Slow hand can only get so slow before it stops

People always ask me if my son is musical. I tell them no. It’s not exactly true.

Music is a huge part of my life. I don’t think there has ever been a time where I wasn’t playing an instrument or singing, even if it was only in the car. It’s natural to assume that a child raised in a musical environment would have some level of affinity for it.

My son is musical, but has no interest in music whatsoever.

I’ve tried to pique his interest. He liked the drums when he was little, and he liked to play with my electronic keyboard.  Correction, he liked to bang on my electronic keyboard and have it make animal noises and percussion sounds. My husband and I got him musical toys and a guitar and a small electric drums. He’d play with them from time to time, but it never took hold of him like it did for me.

He took guitar as an elective in middle school and really liked it. He wanted to take lessons, and asked for an electric guitar. We asked him to pay for part of it so that he had skin in the game. He started off working hard, and I was surprised by how easily he picked it up. He memorized music almost instantly, something I still struggle with, and his fingers were quick and agile.

However, it didn’t last. His loss of interest happened little by little. I tried not to get overbearing about it. I know forcing the issue does no good. I did ask that he practice a little every day. I worked with his  teacher to keep him playing while he got over the hurdle of adjusting to high school. It didn’t work. It got to the point where he was only playing during his lesson time and even that was half-hearted. I gave him an ultimatum. Either he was in, or he was out. He chose out.

He knew I was disappointed, but I was disappointed for him, not with him. I can’t choose his passions. He’ll have to find his own. If he’s busy being miserable pursuing one of my choosing, he may never find it.

I do wonder if I’d pushed harder, whether he’d have gotten over the “I suck” hurdle enough to enjoy it. It’s a difficult cycle to break. As the Tiger Mom says, nothing is fun until you’re good at it, and it takes time and effort to be good at something. I do wonder, however, if parental pressure can kill the latent love that isn’t ready to come to the forefront.

To succeed at something you have to want it. To have a goal in mind. I don’t think my son could envision himself playing. It’s not a compelling daydream for him, so as much as I daydream of hearing him in an orchestra, or playing with a small ensemble, it’s not going to happen.

I hope he finds something he loves besides sleeping and videogames. I have to think it just hasn’t shown itself to him yet. In the meantime, I’ll appreciate who he is, and that he’s generous enough to provide ample writing fodder.  If he decided to pursue cooking, however, that would be just fine by me. He has his own apron, so we’re ready.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by DaveonFlicker ©2010 Creative Commons

Blue Just Is

Originally written for F2K

Prompt – Color

A sax sings velvet, blue as king’s blood
But being blue don’t make you sad

The sapphire diamond is treasured, but cursed
No Hope there
Blue don’t make you happy, neither.

Blue ain’t a feeling. Blue just is.

Blue is sunlight snagged by sky
hoarding cerulean while passing on gold
Blue is winter eve, inky dark and moon on snow
a flip-switch from summer, one hot, one cold

Blue ain’t dark or day. Blue just is.

Blue is the yonder mountain
the elusive bird and the rarest moon,
but it’s common and cheap, lurid and bruised
It’s the angel’s eyes and the devil’s dress

Blue ain’t good or bad. Blue just is.

Blue may be true, but it don’t mean a thing.
Blue ain’t a color. Blue just is.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Gareth © 2006 Creative Commons

Down the Rabbit Hole – when did he get so tall?

Parenting a teen results in some weird moments of role reversal. I’ve spent 15.5 years being a mother and have gotten pretty comfortable with how the process works. My son falls down, asks for ice and a kiss. I bake cookies, and we snuggle until he feels better.

That strategy went out the window quite a while ago, but I didn’t really understand just how far past it we’d gone until this weekend.

Lately I’ve had a bit of a musical crisis of confidence. Historically, I’ve been a very instinctive player–sort of seat-of-the-pants. Twenty-one months of intensive study, while initially a revelation, shifted into an unhealthy fixation on my lack of technique.

I’ve been preparing for a recital and things weren’t going well. The music is not beyond my reach. This did not stop me from becoming a hot mess over the whole prospect. My group had a coaching session, a rehearsal of sorts this weekend. While practicing the evening prior, I hurled around a few choice expletives. It wasn’t going to be pretty.

I came downstairs and my son greeted me.

“I heard you, you know,” he said. I know he’s heard these words already. I’ve heard him gaming late at night. He just hasn’t heard them from me.

“Moms curse too. We just don’t get grounded for it.”

“Not that,” he counters, you idiot implied by his tone. “You shouldn’t worry so much. You’re very good.”

He’s very sweet, I think, but I’m not ready to agree. “I’m not that good these days. I need more time to prepare, but I don’t have it.” I didn’t have any more practice time before the coaching session. I feared it would be excruciating.

“You know, when I have a test, and I’ve got all of this stuff to do, sometimes, the test I study for the least is where I do the best.” Unsolicited advice is usually my responsibility. I don’t remember giving him permission to join in the fun. “I can’t overthink it. I just do it, and you will too.”

