My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Learning about complementary compliments from a child

Complement (n.) - something that fills up, completes, or makes perfect; one or two mutually completing parts
Compliment (n.) - an expression of esteem, respect, affection, or admiration; formal and respectful recognition
There is so much we can learn from children.  A few days ago our daughter, age 6, managed to give me a personal learning experience that drove home a point that had been made just days earlier on Chris Foley's wonderfully informative blog, "The Collaborative Piano Blog."  Chris has been gracing us all lately with some very clever memes** that may not make a whole lot of sense to non-musicians but to those of us who are steeped in it, they tend to hit the nail on the head of issues that we face every day.  The meme in question for my blog post today has to do with musicians' unfortunately common tendency to repay an admirer's compliments with degrading, self-deprecating remarks or with awkward hemming and hawing.  

Meme created by Chris Foley and posted on
"The Collaborative Piano Blog" on January 2, 2012
I struggle with this myself all the time but in all honesty, I don't really know why.  In the midst of puzzling over this all over again my daughter unknowingly showed me the way it should be done.  

If you've never had a child, let me tell you a truth about kids -

Kids produce a lot of "art."

A lot. 

It's a good thing.  I'm not complaining.  But it really does make a parent do a lot of creative thinking about what one does with all of this "art."  It's not as easy as just throwing everything away.  There are feelings involved and in the eyes of a parent, there's definitely talent involved too.  My solution to the overflowing boxes of art these past years has been to store them for a period of time and then periodically to go through them, picking out the creations that I sense are most representative of what she's been doing, and putting them in a scrapbook.  The rest goes in the, gulp, big black garbage bag.  

Artwork created by my own daughter created
using simple shapes.  Can you tell what it is?
Dancers on a stage performing for an audience
complete with spotlights at the top.
This week it was time for scrapbook number 4.  After I was all done my daughter sat on the couch with me and looked through each and every page.  With every picture she seemed flooded with emotion and memory for the motivation or the story behind each one and she provided a non-stop narrative of all of this for me as we witnessed together her artistic evolution through the past year.  What surprised me most was that with virtually every creation she said something along the lines of, "Oh Mom.  This is my favorite!  I really, really love what I did here.  Look at..." She would then point out a specific detail that she took great pride in.  At one point she said to me, "Mom, I know, I know - someday I'm going to open my own museum and this one is definitely going to be in it!"  What excitement.  What pride.  

And as if that wasn't enough, as we closed the scrapbook at the end, she turned to me and said, "Mom, thank you for doing this for me.  Thank you for choosing the pictures that you did.  You picked all the best ones!"  This was topped off with a hug that only a 6-year old can give.

Lightbulb moment! 

How often do I take pride like that in what I do musically? 

How often do I repay a compliment with a compliment?  

And when I look at my scenario with my daughter, how would I have felt if she had turned to me after looking at her scrapbook and said, "Mom, why did you choose that picture?  What were you thinking?  It's terrible!"  

Repay a compliment with a compliment.  Somehow.  Even if it's not the first thought that crosses our mind.  The fact is, when someone takes the time to give me personal feedback about a performance, they are giving me the gift of their time, their words, their attention.  Even if I'm feeling negative about something I've done, I need to remind myself that it's not all about me, it's about my audience too,   and they deserve my compliments in return.  Something even as simple as, "Thank you for taking the time to tell me that" or "I'm so glad that you liked it" would probably work just fine and wouldn't require me to say something about my own performance that I don't really believe like, "Oh I know.  The way I play that piece is amazing, isn't it?"  

Repaying a compliment with a compliment is, in my mind, something complementary in the sense of the definition I quoted at the very beginning of the post.  It makes the act of performing complete; it makes the relationship between performer and listener complete.  And isn't that partly what art is all about?  It takes more than just one person, one composer, one piece of art - it takes people to listen, to perform, to process, and to admire.  

So let's compliment away and see if that doesn't complement our performing experiences!  

* Definitions courtesy of Merriam-Webster's online dictionary
** Don't know what a meme is?  No worries.  I didn't know what they were either until Chris introduced them to me.  Today's version of a meme tends to be an image of a very simple graphic nature that is accompanied by some sort of amusing statement or sarcastic message.  


  1. I have often thought that commenting on music is an art in itself and that it should be a required course for music majors. What do you listen for and then what do you say after a performance? If you need to write a review, how do you go about it? What do you say to students?

    As for how to receive a compliment, a basic "Thank you!" is usually pretty good if all else fails.

  2. Harriet,
    That would be a good idea and I believe there are some schools that are starting to a teach a course along these lines. Greg Sandow, who has a wonderful blog at teaches one on writing about music at the Juilliard School for instance. Every so often he writes blog posts on the topic as well.

    And you're so right. "Thank you!" is pretty simple to say. Thanks for that reminder.