The Secret Garden Lesson Studio
Music as healing - Music as power
As the owner of a lesson studio in Tay Ho, The Secret Garden, I've seen hundreds of students come through our doors and grow as learners, students, and as budding artists.
Teaching to the international community here in Hanoi, the parents that we deal with are by and large amazingly kind, accomplished people with fascinating stories who want the best for their kids.
However, one thing that we notice is that the messages parents and kids receive surrounding the arts are often oriented around schooling and achievement,- whereas when you talk to people who continue to do art as adults (in any field, whether it's professionals, hobbyists, dabblers, or anywhere in between) the reasons for learning the arts are completely different. They are about personal connection - with the world around them, with the communities they are a part of, and with the people that they love.
My journey with music began as it does for many - as just one of those things that kids do. I started with piano lessons as a young child, then joined my school band and grew that way, earning accolades and excelling on a variety of instruments - travelling competitions in high school for the saxophone which led to bigger stages in University, a scholarship for music, and more achievements and awards. After University, I didn’t set out to be a professional or even much of a performer, but a few lucky breaks got me in the door and in time I found myself touring, playing big stages like music festivals, and even playing alongside major artists and bigger names.
Looking back, I'd say the time was reasonably well spent, and although all of this is far in the past I bring it up because these types of achievements are more or less the typical sort of by-the-book success stories. Music as academic achievement - check. Music as personal glory - check. Music as an industry and professional pursuit - check. In all of these arenas, I was far from the worst (but also far from the best in the grander scheme of things) and checked a lot of boxes.
So now I'd like to share some experiences with music which don't check any of those traditional boxes nor can be classified among the standard markers for success, but which are worth more than any accolades or payday. The most practical general benefit of engaging with the arts may be in travel and exploration - as a musician, anywhere I go, if I bring an instrument, then I can be a local there. It's a common adage that New York City is a cold place, a hard place to make friends - but not if you come in with something to bring to the table. Whether that's music, dance, or any other skill, New York is rich with niches and the city is so used to welcoming newcomers that as a young man I found myself deeply involved with multiple artistic and cultural communities even just visiting on weekends while still working in Boston. A few years ago I was invited to tour in Borneo, of all places, and met a side of Borneo that you'll find on no websites because these were true community events, hundreds of people supporting the arts at roadside barbecues. I got to perform with local bands, played instruments hundreds of years old, and made friends and connections which still resonate to this day.
Over the years, music has created countless opportunities for deepening connection and for love which would have otherwise been impossible. When I got married, my best friend from university played me and my soon-to-be-wife down the aisle at the beginning of summer, and at the end of summer, I had the chance to do the same for him at his wedding - an impossibly beautiful gift which both of us will treasure until the end of our days. When my grandfather passed away I played my grandmother their favourite songs, and when it came time to lay him - also a musician - to rest, I played his signature song as one final farewell.
Music is a gift, yes, but so often we think of it as entertainment or done for some kind of gain when at its core it is an offering of love. I make music for the same reasons mothers cook Christmas dinners and why fathers build their children treehouses - because it is one of the ways that life can be immeasurably enrichened, and it is a privilege to be able to share the blessing of love with others.
At The Secret Garden, I have worked to create an environment where we endeavour for the same, to teach music with a focus not on personal gain but on the humanity of making music. We want every student that comes through our doors to know that making art is for them, that they can create something beautiful through the power of their own hands, perseverance, and problem-solving - knowing that if this is achieved, then all the other checkboxes will take care of themselves. After all, there is nothing beautiful which happens without love.