Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sam and The Cello

I got a surprise last week. I came home from work to find one of those band folders, the
kind I hadn't seen since Jr. High School(before it became 'middle school'). I halted, turned, and saw sheets of paper introducing the conductor and signup sheets for music training. Seems Sam wants to learn to play. . . the cello. The Cello .I do not know what brought him to this decision. It was made without my advice. You see, I played the cello for three years, beginning in fourth grade. I had already had 3-4 years of piano lessons by then. The cello was my introduction to many things - stringed instruments, playing with a group, taking instruction and training from a leader in front of others, teamwork, performance, stage fright, the list goes on and on. I moved to bass in the 7th grade because - let's face it, it's much cooler - and I couldn't play the cello. To play a cello well (that is, among other things, to not sound like a seal being eviscerated without
anesthesia) is a difficult thing to do. It is more physically and sonically demanding than a bass, as I'm sure the viola and violin are. I actually asked to look at Sam's fingers, yesterday afternoon; fortunately he has not inherited my father's spatulate fingers and square palms, as did I. I hope this is in his favor.
Do not misunderstand, I think my strong hands are suited to a larger fingerboard, that's all. Unfortunately, musicianship is an alchemy of physical gifts, experience, and discipline. It is most un-democratic and often cruel. It is this cruelty that I fear the most for Samuel.
It is most interesting, this mix of emotions that I feel. We went to the music store - the school music store, where the guitars are in a small room, the drums are up high on the wall, and bins full of sheet music hold the prime real estate. The older gentleman that rented us the cello was very kind; and the instrument is so much better than the school-issued ones - it made me proud that I could provide such a thing for my son. We took it home, and carefully removed it from the case, and fiddled with it a bit. He didn't seem so interested as I tuned it and played a few notes, then handed it to him. He's still pretty apprehensive about the physics, so far, although he demonstrated an early technique for holding the bow that he's already been taught. I'll leave that stuff to his teacher.
I see so many obstacles for him. He has a lovely singing voice that I've only heard here and there - but I don't know how good his 'ear' is. He's never read music. He has a lot to learn about being part of a team. He's going to have to practice. He is a perfectionist. He may not be strong enough or coordinated enough, initially, to physically wrestle an instrument like this. I desperately want him to rise to these challenges, and find a joy in music as I have. It's brought up a lot of memories of my own frustrations and failures with this instrument, and I just fear that this may kill his desire if it doesn't work.
I realize that 85% of this is "normal" parental worrying, and I can't gauge if my nausea is just compounded by my own experience. I'm going to do my level best to not project any of this toward him - it will be a struggle, as it always is, to try and maintain the appropriate pressure for him to do his best, so that he can find the pleasure in it.
I hope he finds the magic that occurs when an orchestra plays beautiful music, to be in the midst of it, to contribute to something greater than oneself. To translate points on a page into music. The physical sensation of resonating wood, rosin, and string at your core.
It's just something I didn't expect, that's all. At least not The Cello.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Always Broke on Thursdays

I’m always broke on Thursdays. It doesn’t matter when I get money out, or how much it is. When I say broke, I mean that there’s no folding money in my wallet. What it means is that, lunchtime on Thursdays, I have to go to the ATM in the lobby and pay $1.50 for the privilege of taking money out of my account. What is interesting is that I know this, yet I do not take appropriate action to remedy it. Sometimes, when I kiss my wife goodbye in the morning, I’ll beg for what she might have in her purse, but I don’t like to do that – it makes her have to actually have to process information beyond her twilight routine of kissing me goodbye, and it usually means a trip for her to the ATM. I have thought to myself, on Wednesdays, “you should go by the bank on your way home,” only to find myself pulling into the driveway without doing so.
I’m sure that you are wondering why I’m telling you this. There are three reasons that I can think of. First, there are no new episodes of Seinfeld, and some of you may be missing it. Second, this event is prompting me to realize how very habitual I am. I get up, get ready, go to work, work is the same, every day (at least since 2001), eat lunch at the same place, get in my car, and drive straight home 92 days out of 100. I have actually had days off where I get the feeling that I am doing something wrong; truant, as it were. I have become institutionalized. I am like the bear at the zoo, pacing back and forth in a self-stimulating rut that also assures me that I’m not going to be bothered, beyond, of course, those things that invade my routine. I used to think that this was faithfulness; lately, I’m seeing it as fearful. I’ve pulled the lid over the top of the box I’m in.
So, what should I do? Should I just head for Tijuana some afternoon? Nah, it’s like a whole different country down there. I have plenty of things to do. I really need to just get busy and start doing them. I’m hoping that by writing it down, confessional-style, it’ll help prompt me to action. I’ll let you know. And, by the way, this is a rhetorical question. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like the answers most of you would give me, thanks just the same.
Perhaps you don’t have this problem. Perhaps you do, to some extent. Maybe this little exercise might prod you out of a little mire, which would make it worth publishing, which brings us to reason number three.
I felt like I needed to write something. It’s been a few weeks. I suspect I’ll have some more to write about in another week or so.