Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More to "Hot Cross Buns" than meets the ear

Back in September when my 9-year-old announced she wanted to start instrument lessons, I didn’t dare to look ahead to the holiday band concert.

Too much stood in the way of any expectation that she would reach that point: the idea that she’d follow through from saying she wanted to take lessons to actually attending the weekly instruction; the practicing; having to get up an hour early once a week in order to be at band rehearsals before school. Too much of it just didn’t seem to play to Holly’s strengths. Since preschool days, she’s avoided team sports – even the ubiquitous suburban soccer leagues – and quit Girl Scouts without ever proceeding beyond Brownie level. She won’t attend Sunday school anymore, and she admitted she’d much rather have free time for playing after school than be part of the kids’ book discussion group at the library.

So I didn’t really expect her announcement in September about trying percussion to turn out much differently from soccer or Scouts. And I certainly didn’t expect we’d get through the first three and a half months and find ourselves seated in the school auditorium waiting for the curtain to go up on a chilly Tuesday evening in December.

But Holly attended her lessons. She practiced between lessons. She learned to lug her bell set on and off the bus and up the steps to the music building at school. She even managed to wake up a half-hour early each Wednesday morning for band rehearsal.

And once we were a couple of months into the routine, I began to look forward to the December concert.

It’s not that I expected to hear fine musicianship or a compelling range of musical selections. The first band concert of the first year of music instruction, which at our school is fourth grade, is instead a showcase of abilities that it would have been hard to imagine some of these kids possessing a few months earlier. Holly, and the other 79 fourth graders, demonstrated throughout the course of the 45-minute-long program that they were able to sit quietly in their seats. They kept their eyes on the conductor. They stood when he motioned them to stand, and they took their places on stage. They bowed on cue.

They played music, too, but in the end, that was the least of what impressed me. Hot Cross Buns and Jingle Bells aren’t difficult compositions, especially for the percussion section, where Holly has indeed made her musical home. What impressed me was the life skills they’ve developed in just these first few months of band: their focus, their respect, their ability to function as a group.

Naturally, Holly still had a few hallmarks of her usual maverick self. While the other girls donned velvet sashes and taffeta skirts; Holly insisted on black ankle pants, a long shirt, a scarf and black boots. Her wardrobe vividly reflected that she’s still not what you’d call a conformist. And she doesn’t need to be. I understand why she’s never found her way with soccer or Scouts or afterschool clubs. She likes to do things her own way and plan her own time.

But apparently not always. By being part of the band and part of this week’s performance, she showed another side: a side that recognizes the value, sometimes, of getting with the program. And as I watched her move with confidence and agility from her bell set to the snare drum to the bass from song to song, I realized that she had found a group she felt vested in.

It’s a start. And maybe by the June concert, I’ll even succeed with the velvet and taffeta dress.

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