Saturday, September 17, 2016

Before long, your novice kid may be a little musician

From today's Briefing:

I’ve just said goodbye to Cooper and Katie, who are studying at home while I take care of grocery shopping before the week begins.
I’m half a mile from home, stopped at a traffic light, when the phone rings. It’s Cooper, the child who rarely calls. He’s more of a texting sort.
My heart, conditioned over 15 years of parenting, feels heavy as I answer. Something terrible must have happened for him to call so soon after my departure.
There’s dramatic wailing as I say hello. The news is worse than I imagined.
“What’s wrong?” I demand.
“It’s awful!”
“The noise! Can you make her practice outside?”
My heart rate slows. I start to breathe normally.
“Cooper, your sister does not have to practice playing her oboe reed outside. We endured weeks of squeaky clarinet playing when you were in sixth grade. We all have to start somewhere. Be nice.”
This is no emergency. This is the beginning of sixth-grade band.
Beginner band requires patience from all: students, who long to play entire songs yet still struggle to properly assemble their instruments; band directors, who inherit children with varying abilities and musical backgrounds; and family members, who listen to the squeaks and squeals without grimacing or complaining. (Well, not too much.)
It’s also an experience worth savoring.
I admit to fleeing the house a few times when Cooper began clarinet. I couldn’t wait until he started playing recognizable tunes, with notes neither too sharp nor too flat.
Then, all of the sudden, it seemed, he was playing mostly discernable melodies. In no time, we were attending the first concert of the year, at which a whole gaggle of sixth-graders managed to keep a beat, hit the right notes at the right time and remain silent the rest of the time.
As with so many other rites of passage, I’m trying to hold on a little longer the second time around. I know how fast these baby musicians become more experienced, how quickly the squeaks settle down. I want to enjoy the fleeting early days.
I want to remember Katie’s eagerness to practice the proper way to sit and to care for her reeds. I want to remember the unadulterated glee with which she exclaimed, “In band today, we actually got to play the oboe! I played an actual note! It was clear!”
I want to remember the day I was still at work and received via text message an audio file of Katie playing the first four measures of “Hot Cross Buns.” I could hear her posture and pride in every note.
Are they the most beautiful notes I’ve ever heard? Not exactly. They have a slightly disarming gooselike quality — a sound that soon enough will be replaced with a little more grace and a little less squawk.
There’s a whole lot of enthusiasm behind those notes, though, certain to fuel her willingness to practice at least 20 minutes a day. And in no time, she’ll be sitting on the cafeteria stage with dozens of other musicians, contributing to a bigger sound and bigger purpose.
Those band kids will receive applause from adoring fans — those family members who stayed in the room for cacophonic practices, who grinned even when it was tough, who wanted to escape, and even those who grumbled once or twice.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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