Two years ago, when his son was five, Graham Parker took Max to his first guitar lesson. Parker is the general manager of WQXR, the most listened to classical station in the country; before that, he managed several orchestras. Music is his life, and he wanted music to be a huge part of Max’s life, too. But it became clear pretty quickly that Max hated the guitar. “He’s not a fine-tuned kind of guy,” Parker says of Max. Max liked strumming wildly, but he didn’t like the intricate finger movements require to make chords. “He seemed miserable,” Parker recalls. “It was a frustrating experience.”
Many parents struggle to communicate what they do, and what they’re passionate about, to their kids. For Parker, whose position at WQXR falls squarely in the “cool jobs” side of the continuum, it ought to be easier than for most. (Parker recalls that his own father was an accountant; there wasn’t much to bond over.) But even when you have a job you’re passionate about–perhaps especially when you have a job you’re passionate about–sharing that passion with your children poses distinct challenges. Here’s what Parker has learned about helping your children value what you are passionate about.
Rapidly, Parker knew that his own focus–classical music–didn’t have to be the focus for his kids (in addition to Max, now seven, Parker and his partner have Georgie, a girl). When they’d get in the car, the kids would rapidly turn the dial to Top 40 hits. Like many, many other five-year-olds, Georgie is especially partial to the soundtrack from Frozen.
And what was Parker’s–the classical music lover’s–response? Go with the flow. “I don’t need them to be classical music nerds like their father. I want them to love music in general, and I just want it to be good. If it’s pop, I want it to be good pop.” Thankfully, he thinks there’s good pop, often, at the top of the charts. “I think Taylor Swift is good,” he says, adding that he likes the tunes in Frozen as well.
Another puzzle Parker has encountered: how to deal with two children who have varying degrees of interest in what he does. Max, it turns out, has a preternatural patience for some of the loftier forms of music that his dad is passionate about. When Max was only two years old, Parker took him to a rehearsal of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra rehearsal, fully expecting Max to be bundle of nerves. Yet Max was “awestruck” by the orchestra, displaying a remarkable ability to sit still. Parker has since taken Max to the opera twice.
Georgie, however, is “not as keen” on these traditional forms of music. Parker hasn’t taken her to the opera yet; she’s more fidgety at events like these. Though Parker’s own tastes incline to these older forms, in order to be fair to Georgie, he makes sure to take the whole family to events everyone likes. “We’ll go to something with princesses,” he says. Recently, he took Georgie to see Aladdin, and though she liked it, she said she was surprised it wasn’t Frozen. “She thinks that anytime you see a musical, it’s Frozen,” says Parker.
Parker is the first to admit he has a cool job, with particular perks. He gets a kick out of the fact that his son is on first-name terms with Alan Gilbert, the music director of the New York Philharmonic others will only approach as “Maestro Gilbert.” Max will see Gilbert’s face on posters around town and say, casually, “It’s Alan.” Parker shares his backstage access with friends and their kids, to give others a shot at the inner circle.
Another way Parker’s paying it forward is through a musical instrument drive WQXR has been conducting. So far, thousands of instruments have been dropped off and repaired, and will soon be matched with schools in need, serving over 12,000 public school students in New York.
Parker knows, in a way, that he’s lucky that his career coincides with what some consider a tenet of modern parenting: nurturing a musical interest. But while Parker can afford music lessons for his kids, he knows others aren’t so lucky–which was a major motivating factor for the drive. “Music is such a key part of my life and my development as a human being. I can’t imagine my life without it,” he says.
Which brings us back to those guitar lessons. After a few lessons full of head banging (against the wall, that is), Parker decided, “You know what? This instrument is just not his personality.” Other parents were getting piano or violin lessons for their kids–the gold standard. Parker and his partner said, “That’s just not Max.”
“We recently started him on African drumming lessons,” said Parker. It’s rhythmic and loud, involving grand gestures and call-and-response. Max loves it.