He hugged me. His chin rested on my head. He’s grown again. At least another inch. We both let go in surprise.

He looks sheepish. “Okay. That was really weird.”

I have to agree. “Uhm. Yeah.” He has no idea. “That’s not bad advice, you know.”

“Anytime. I’m full of it.”

Thank you, thank you. “That much, I know.” He gives me the look. Order in the universe is restored. Sort of. His room is still a disaster. We can only handle so much change at once.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Redjar © 2011 Creative Commons

I wouldn’t be full of crap if I could flush it and move on

Yesterday’s rehearsal was bad. Beyond bad. Let me clarify. My playing was beyond bad. Everyone else was just dandy. As the first violin, however, I anchor the group, and if the anchor isn’t set into solid ground, the whole boat drifts, no matter how sound it might be.

I had no focus. Passages that I’d played quite competently the day before confounded me, as if I’d never seen them before. My bow was all over the place. The more I played, the worse I got. After the first couple of times, I stopped apologizing. It was obvious that I was not going to pull it together. “I’m sorry” becomes both meaningless and annoying when repeated too often.

My son used to behave exactly the same way when he had a bad at-bat in Little League. He’d strike out and get upset and be that much more anxious for the next at bat, determined to succeed and destined to fail because his mind was still on the last time he stood at the plate.  I would tell him to “flush it and move on.”

What an idiotic thing to say. Where do I come up with this crap? It’s like telling a dieter to “just eat less.” No wonder he gave me the death stare every time I said it. If I’m supposed to flush it, where’s the handle? Tell me.

Ironically, one reason I was out of sorts was my inability to flush something that happened on Saturday. So it’s like flush-it squared. I am very adept at holding on to things. It is my personal brand of crazy. My unfinished business will drag on me until I beat it off with a stick, and even then it pops back up when I least expect it.

I’d ask my son what strategies he’d used when I’d suggested he “flush it and move on,” but I suspect that answer would be silently wish for you to shut up and go away. I’m pretty sure this is why they ban parents from the dugout. It might be better if they muzzled us all and chained us to the bleachers.

Solutions, however, are everywhere around us, so I’m going to take the political approach. It wasn’t that I was playing terribly, you see. I made some unfortunate note choices.  They weren’t wrong, per se, but I could have chosen better ones. Some notes were also taken out of context and misquoted. I played the right note, it just didn’t sound that way to your ears.

And if that excuse doesn’t work, I’ll flush it and find a new one.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph by Mike Lowell © 2008 Creative Commons

I need faster glasses

I’m a decent musician. I work at it, slowly, note by note.  Sometimes only one note, moving the bow back and forth to master a constant speed, a smooth transition. I don’t “do” fast, which makes sight-reading a challenge.

Sight reading is when someone plops a piece of music on your stand, and you’re supposed to play it. Without stopping. At only slightly below performance tempo. Of course, there’s always a first read of any piece of music, but generally I get to do it in private. I always dread our first orchestra rehearsal, because it’s like flying without a net. After we finish, I take the music home and work it obsessively for the next week, listening to recordings, working through the fingerings and the difficult passages so I won’t be caught flat at the next rehearsal.

My orchestra has four evenings of sight-reading during the summer. I used to avoid going because I found it too stressful. For the last couple of years I’ve had to go because I’m the librarian and I handle the music. We met Monday night for our first reading and believe it or not…it was fun.

I’ve been studying with my teacher for a year and a half. That’s definitely helped. I recognize patterns faster, and my fingers are more nimble. I think the bigger shift, however, has been my attitude towards perfection and a focus on process rather than outcome. Sight reading requires one to experience the music as a whole, rather than perfect note by perfect note. You play the note and keep moving, or don’t play the note, but keep moving.  If you can’t manage a passage, fluff it, fake it, or forget it, but it can’t stop you because there’s another note waiting for you right after it. And another after that, and so on.

When I would sight-read before, my focus would turn inward–what I was playing. Now, it’s turned outward–what we are playing. Viewing my music as part of a whole keeps me in the flow. I may not know the piece, but I know enough about music to know how my part works within the context of others. Unless we’re playing Hindemith or Schoenberg. Then all bets are off.

I’m beginning to think perhaps life is not unlike sight-reading. One never knows the plan of a moment or a day. It unfolds in front of us in real time. We can move with it, or be left behind, but it doesn’t wait for us. If I pay attention to what is going on around me, even if I miss a note or two, or even blow an entire passage, there are others to help me find my way back in. Being in harmony and in synch  is more valuable than being perfect and solitary.

I would still prefer to be able to play what is on the page with preparation and confidence.  I cannot read the notes quickly enough to get them all–I need faster glasses. The more I work at sight-reading, however, the less daunting it is. Learning to lighten up a little wouldn’t hurt either.  Worrying about how I’m doing it prevents me from actually having fun while doing it.  It also helps to remember that most everyone is too busy worrying about their own mistakes to concern themselves with mine.

“Winging it” has never been part of my personal lexicon, but then again, neither was noobtuber. Stranger things have happened.

Words by J. B. Everett

Comic – Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller