A Mother's Story: The Acton Middle School Journey
People ask me what makes Acton students so different.
It's not just one characteristic you can pinpoint- it's a combination of attitude, mindset and bravery. Also, the ability to take everywhere they go the tools and processes practiced in the studio. And definitely, it's the realization that they have responsibility over their own choices- and taking action.
What does this look and feel like for a parent? Acton mom, Erin Martin, generously shares her story. I hope you are as inspired by it as I am:
When my 12 year old announced that she planned to attain an apprenticeship in the music industry this summer, her dad and I smiled and muttered some encouraging words. I can’t remember what, exactly. We probably asked some Socratic questions – as we’ve become accustomed to do via our 6+ years as an Acton Academy family – and then left the ball in her court. I pictured her assisting a music teacher at a camp or maybe shadowing a shop owner selling guitars to college kids on break; you know, the kind of non-intimidating things you can picture an 8th grader succeeding at doing.
When she later clarified that she wanted to intern with a recording studio, booking agent or a professional musician, I started listening deeper. And when she rattled off about approaching some potential adult music venues, I started experiencing some heart palpitations. I pictured my almost 13-yo in the corner of a dive bar at 1am, being loosely serenaded by some less-than-sober musicians… and you know, worst case scenarios pretty much took over my imagination from there.
Nonchalantly as I could muster, I nudged a few suggestions for apprenticeships that I thought might be safer, or easier, or less likely to result in rejection: Maybe she could consider volunteering to help an educational music program, or approach a nonprofit organization related to supporting musicians? Tips that fell on deaf ears. She stated in no uncertain terms that she wanted to be in the room where the actual magic unfolds. She needed to watch the key players, talent, skills and decisions that create music worth listening to – an opportunity that was meaningful. A worthy goal, even if it meant dashing my super safe dreams of her assisting toddlers with tambourines.
"It cannot be overstated that at age 12, I spent my summer watching Alicia Silverstone star in Clueless and slurping Capri-Suns on the couch, so this is all pretty bewildering to me."
In March, Indra drafted her cold call email and phone pitch. Over the last 60 days, she’s approached 25+ professionals and businesses – and watched 25+ doors shut in her face. 7 recording studios, 3 local radio stations, booking agents, music producers, sound engineers and venues. Some rejections were swift and clean – like the thankfully direct adults who said all their professional action happens late in the evenings and into the night. Others just didn’t respond at all, leaving her to follow up once or twice until she took the hint. Worse still were the opportunities that *almost* worked out: the Dean of a tertiary institution who was impressed by her interview and eager to let her intern in his Music Production department, but later got veto’d by legal (no young minors fluttering about campus), or the musicians and organizations who initially agreed to take her on before later ghosting her follow-up calls and emails. It was brutal to witness, but I was *determined* to stay out of it.
By June, I wondered if she’d found her satiation point and was ready to pivot to toddlers and tambourines, but she doubled down – drafting more cold calls and trying to sharpen her elevator speech on why anyone in the music industry should take on a free tween for the summer. She offered to sweep floors, make coffee, be a fly on the wall, take out the trash or do any menial task necessary to gain access to knowledge and experience. Low and behold, the millionth time is the charm.
Yesterday, following a promising phone interview, I drove her for an in-person meeting at yet another recording studio. She coached herself aloud on the way (“don’t fidget, focus on listening, remember it’s about offering to meet their needs”) and I waited in the car as she marched into her umpteenth sales pitch. She emerged after her interview, calm and cool, alongside the owner who introduced himself to me and after some chit-chat, announced that she was welcome to start immediately. A solo artist was on the way in to record some demos and Indra could observe, maybe help clean up afterward. Six hours later, I picked her up and listened to her recount every detail: watching the whole session from within the booth, the different types of mics, the collaborative process of mixing tracks, and the small suggestion she made that was seen as a legitimate contribution. She helped set up for the next day’s session recording a band, and made plans for what time to arrive.
It cannot be overstated that at age 12, I spent my summer watching Alicia Silverstone star in Clueless and slurping Capri-Suns on the couch, so this is all pretty bewildering to me. I asked Indra if it was intimidating to set up and break down mics and equipment (since these are not yet skills she’s fluent in), but she beamed, “Well yeah, of course it was intimidating! But I just kind of have to do it to figure it out and learn!” Duh mom. Isn’t that the point of an apprenticeship?
Bravo, darling, for facing rejection over and over and over again. I’m inspired by your perseverance. Thank you for humbling me by picking up a wrench to build an engine when I felt more comfortable with you staying inside to play with hot wheels. Maybe in another few years I’ll finally get the hang of this parenting thing and stay out of your way while you soar past me.
– Erin Martin (Indra's mom)
From Laura Sandefer's blog: On Being an Acton Academy Parent. A Journey for Parents and Children.