Advice for Parents: Tips for Happy Musicians

I love talking with other parents about their kids and the creative things they do. In fact, it seems that everyone has a story to tell – even about their own passions for music or the arts. I’m always learning something new that will help me with my parenting journey and I wanted to share the fruits of a recent conversation I had with dedicated music mom Julie Harrison-Mullany of Weston, Massachusetts. She offered the following advice for nurturing happy young musicians in your own family:

  1. Don’t let them get stuck playing one instrument. Encourage them if they’re getting tired of the flute, for instance, to try guitar lessons. Let them switch around as much as they like.
  2. Encourage them to play different styles of music. In her own words “most music education in schools is geared toward classical, which I love, but it can become boring for kids. Let them try rock!”
  3. Don’t micro-manage practice time or lesson time. Let them have their own relationship with their music teacher. “Kids don’t need their parent breathing down their neck. Check in with the teacher once in a while.”
  4. Finally, let the style of music or instrument be their choice…not your choice!”

Julie and her husband Terry have found multiple ways to support their creative kids, really making it a priority for their family. But neither of them are musicians. Julie is Senior Vice President, Gibson Sotheby’s International and Terry is Executive Director, J. P. Morgan Private Bank. Terry coaches youth basketball and baseball and is on the Presidents Council of Providence College and on the Board of the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. (BYSO).

“You’re very resourceful,” I said to Julie over coffee in a recent interview. “I have to be!” she replied and she believes this. To her, it’s not a choice – supporting your children’s interests is what you’re supposed to do as a parent.

Like when her older son James wanted to try film school. Julie “Googled” the subject and found the New York Film Academy summer film camp right at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Or when James joined the high school A Capella Group, the Town Criers this year as a sophomore. Singing complicated harmonies was new for him. Mom quietly asked if he would like a singing coach to help him with his skills. James considered and then agreed to the lessons, but according to Julie “he still wasn’t sure about it. That is, until he saw his beautiful, young voice coach who not only sings A Capella but also beat-boxes!”

Also a drummer, James’ music interests started in the fourth grade when he played the xylophone in the school band. “He also played the cymbals because he was tall,” Julie added not really sure whether there was any other reason for this pairing. But it was the school’s percussion teacher, Dan Foote, “who took an interest in James and worked with him on the drums.” After individual drum lessons, James started an indie band with his friends, known as No Promises. “It became social fun for him. The boys were bonding as a group and they enjoyed playing whatever music they wanted.”

Julie acknowledges that studying music provides more benefits to her children than just fun; she supports the research that shows “music goes with math. It translates into higher math scores.” But encouraging her three children to pursue music education is a balancing act.  Her younger twins Jack and Terry take piano, trumpet, saxophone, guitar and voice lessons. “There is a fine line when it comes to suggesting that they take lessons or try new instruments. I try to keep the suggestions low key or tell them what I would do in a certain situation.”

The ability for their parents to provide financially for music lessons and instruments is definitely an advantage for the Mullany children, but what is special about the Mullanys is not just that they have the means – it’s that they have the spirit and the desire to see their children enjoy and succeed in music – wherever that takes them.

Photo credit Barbara Elmes
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