Have you ever watched a musical family play their instruments beautifully together and wondered how that came to be?
Allow me to introduce you to one of those families, the de la Motte Family! They have eight children who all start playing a stringed instrument at the age of two years old! I’ve had the privilege of watching them perform together at our church over the years, and each time I find myself praising the God who not only created music, but also created family. There’s something exceedingly beautiful when family members work together toward a common goal. In this case, the goal is to glorify God by producing quality God-honoring music.
Amber and Marc with their 8 wonderful children:
Josiah, age 15, plays violin and piano/ Pearl, 13, plays viola, violin, and piano/ Elijah, 11, plays cello and piano/ Naomi, 8, plays violin and piano/ Noah, 6, plays violin and string bass/ Anna, 5, plays cello/Chloe, 3, plays violin/ Enoch, almost 1, mostly watches!
My hope in sharing the de la Motte Family’s story is that parents would be inspired to invest in their children’s musical education, and see what God will do along the way to use those talents for His glory!
Amber de la Motte shares with us what it takes for this dream to become a reality. Be encouraged as you read her story and see how two non-musical parents raise God-honoring musicians!
1. Tell us about the vision you have for your children’s music. What sparked this idea in the first place, and how did you start?
Though neither my husband nor I had much musical education as young children, we both loved music and admired musicians. Shortly after the birth of our first son, we attended a church service at Lighthouse Baptist Church where I saw a little orchestra that included violins! I was mesmerized. A short time later, the church began offering a free violin class. I couldn’t believe it! So I attended the class and bought a terrible sounding, cheap violin and practiced for 3 hours a day. I was 23 at the time so it was hard for me to learn and play the way I wanted to be able to play. But I didn’t give up. I joined the church orchestra and I remember the absolute joy I felt the first time I was up on stage playing harmony parts to the hymns. It felt otherworldly to me. Almost like a taste of heaven. I gave it everything I could and I was able to play most of the music, but I found that I really struggled with playing scale runs and some of the fast tempo portions of the music. It was like my brain and my fingers weren’t properly connected, but I loved it anyway, even if I had to leave out a few notes here and there.
A few years later, I met the Bunnell family (a family of 5 children that played string quartet music together at our church). I was an only child, a very lonely only child, so big families made me so happy. To see a family of 5 children simply walk across the street was amazing to me, but to see a big family play music together just made my jaw drop and my heart beat really fast. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I found out who their teacher was when they were young and signed Josiah up for Suzuki violin lessons with that teacher. Josiah was enthusiastic until he learned that playing violin was actually work that cut into his play time. We had lots of fights and I had to drag him by the ankles out from under the bed to get him to practice but eventually, he learned that when it was time to practice, he better just do it. Marc was really supportive during this time, paying for lessons, fixing broken instruments (we’ve had our fair share of those!) and supporting our family so I could focus on homeschool and music practice.
Our vision is to:
- Equip our children to play music that is so beautiful and Christ-honoring that anyone who hears them play would be transported in mind to an awe-filled worship of God. In a sense, we are praying for a musical counter-revolution. Modern music worships the performer but we are trying to do the opposite. Godly music is unique in that it welcomes group participation and puts the listener’s thoughts on Christ. We are hoping that the music can be as “mistake-free” as possible so the performers (our children) fade into the background.
- I hope they can pass on their skills and inspire others along the way so that others can glorify God musically as well.
- We also have a vision for our children to develop musical tastes that are different from the tastes that Marc and I acquired when we were growing up. Classical style music is best enjoyed when it is understood and participated in.
2. At what age do your children begin playing a musical instrument?
Each of our children started playing violin or cello when they were 2 or 3. When the older children were 5 or 6 we added piano or string bass. Learning an instrument is like learning a language. The earlier the better. I have even heard of scientific studies that say that early music education is stored in the same part of the brain as a native language. I think in general if you can start before the age of 13 that is best.
3. What kind of time investment do you make on a daily basis toward music lessons/practice?
Now, my time investment is close to an hour or so. Years ago, we used to try to put in about 5 hours per day, but God has taught me to loosen up about that since our music is about Him and He is the one who is seeing it through. Currently, I have arranged a schedule where the older children work with the younger children some days and I work with them on other days. Marc, my husband, is learning and working with Noah on string bass. The older children practice piano and violin by themselves.
As far as the daily practice grind, I find it is best to start early if possible. Homeschool allows the kids to do a bit of schoolwork in the morning and then switch to instruments mid-morning. If I am not “on it” and I don’t keep things moving I find the later we put off music practice, the less productive our day becomes. So I try to get them started on practice at least before noon, as this helps the day go much better. I know another musical family that goes to public school but they practice for 1.5 hours before the school day starts and then another 1.5 hours in the evening. Now that is inspiring! (If you want to see them play, look up: “Little Stars String Trio”.)
I’ve come to realize my working hard with the kids is not so much about results anymore. Instead, it is an opportunity to work alongside God in what He is doing in the children’s lives and I can leave the “results” to Him. I have found that slow, steady, consistent practice is the key. I have also learned that the kids are not going to disintegrate if they are not playing Bach by age 3! They will be just fine. Music education in our home has become more of a “Feed My Sheep” (John 21:17) sort of thing.
4. Does music cut into your kids’ “social life?”
Music definitely cuts into our kid’s “social life” time but it also allows our kids to have a social life they would never have otherwise. For instance, our kids have an instant point of connection with other kids in the church orchestra because of a mutual love for music. Last week we drove up to L.A. to see the “Little Stars Trio” perform. We met their family through YouTube. (They live in Chico, CA.) After the performance, we went out to eat with them and a famous solo cellist who has played with many of the great orchestras in America and Europe named Christine Walevska ate with us, as well as Dr. Ayke Agus (the accompanist for Jascha Heifetz during the last part of his career.) Proverbs 22:29 says: “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.” I have found this to be true. Whatever social life is removed because of practice and performance is more than made up for by the doors to friendship that are opened by diligence.
