Monday, September 19, 2005

Music in the Air

In an effort to civilize my little pagans, I have “encouraged” each of them to take piano lessons. Grace was an easy sell but Spencer was harder to convince. He wasn’t entirely opposed, though had rather taken tae kwon do, but after planting a few seeds here and there he decided it wouldn’t be too bad.

With Spencer the secret has been to find music he likes—though there is a down side to that too. Andrew and I were upstairs on a quiet Saturday morning, sleeping and dead to the world when out of nowhere, cutting into our consciousness like a knife comes the sound of: “dum dum dum dum DUM, dum dum dum DA dum, dum dum dum DA dum, dum dum dum DUM!”as Spencer hammered out the theme to Star Wars on the piano—yes, the one right below our bedroom.

He had learned “O Come All Ye Faithful” for Christmas and for two months that was his weapon of choice. Then it was Woody Guthrie’s perennial folk favorite, “This Land Is Your Land” and finally Star Wars—often played without any warning day or night—not unlike a car alarm that goes off without warning and won’t shut up, only the car alarm is in the house.

With Spencer it can only be played LOUD. The ivory on those seven keys was starting to show considerable wear so for the sake of my piano and my ears I now take him to the music store for a regular infusion of new music, though it can be hard finding music that’s both easy and to his taste. I’ve got limited options in this area, evidently kids today are more into “Eminem in Five Notes” or “Tupak Shakur for Little Fingers” or “Mystikal Made Easy.” I’m always looking for new stuff to keep him hooked that won’t suggest a life of drugs and crime.

Grace still tolerates her piano lessons but I’m constantly looking for new ways to keep her interested in her music. I even got her a guitar for her birthday and sure enough she loves it. I took her to the music store and she picked out a book that teaches her to rock like Jimmi. She’s enjoying it and strums happily away. In no time she’ll be doing “Stairway to Heaven” and a Pete Frampton off the stairs in the hall, but for now she’s just happy to have a book of cool music and a real honest-to-goodness pick. It was getting kind of frustrating trying to jam with a Yahtzee chip.

Coincidentally the biggest worry in her life right now is music at school. In sixth grade she must choose between band, orchestra or choir. I’ve refused, however, to get drawn into the hysteria this decision seems to provoke. I’ve simply said that I’m not going to pay to rent an instrument, effectively leaving her to take choir and bringing much anguish. I’m not sure why she is so opposed given her history with vocal performance. We even wrote our very own Tastee Freeze song that is sung every time we partake of their tasty treats:

Tastee Freeze! Tastee Freeze! Yummy yummy yummy yummy Tastee Freeze!

It’s a beauty and can be altered for many occasions and moods, functional and packed with emotion. Grace at one time carried this love of singing to school last year when a strange lunchtime occurrence had her floating around and acting like a diva. The cafeteria there is run not unlike a prison food line: no talking, no switching food, no getting up, and you’d better be done before they bring in the hounds (I’m kidding). Spencer once got a peanut butter granola bar confiscated from the fear of airborn peanut particles attacking children with peanut allergies in the lunchroom. You’d thought he’d brought in a dirty bomb.

So you may see how odd I found it when they began making a microphone available on the stage for kids during lunch. Mind boggling. It was like some weird Open-Mike Hour at Northern Lights. American Idol meets American cheese. But however odd her mother thought it, Grace was wild to try it and performed twice—first with the Disney favorite “Zippity Doo-Dah” and followed with a Bryan Adams’ song from one of her favorite movies, Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron.

When she reported all this to me I admit I winced. Though I don’t want my children the center of popularity neither do I want her the subject of public humiliation. But according to her she got rave reviews from the table with the other ten year-old girls (especially the horse fans who’d seen the movie). In fact I even had one little boy a month later come up to me and tell me that he’d heard Grace sing at lunch and thought “she had a really nice voice.” So what’s the problem with taking choir? Something has changed in the last year but suddenly singing isn’t something she’s up for, regardless of her critically acclaimed performance.

David started piano lessons this week and has already shown us his musical bravado. Last year before Halloween Lillian got a toy set of big plastic lips puckered around a kazoo which he claimed for himself. He could stick the kazoo in his mouth and it would look as if he had these giant red plastic lips (get the picture?) But the day before Halloween I called him to lunch and did a double take--had he been sloppy with the jam? I zoomed in for a closer look. There, carefully outlined two inches around his mouth was a blood blister in the shape of a set of lips.

My eyes widened and, trying to hold it together I asked (oh so casually) “Hey, David, you seen Lillian’s plastic lips with the kazoo lately?”

He shrugged very nonchalantly and said, “No.”

I decided on a more direct approach. “Have you been sucking on Lillian’s plastic lips?”

Still no. With a little more prodding I got a confession out of him that he had indeed been playing with the lips and had been sucking them tightly, suctioning them around his mouth. Unbeknownst to him he had received a giant kiss for doing so and (here's my mistake) I took him to the bathroom to show him what had happened. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, he looked like a small white Tina Turner and when he realized what he’d done and that it wouldn’t come off he burst into heart-rending sobs for fear of what the kids at school would say. It wasn’t too easy to convince him that they’d never even notice (hadn’t I proved that theory to be completely bogus?) but somehow he calmed down and set off for school in dry, albeit low, spirits.

It did go always after a few days and luckily no one gave him too hard of a time about it, kindergarteners tend to be more forgiving than other children and by the time Halloween came he looked fine. He was a pirate and the bruise had assumed the shaped of an odd goatee.

But he never touched the kazoo again and is now happily banging out Star Wars on the piano like his brother before him. And thankfully, you can’t get a blood blister from sucking on the piano.