Saxophone. Clarinet. Trumpet. Piano. Violin.
These are the instruments that my children have learned how to play, with varying degrees of success. In some cases, we payed for private lessons. But we also have the incredible gift of vibrant music programs in both our local elementary school and middle school. And my oldest son is taking piano as an elective in high school, in a state-of-the-art piano lab.
We have an amazing instrumental music teacher in our local elementary school who teaches six different instruments to a gaggle of fourth and fifth graders, many of whom have never touched an instrument before in their lives. In fact, each year the school hosts an instrument "petting zoo" for the whole third grade class, so that each third grader can literally touch each of the available instruments and make a decision about what instrument to play the following year.
The first concert of the year, usually in December, is a bit of a squeaker. But by the spring, if he hasn't gone and taught these kids how to play! It's really a pleasure and almost tear-inducing to sit and watch and listen and realize that in gyms and school auditoriums all across our country and around the world, children are plucking at violin strings, blowing their hearts out into clarinets and trumpets and saxophones, and pounding on drums, all creating the same cacophony as we experience in our school gym.
It's a beautiful sound.
Our middle school music teacher has over 300 students under her magical wing, and takes them around the county where they win competitions and impress everyone. Music is a critical program in the school, even though it is an elective. It adds depth and purpose and enrichment to our children's otherwise heavily academic days.
I come from a non-musical family. I "played" violin for one year, in the third grade orchestra, and every time I brought home the instrument to practice my parents covered their ears and ran away. Not exactly a supportive audience. I also grew up believing that I had no voice, could not sing and could not keep a tune.
Except for the opera records that my father spun in his office, behind closed doors, there was no music in our house until the day I discovered WABC AM radio, and learned that I could have pop music piped into my bedroom. I would sing along quietly, thrilled, but believing that I hadn't earned the right to sing out loud.
I will never forget the evening in my college apartment, when I began to sing along with my roommates, who were all quite musical, to a Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez album, and they all looked at me and assured me I had a nice voice. They couldn't believe that I didn’t think I could keep a tune.
Thank you, University Place crew -- I will forever be grateful to you for opening up my mind to the possibility that I could join in song publicly.
I am no performer, and I understand that I don't have any real musical talent, but that encouragement in college led me to believe that I could and should sing to my children when they were born. So in addition to reading all those chewable board books to each of my kids, I also sang songs to them when I tucked them in. The most memorable ones were "Twinkle Twinkle," the sweet "I'd LikeTo Visit the Moon" (by Ernie the Muppet) and "Shavua Tov," a Jewish lullaby that offers children a prayer for a good week after the Sabbath has ended.
If I didn't sing, I hadn't completed the tucking in. It was our bedtime ritual for years.
I made sure to keep tapes, then CDs and now iTunes in my car so that the family could sing together. All those dinosaur songs! Children's music! And now show tunes – we love belting out the soundtrack to Hairspray. I also like to listen to the car radio with my kids, so that I can hear the latest music that's catching their ears and attention.
Many years ago, I was playing tape over and over again by a Jewish singer named Debbie Friedman. She has taken a number of traditional Jewish prayers and songs and re-arranged them so that they are both spiritual and contemporary. Since we listened to that tape so often, I dedicated one song to each of my children from that album, and every time they hear their song they know it's something I'm playing just for them. For the teen, it was a song about might and power and spirit. For my daughter, Friedman sings "and you shall be a blessing." And for my baby boy, it was a song that heralds the new day, and new beginnings.
My husband is quite musical and really appreciates music at its deepest level. He enjoys watching musicians perform and engages with the fingering of the instruments and the modulating of the voices. I'm more of a sing-down kind of girl, and enjoy a good kumbaya moment more than a sophisticated musical performance.
But the wonderful thing about music is just that – its universality. We sing to our babies, we give our children music lessons, we learn to play piano as adults because we had always wanted to. If I go to a party and a friend breaks out a guitar, I'm in heaven. My teenage son can't do him homework without one of his five million iTunes songs playing along. My daughter is practicing clarinet duets with her friends, and my youngest son sits in his room singing to the radio.
It's all so big and wonderful and … musical. Even though I will never became a violin virtuoso, I can appreciate the profundity of a good round of Hot Cross Buns, played by my sweet fourth grader, blowing into his saxophone for all the world like it’s a magical instrument.
Which it is.
Photo by ndrwfgg via Flickr