Meet the LaClair family from Phoenix, AZ. Steph, Chris and Linus who will be turning 10 this March. Chris is on the road for work over 200 day of the year and isn’t always home for the traditional holidays. So, this fantastic family has started inventing their own unique holidays!
What is your musical background?
I (Steph) grew up surrounded by musicians. My grandmother was a jazz singer and my uncle was-and still is at age 65-a singer in a rock band. My brother joined the ranks and was the drummer for his band. Our house was often a hangout for my brother’s and uncle’s bands and my grandmother lived with us for a few years. My parents put in a “soundproof” room in the basement for the bands to practice. It was still extremely loud, but practice makes better!
I began playing the piano when I was about 9 and took lessons all through high school. I enjoyed playing jazz and new age music especially. I enjoyed it so much I began my college career with a music minor, but sadly dropped it halfway through when it was clear my new piano professor and I were not a good fit. I actually stopped playing altogether for over 10 years. (Part of this was also because somewhere in that time frame I had a little accident with a table saw and lost the tips of two of my fingers.) Time passed and life went on, as it does. After my son Linus was born I began to see how much music moved him, even as an infant. We played around with piano apps and had a small keyboard to tinker with. When he was about 4 he was showing interest in learning to play and clearly had an ear for it. We decided to buy a piano-we bought a digital piano so I could practice while everyone was sleeping and I can’t believe how much I love it. I grew up playing a 100 year old restored cabinet grand with real ivory keys and thought I wouldn’t like a non-acoustic piano, but when I put quality headphones on and tune the piano how I want it, it’s pretty fabulous. I became addicted to late night practicing and am pretty sure I play better now than I had at my peak in college. I started giving lessons to Linus, trying to teach him the way I was taught and clearly it was not a good fit. Rather than continue and cause him to become frustrated with the instrument and risk him giving up on it, I stopped giving him lessons. I play for my own pleasure and it really helps calm tension and stress. The piano is my happy place.
Anything fun or unique you’d like to share about your family?
I think we’re a pretty unique family. My husband flies a private charter jet and I used to be a flight instructor. It’s kind of a crazy life, he’s on the road over 200 days a year and now I stay home and manage the house and homeschool our son. We don’t celebrate traditional holidays as we usually aren’t together, so we made up our own holidays to celebrate when everyone is home. My favorite is Thanksmas, which involves a feast, each of us donates to a different cause, and we bake cookies for all of our family, friends, doctors, and therapists. Linus has autism and was born with a cleft lip and palate so we’ve had quite a journey full of surgeries, therapists and amazing opportunities to share with other special families. I am currently working on a publication for cleft affected families with information, tips, and recipes for each stage of treatment-feeding little ones after various lip, palate, and jaw surgeries is tricky and there isn’t much information out there. I also volunteer at our local library and for a therapeutic horseback riding program where Linus rides.
How do you structure piano lessons/practice for your family? Any tips to share?
I like to have Linus practice after he is done with his school work for the day. It’s kind of his reward for getting his work done. I love that it can be used as a reward; he is so proud of himself that he can play! I only ask him to practice his lesson piece 5 times and then he is free to practice what he likes: a bonus song, music from a previous lesson, a song he has already mastered, or he can play around with the piano and make up his own songs or try to pick out the notes of a song he knows. He likes to try and figure out a song I’m working on and see if he can play the melody. More often than not, he will practice his current lesson homework more than I ask when he is given the freedom to experiment on the piano. I think it’s all good practice and it keeps it fun. He has such little control over most of his day, this bit of time that is his to decide what to do with outside of that 5 times minimum requirement keeps piano practice at reward status.
How did you learn about Busy Moms/Kids Do Piano?
I came across it as a Facebook Suggestion! Something I am glad I did not disregard as I usually do!
Do you have any stories you’d like to share about your musical journey with piano lessons?
I guess I kind of answered this in a previous question, but I do have a great story I’d like to share. After I had taken piano lessons from the same wonderful teacher for about ten years, at 18 I went away to college and she moved a thousand miles away in the opposite direction. She gave me her tropical canary-Ringo-before she moved. She didn’t think he’d survive the move and needed another piano player to sing with. (Unfortunately Ringo died shortly after I went back to school and there was no more piano music in his life.) Anyhow, after about 20 years of losing contact with each other, I posted a video on Facebook of myself practicing the Linus and Lucy song by Vince Guaraldi and through a friend of a friend she saw it. I received a message from her asking if it was me (my face was not in the video, just my hands and the music and my name had changed.) Anyway, we reconnected and I learned that she had given up playing and writing music about 8 years previously. She currently lives in Montana and is planning to move out to the Phoenix area this year. She came out last fall to check out some homes and we reunited! She said she was so inspired that I still play and that my son is now playing, that she is picking it back up and wants to gather up some duets for us to practice together! It never ceases to amaze me how music binds humans together. For years my piano teacher inspired and motivated me, now I had the incredibly unlikely chance to do the same for her.
What is your goal with having your child learn to play the piano?
There are so many! Our son has some fine motor and hand eye coordination issues and I thought piano would be a fun way to work on that (without him even knowing). He connects with music, sometimes songs even move him to tears. I think learning to make music is therapeutic for anyone who feels it so deeply. I also feel that the piano is a great instrument to start with if he ever wants to learn to play another. Learning the full staff and how the notes relate to each other is very clearly laid out on the piano and provides a solid foundation for understanding music. To put it simply, my goal for having my son learn to play the piano is that it will greatly improve his quality of life.