Music lessons for the child in me

BY Wickham Boyle

I had my first musical recital at the end of May during the Church Street School’s musical marathon. I was one of the newest students, albeit one of the oldest. I was the last in a trio of cello students: Nathan who is five, Tzvi who is 12 and I am more than three times Tzvi and ten times Nathan.

I agreed to be in the recital because my teacher was nine months pregnant and I believe that a pregnant woman is she who must be obeyed. Beyond that, I love Michele whom we call Michelo. She is like a Rubenesque, rock and roll cello goddess. Truly, I see her as all that. Michele has taken me in 12 months from “show me the A string” to actually reading music and playing, with many screeches and glitches in a Bach piece with slurs, finger stretching and what seems to be endless repeats.

I wanted to play in the recital for her and for the Church Street School where I serve as a too often recalcitrant board member. I also wanted to challenge myself. I am to all appearances an out going person, but that only extends to my own actions, walking, speaking, biking. It does not reach into the recesses of where I am very incompetent. I suppose that makes me like so many adults. We like to do what we know...well.

I am also attempting to retain some of my active brain synapses by learning new things like languages and music. There is a theory of neuroscience that expounds brain elasticity and sort of brain yoga as being that which keeps us from the doors of dementia.  Some of the tasks suggested for a supple brain are learning new language, music among them. I feel I need to do every and anything that will ward off old age wackiness, being a tad toward the eccentric side for starters, so I began cello last spring.

I do practice, but there are big moments when I am traveling or away from my less than portable instrument. I attempt to practice when I am home and I leave my instrument out so it upbraids me to play. But every time I play in front of anyone, I played much worse than when I held sway for the cats, who seemed enthralled. Perhaps my off notes were a secret language to them, maybe they are kind, and perhaps as is their nature, curious.

I went to the recital nervous, but as the oldest one I felt I wasn’t supposed to show it.  Nathan, who happily sawed away at part of “Twinkle Twinkle,” was totally joyful in his debut and Tzvi, who played a traditional French folk song with great intensity and focus, was the same preadolescent before, after and during the concert. I was chatty, my default position for nervous, and then I played. I knew I messed up the rhythm, then decided I couldn’t stand making people wait through a second set of Bach’s repeats so I’d just end the damn thing. Ahh over.

Now we had the duet, a Contradance by Leclerc. I love playing with Michele. It was a feeling I imagine as akin to swimming on the back of a dolphin, everything was effortless and safe. She knew the way and all I had to do was have a modicum of confidence that I could float and paddle a smidgen. Michele, well all the music teachers I saw as the week of concerts unfolded, have this ability to be calm, mindful and gentle with students as we lose our way, blank on notes or speed up and slow down at random intervals. I saw Michele take the lead and then follow me when I fell into an abyss of imagined music. I felt the tiny hairs on my neck respond as we played and there was so much harmony when we hit single notes that vibrated in my chest.

How could I have missed this? What would have happened if I had not taken the challenge of my children and my music school to attempt music? I think it is a feeling akin to the one I have about childless adults. I don’t feel sorry for them, because until you have children with all the joy, frustration, elation and just plain giggles and tears you do not know what you are missing. That’s a good thing because I want everyone to have a great sense of fulfillment. If these adults without children knew what they were missing they wouldn’t get up, if these non-musical hackers ever felt what I did when Michele and I hit the harmony, find the pace and count as one, the entire world would be running out for trumpets, violas, pianos or bassoons. Schools would be flooded with requests for music as the panacea for attention deficit and reading aplomb. Instead many of us never attempt music and all the uncomfortable and amazing places it takes us.

I am the same. As much as I love playing with Michele in our practice time, I have real mixed feelings about wanting to have another recital, let alone join an orchestra like my mighty teacher suggests. Maybe I won’t have to placate her, but for now I am thankful that she pushed me and recitals are another year away.


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