There’s a scene in “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” when author Amy Chua’s daughter Lulu turns in a poor practice session on the piano. Amy schleps Lulu’s doll house to the car and menacingly tells her that she’ll donate it to charity piece by piece if Lulu doesn’t have “The Little White Donkey” mastered by the next day.
It may seem crazy in print, but there are plenty of “tiger mothers” (and fathers) scattered all over New York City. They are high-maintenance parents who obsess over their child’s prowess on the violin or piano, and will often go to extreme lengths to nurture their budding Joshua Bell.
Katie, 42, a violin teacher on the Upper East Side says one mom approached her to give her high school son a “letter grade” at the end of each private musical lesson.
“She wanted me to give specific examples for why he earned that grade and make a list of improvements he could work on for the following week to earn a higher ‘grade,’” says Katie, sounding slightly appalled.
She also reveals that there is a culture of “secret teachers” in this music world, who parents are seeing behind the main musical teacher’s back—much like visiting a second doctor to get a second opinion.
“Very intense parents will secretly approach a second teacher for lessons behind the first teacher’s back,” Katie says.
Most teachers don’t mind if a parent consults another teacher, it’s the secrecy that is irks them.
Maya, 35, a cello teacher, had a parent whose whole life revolved around her daughter and the cello. She would call Maya (very) frequently to discuss her daughter’s progress. One time she put Maya on hold…or at least thought she had.
“I wasn’t sure if she was done talking or was talking to someone else while putting me hold,” Maya says. “It sounded like she was fighting with someone and yelling. I realized that she thought she hung up the phone but didn’t. She was yelling at her daughter while she was practicing. She was six!”
Maya also said that one prestigious Manhattan’s music school pre-college had to ban the parents from the practice room floor since so many of them would listen to other kids play and then gossip about their performances.
Of course there’s also the parents who studied the same instrument their child is playing as a child and feel it’s perfectly fine to ‘co-teach’ a lesson.
Gabriella, 37, a piano teacher in Manhattan, complained that often parents literally sit on the piano stool with their child while the lesson is taking place.
And recitals are often filled with more drama offstage than on.
Violin teacher Katie recalls a mother who came up to her in tears after a recital where a child the same age as hers had played a much more difficult piece demanding to know why her kid didn’t play like that.
She also remembered one student who was desperately trying to learn a challenging piece for a recital. When it came time for her to perform, the parents sat separately in the back and left stony faced after the recital, clearly fuming about their daughter’s performance.
And sometimes things just get weird because that’s life. Katie says she had to let go of one little boy as a student because his mom “fancied” her and kept making passes at her.
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