Making Music

March 10, 2010 at 11:40 pm (Uncategorized)

Andrew and I have our first piano recital on Sunday.

Did you notice my use of the plural “our,” rather than the singular “his” in that sentence? You’re probably thinking that those massive IV doses of prednisone I got a few weeks ago finally kicked in and have made me nuts. Or am I experiencing a perverse delayed reaction to all those “Mommy and Me” music classes that I dragged Andrew to when he was eighteen months old? Or have I merged my ego with my son’s and lost all sense of my own personality, so that anything he does I count as my own?

No, no, and no. I am taking my own piano lessons, and I will be playing my very own songs at my very own first recital. That said, my lesson slot is immediately after Andrew’s— so that I can observe his weekly piano lesson, while he gets to hang out and color during mine. Also, I let him talk me into playing the theme music from Star Wars for the recital. So I probably shouldn’t crow about my independence too much.

Music used to be an important part of my life. I played French horn for nine years, and came to love the rituals of practicing and performing. Also, my family had a piano, and I plunked about on it, learning a few songs—but mostly just enjoying the magic of making sounds and songs from simply pressing keys. As I look back, I think that both having the freedom to make music without boundaries on the piano while also having the structure of reading music and making music as part of an orchestra brought alive a piece of my soul. It was a spark that made listening to music important to me. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve lost my ability to concentrate on both music and some other task. I can’t usually shut off the task, so it’s the stereo I silence.

I wanted to share a love of music with my son. As parents, we often risk packing our children’s backpacks with the stones of our own lost loves and thwarted ambitions—not just with their books and lunch (that whole merging of egos thing I mentioned earlier). Hopefully this wasn’t what I was doing when brought Andrew to many toddler and pre-school music classes, where we sung songs, beat drums, and danced. I don’t think it warped him. And then our friend Connie found us a fantastic piano for less than $200 at a thrift store. We’ve since had a tuner out, and he told us she made the find of the century for us.

Andrew banged around on our new piano. “Do you want to learn how to play?” I asked him—not mentioning that learning to play would be a lot less fun that crashing out random notes and would involve practicing more days than not. “Yes!” he said enthusiastically. I might be manipulative, but I did have a sense that he’d like learning music. We lucked into finding a wonderful teacher. Theresa knows how limited a six year old’s attention span is. So she keeps lessons and practice material short and simple. She assigns songs that are fun and catchy. And even better, she doesn’t use the old “FACE” and “Every Good Boy Deserves Fun” acronyms to learn notes that my teachers had. So, at least Andrew won’t have memories of squinting at notes to see if they’re the “boy” or the “deserves” in the system. Instead, he’s learned “landmark” notes and then works off those to learn a new note or two every couple of weeks.

I often regret how much of Andrew’s childhood I’ve lost to my illness. Sometimes I get downright maudlin about it and cry that so many of the experiences I wanted to teach Andrew—like skiing and swimming—I’ve totally missed. One day, as I listened to him bang out a jazzed up version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on Theresa’s piano, the proverbial light bulb illuminated above my head. I was excited to ask him right after the lesson if he wanted me to take my own piano lessons and learn the same music so that we could practice and play together. “Great idea, Mommy!” he shouted as we made our way to the car. And then he did his little happiness jig. Theresa was able to teach me right after Andrew’s slot. I began the next week.

What started as my effort to play a part in Andrew’s discovery of music and as a way for us to share learning has grown into an experience that excites and gratifies me. It’s been so long since I’ve read and played music that it’s practically like starting over. And I love it. It is fun to learn something new; it is fun to do something that is outside the worn paths of my usual activities; it is fun to feel my brain working to make sense of new instructions; it is fun to work each day on a piece and hear myself getting better with each repetition. Spending fifteen or twenty minutes on the piano each day seems to stir my creative juices or free some space in my mind—or somehow make writing, cooking, and being with Andrew more enjoyable. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the writing spree I’ve been on corresponds to when I started practicing the piano more seriously.

I’m a little nervous about Sunday’s recital. But, as I tell Andrew, everyone makes mistakes. So if I botch the grand beginning of the “Star Wars” theme, I don’t expect the earth to spin off its orbit and hurtle into space. I feel a little silly playing such a childish song. But Andrew gasps with delight every time I run through the piece. “It sounds exactly like it should, Mommy,” he tells me. “I’m glad you like,” I say back. And I mean it.


  1. Barb said,

    Joy… in reading you celebrate some wonderful mothering you are doing, in so many ways… that is what I take from this piece…

  2. Rebecca Stanfel said,

    Thanks for writing a comment Barb. It makes me happy to know that you read Chronic Town.

    I do try to celebrate the mothering experiences I have with Andrew. We had our recital this afternoon, and both did pretty well, I think. Andrew even wore a suit! (sans tie).

    Be well and be strong,

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