Wednesday, September 21, 2011

She's with the band

Fourth grade brings with it the opportunity to start studying a band instrument, but throughout the summer, Holly had been indicating that she was unlikely to seize that particular opportunity. She likes to do things her own way – which means she’s a very creative person but not generally fond of lessons and instruction regarding those creative pursuits.

But after the band director talked with the fourth graders on the first day of school, she had a change of heart. She did indeed want to play an instrument – the clarinet, she thought.

I greeted that news with delight. I wanted Holly to study an instrument, and I welcomed the thought of one as traditional but also gender-neutral as the clarinet. (Moreover, when it comes to instruments that need to be carted to school for lessons and practices, the lighter, the better.) Holly playing the clarinet? I could already picture it and even imagine the lovely tonalities she would learn to generate. She'd take out her clarinet at family gatherings to play a tune or two. Sure, the learning curve might be steep – and painful to the ears – but I was ready for that. (My sister is a strong proponent of choosing your child’s instrument based on what you’ll find the least painful to listen to as it is mis-played. Yet she nonetheless survived raising a violinist.)

The fourth graders spent every recess last week trying out different instruments. Holly dutifully took her turn with the trumpet, the saxophone, the flute and the oboe as they were trotted out one day at a time, but she continued to say that her interest remained with the clarinet.

And then she came home Friday, crestfallen. The clarinet test hadn’t gone so well. “I could barely make a sound,” she told me sadly.

“Reed instruments are difficult,” I said. “Lots of people find it hard to get the right touch at first.”

Unfortunately, though, Holly had been right there in the music room watching as – according to her -- every other kid in line had had more success with the clarinet than she did.

I offered to ask the band director if Holly could have another chance to try the clarinet. Knowing the band director and his eagerness to engage kids in the program, I was fairly sure he could accommodate this request.

But Holly said no: her romance with the clarinet was over, never to be rekindled, she was quite certain.

I wasn’t expecting what happened on Monday when Holly climbed down the steps from the bus. “I want to play percussion!” she exclaimed. “I tried it out today and I liked it!”

Percussion. Wow. That’s not what I was picturing at all. My visions of Holly all dressed up for the December band concert, sitting toward the front of the stage with the woodwinds, dissipated instantly. I tried to imagine her all the way at the back, standing behind the tympani or a set of snare drums. I tried to imagine her taking out her drumsticks at our next family gathering, tapping out a rhythm to impress her grandparents.

I don’t even know what learning percussion entails, exactly. There aren’t scales or notes to go over. I can’t picture what lessons would be like, or even practice sessions. Never mind the fact that I can’t picture Holly marching in the Memorial Day parade hoisting a bass drum at the back of the line.

The important thing is that trying out the percussion instruments renewed Holly’s interest in music lessons. I wondered briefly if I should have pushed her harder to give clarinet another chance, but this choice is hers to make, and it’s fine that she didn’t make a choice I expected. A lot of kids stick with instrument lessons for only the first year or two, but in those early days, all the parents dream of greatness. So now I’m dreaming of my future as the mother of the drummer.

Not what I was picturing. But it could still be fun.

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