5. Obviously, there is a monetary investment for instruments and lessons. How have you seen God provide for this?
This is probably one of the biggest “God things” about our family’s music. When the kids started out, their first violin teacher was very affordable. She was a good teacher, but by the time Josiah was 10 (in 2012) he seemed to outgrow her teaching. We went to an audition for the new violin teacher that was famed to be the “Best in San Diego” and he said he was interested in taking Josiah as a student. I told the teacher that we didn’t have much money so he gave a discounted lesson quote price. But even with the discounted price he still was going to charge $95.00 a week for a 45-minute lesson. As my husband and I drove away from the new violin teacher’s house my husband told me what I already knew, there was no way we could pay an extra $400.00 per month for lessons on top of the money we were already paying for the other kids’ violin, cello, and piano lessons. I tried to think of ways we could bring in extra money and I remembered when I was a teenager in San Francisco, I would see musicians on the street corner playing music and they would put out a hat, instrument case, or basket and people would donate by putting money into the hat (or whatever was out in front). So I called some local farmer’s markets and I asked if we could play during the market. Some said no, but the Ocean Beach market owner said we could. So that week we came to the market (looking out of place I’m sure). We played our string quartet music and put out a napkin basket (not expecting much I guess). By the end of the night our napkin basket was overflowing and we had $102.00! I was so excited, we had enough for the lesson and the gas to get there! Since then God has provided in amazing ways. One time we were playing at Seaport Village and things weren’t going very well. I was feeling really discouraged and wondered if God really even wanted us out there. Then an older gentleman wearing running shorts ran by and gave us a $100.00 bill. Who keeps $100.00 bills in their running shorts? Anyway, it seemed like a miracle. These things don’t happen all the time and there are times when I wonder if it’s “all over”. But so far God has not only helped us pay a music lesson bill that rivals our mortgage payment (for San Diego that is saying a lot!) He has also helped us to be able to buy instruments as we have needed them. We play for churches and sometimes they take an offering for our family and that helps as well. Because we are always playing around town, people see our family and ask us to play at weddings and events. This is another source of income that has been a blessing to our family. At this point, our street performing (a.k.a. busking) has been our best source of musical income.
6. What is the best part of making music together as a family?
The delightful sound! The beautiful satisfaction of hearing the children do a “job well done” on their music delights my soul and makes it worth the effort. The other thing I love to see is the impact the children have on others. I have never been a great “door to door” soul-winner, so for our children to be a living advertisement for the gospel when we are out and about gives Marc and I a real sense of purpose. We can often pass out tracts on the street while playing which allows us to be involved in evangelism. I want to make sure that music doesn’t become an idol in our life. I think if we lose sight of lost souls in the name of music lessons and performance then we are setting ourselves up for an unhealthy imbalance.
7. What is the most challenging part of making music together as a family?
Bad attitudes and fighting laziness make me feel like I am constantly walking up an escalator that is heading downwards. I guess in a word, I am weary of fighting against the law of entropy. With music, unless you CONSTANTLY practice the right way, you get worse instead of better. Jascha Heifetz is quoted as saying, “If I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, critics know it; three days and the public knows it.” Keeping up with this need to “KEEP MOVING FORWARD” can feel overwhelming at times. But this is where God gives grace. There are days where I don’t know how we made it through, but God gave grace, so we did it. Oftentimes, it’s just taking that first “faith-filled” daily step forward that provides the momentum we need to get the day rolling.
More advice from Amber to encourage you to give music a try with your family:
If you are on the fence about adding music lessons to your child’s life, my advice is just jump in! Of course ask God for guidance about which teacher and what instrument, but by all means be brave and go for it. I believe God will bless it. As a kid when I was a camper at summer camp I won first place in the belly flop contest. I find this funny because this is how I have lived most of my life. I jump first and then after I’m in too deep, I worry about the consequences. (This is where my steady husband helps keep me sane!) But as long as you are taking a step by faith and you are doing something as unto the Lord I say: dream big.
The other advice I have is to expect obstacles and decide ahead of time to trudge through them. When your teacher moves away? Find a new one. If your current teacher looks at her cell phone the whole lesson instead of teaching your kid? (Speaking from experience here.) Find another teacher. Don’t give up. Kids often want to start, but our Suzuki violin teacher, Shirley Stafford, tells us that when a parent comes up to her wanting to start their 3-year-old on the violin, she tells the parent that the kid will want to quit after week one or two (once they find out it is work and no fun) but it is the parent’s resolve that makes a good student of the child.
As an older teenager, I took piano lessons, and I remember praying that God would somehow miraculously make me a good piano player. He never did. God blessed my practice and hard work though. I don’t think He ever just “makes” someone good at music because it seems that He desires our characters to be molded by the journey of hard work. I have heard that a butterfly will die if you try to help it out of its cocoon as it is struggling to emerge. The butterfly needs the struggle to strengthen her wings so she can fly. Try to keep this in mind when music becomes a dreadful challenge and all you hear are squeaks, squawks, and wrong notes: a beautiful flight is in the making. Don’t give up!
I’m so thankful Amber took the time to share the details of what their life is like and how they manage to work together to create beautiful music! I am inspired to continue investing in my children’s musical education!
Please comment below about how music is a part of your family’s life, or how you plan to help your children learn how to play instruments!