sophie’s developing literacy in advance of her entrance to kindergarten and keeping up with Max’s reading and writing development – while also trying to both do our jobs to their fullest – I also recognize that the amount of space we’ve carved out for the arts has done a lot to infuse and motivate our collective energy in everything we are doing as a family. 

As a musician (bassoonist) and Arts Administrator, Director of Juilliard’s summer and visiting artist programs with Nord Anglia Education, I have lived my life knowing the inherent value of the arts, yet finding time, space, and energy to bring the arts into our rapidly developing and evolving classroom/office/home was, at first, challenging.  My wife is not a musician and at times was not completely on the same page, as is often the case with parenting decisions for us all.  However, despite the challenges to carve out this space, we both now see that the benefits continue to be reaped with each day, each song, each scale practiced. 

I am glad that we have figured out how to make this all work. The arts continue to allow us all to detach and explore in a way that infuses us with joy, achievement, and energy to tackle all the rest.

 

How can you bring the arts into your household?

  1. Try something, it can’t hurt!  Tons of art institutions have opened their “doors” for online classes that you can sign your kids up for.  Check with local music schools, dance academies, etc. Maybe see if some of your child’s friends might be interested in joining for a dance class together.
  2. Invest some time into doing classes alongside your kids at first. Whilst we are all busy, trying something new and “scary” in an online setting can need a different handhold than before for children.  However, once your child gets comfortable and familiar with a routine, this will be a valuable independent learning experience for them.
  3. Keep at it.  Building new routines doesn’t happen overnight.  Each day is an opportunity to start a new pattern that might lead down a really valuable path worth exploring.
  4. Connect with the media they are already consuming/interested in.  For example, listen to music from a movie that they watched last night during lunch time.  My kids have been loving the dances in the “Descendants” and trying to mimic them constantly – lots of things can be opportunities for expression, joy, and reflection. 
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