“You’re my retirement ticket.”

A few weeks ago I was in a recording studio working on my demo, when I get introduced to a nice young man who first congratulates me for completing a nice demo, and then starts talking about his girlfriend’s daughter. “She has a future,” he says.

“…Oh really?” says I, stamping out my irony like a cigarette butt on a sidewalk.

He explains: she sings, and with sooooooul; she can do Adele covers, she sings gospel in church and people are blown away by her natural talent! He says, “I tell her, ‘you’re my retirement ticket.'”

???

Wow.

You’re not even this kid’s father, and already you’ve slotted her to make your fortune. And the way you talk about her, the kid kinda knows it too; she’s fully aware that people love to hear her and she could take the fast track to professional singing if she wanted to. Even though she’s bored with choir, you tell her to keep at it because it’s good for her.

“Right, because if you’re gonna be a professional singer, you may be expected to sing with other people, so you have to know how to do that, too,” I say.

“Right.”

And then he goes on to say something even more interesting, with regard to her church singing: “I tell her, ‘just keep singing for Him.'”

I pause for a moment.

It’s one thing to be a supportive, church-going, committed male presence in the life of a young girl, but there’s a part of me that feels that “singing for Him” is just a euphemism for “singing for me,” in the sense of, “you’re my retirement ticket.”

I want to scream out, “Haven’t we learned anything from Beethoven’s childhood? from Michael Jackson’s? from watching all those shows about child beauty contests? from American Idol and the rest of it?” But I have to pause again. Ever since the time of Mozart, that precocious little brat who, with his equally talented sister, was trundled around all over Europe as a little three-ring circus by a Manager-Dad, we’ve been expecting The Whole Universe Of Possibility from our kids, expecting them to be the people we never were. And I’m sure it goes back to the beginning of civilization. The mystique of child prodigies has always been around and always will be around, and we adults will not always be mature in our handling of such youngsters.

Several friends and I have been circulating around a wonderful blog post on a similar theme, the modern phenomenon of the child opera star. (Click here to read it in full.) Top to bottom, I can’t recommend the article highly enough. The reality of kid performers is that they are kid performers; so what happens when they grow up and they’re not cute anymore? (Remember Kriss Kross? or Hanson? Of course you don’t.) Or worse, that they just can’t hack it skill-wise anymore? “You don’t get to hear her ten years later when her instrument has degraded to the point that a career in the opera field is no longer an option,” says the sage blogger Dr. Glen Winters.

How is it any different for pop singers? I’ve already blogged elsewhere on the hazards of youngsters tearing their vocal cords to shreds trying to imitate their singing idols. But behind the nuts-and-bolts of coaching young singers is that lingering, brooding parental insecurity that drives the whole machine, and for that, I must yield the floor to the psychologist. I have no answer for that phenomenon, aside from this:

Parents: Is your kid’s thing–whatever it is–just a projection, fulfillment or displacement of your own thing?

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