Let me preface this post by declaring that I live in the Bible Belt of America. If I lived anywhere other than the 13th-highest-educated municipality in the US, I’d probably pull my teeth out in aggravation, and even then, there are some days when I feel like doing nothing but that.
In one of my recent chats with a musical comrade, someone asked me if I taught on Sundays. Interestingly, I don’t anymore, even though I’ve spent the better part of a year in the “Sunday is a workday” mentality. I’m not hellbent (no pun intended) on that philosophy, but I do have to consider the practices and habits of my studio families. I stopped scheduling things on Sundays a while ago because at one point in time, I had no less than six Mormon students studying with me, and they don’t do any overly rambunctious activities on Sundays. A few families would make exceptions sometimes for studio recitals, which are formal and somewhat reserved. I appreciated that, but stopped expecting that they attend because despite my pragmatism, I think it’s important to respect people’s choices and lifestyles, no matter how much I may disagree with them. Plus, even my non-churchy students have a hard time dragging themselves out of the house for Sunday events.
Indeed, I have developed a strangely disproportionate Morman representation in my studio. I know absolutely nothing about the Latter-Day Saints denomination, aside from what I’ve gleaned from the musical, which I’m worldly enough to thoroughly enjoy because I relate to an inappropriate sense of humor, but that I totally understand to be one crude-ish (albeit creative) parody of a lifestyle and set of values.
“I Believe” references Jackson County, Missouri (4:05)…no further than a drive away from where I actually live. #BibleBelt.
So I got to thinking about what all those students happened to have in common, besides their religion: they are some of the best students I’ve worked with.
Don’t get me wrong, I work with some great Lutherans, non-denominational folk, and atheists, and to be honest, my students’ respective religions really have no bearing on what we do in studio, other than the fact that they bring their own worldview and life experiences into things like characterization, expression, and emotion, and I have to work to appeal to all those. But I feel like we only ever hear about the weird, cult-y LDS outliers that give the organization a bad rap. Really, this happens for most religions (Westboro Baptist much?), and I want it known that I’ve had some really positive experiences with Mormon students.
It could be that I happen to notice these characteristics because, like I said, I appear to be a Mormon magnet of sorts. Just take all this with a grain of salt and don’t use this post as permission to go start your own religious sect (and if you do, leave my name out of it), because this isn’t an endorsement for the LDS movement, just my observations. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
They Lead Admirable Lives
I don’t know what it is, they just have their lives together. They’re honest, hard-working, they value their families and friends (including their private music teachers), and they’re not afraid of a challenge. Every LDS student I’ve had over the age of 14 has been encouraged to develop their own creative and financial independence in and outside the church. My fourteen-year-old accompanies some of my younger vocalists and has started playing piano in her church. I had a seventeen-year-old who worked multiple jobs to sack away money for college while maintaining a good high school GPA. One of my high-school pianists is so completely in touch with how she learns that she commands her education, and maintains enthusiasm despite a surprisingly realistic perspective on the issues of public education. They’re just so…with it.
They’re Good Communicators
I can count on one hand the number of instances of late payment, scheduling, or attendance snafus within my Mormon families. There’s something very real about the way they approach communication and honesty. Something very…heart-on-your-sleeve, which jives very well with me. Before I even get a chance at any sort of confrontation, they usually head me off at the pass, which makes my job easier and altogether more pleasant.
They’re Organized as All Get-Out.
I rarely have to remind my Mormon students to practice, or of their impending deadlines. If I even dip below the Level of Happy Normalness to insinuate that I’m slightly disappointed that something isn’t prepared or memorized, they work like crazy to reinstate themselves on the A-list. The parents are the same way; they’re organized, yet not helicopter-y, which I adore. I say “recital,” they say “how high?” That kind of thing.
They Don’t Force Their Religion
It’s not all door-to-door evangelism, folks. I’ve never once had to explain myself, my repertoire choices (sacred or secular), or my personal views to my Mormon families, which is less than I can say for some of my other jobs. Alternately, when Sunday events occur, they either quietly choose to participate or not, and I’ve never had anyone thump their chests with their religious text of choice while defiantly declaring that Sunday is the LORD’S DAY. My Mormon families are also some of my biggest musical supporters; they attend my performances, support my creativity, and even donate money to some of my educational endeavors, and they do it without the expectation that I give them preferential or special treatment because of their religion. That’s pretty cool, in my opinion.