Sunday afternoon my grandmother invited me along to a recital of young students at a somewhat new Conservatory of Music that has formed in our area. My grandmother is an enthusiastic supporter and family friends with the founder of the school. She is also a supporter of a music foundation like the ones at https://www.savethemusic.org/music-education-resources/.
As I sat in the auditorium, listening to the students sing it made me think of two things:
1. You never know what’s inside someone.
I watched some of the kids in the foyer before we went into the concert–wobbling in their high heels, holding hands and giggling, nervously playing with neck ties and shying away from the girls in the corner. And then, minutes later, that same student would step out on the stage–focused, confident and full of music. You’d never think it–this kid, who I might normally blow off as shallow, giddy, immature, shy–has something inside them. There’s more to them than what you see on the outside. You never know what gifts and talents lurk quietly behind a child’s sometimes awkward exterior.
2. I had a great music teacher growing up.
When I was young, I went with my sister to Ardinger’s music shop where she purchased her first instrument, a flute, in order to begin taking music lessons as part of the school’s fourth grade curriculum. The man who owned the shop must have sensed my eagerness and jealousy. He handed me a small, black plastic recorder and said, “You practice on this. Come back in four years and I’ll give you private lessons.” I went back four years later to purchase my own first instrument and he remembered who I was. So began eight years of private clarinet lessons from this seventy-four year old man who was such a strong presence in my life. He was tough as nails, gentle as a kitten. He’d make me want to cry and then overflow with praise. He never charged me a penny and he is someone who shaped and changed my life.
I remember how he used to always hum. Oftentimes when I’d show up for my lesson I didn’t know where he was in his house/music shop. But I’d follow the humming and sometimes join in while I tracked him down. “You’re FLAT!” he’d growl . I remember he’d sneak into my performances when I had a solo, usually not wanting to be seen. He’d linger in the background, and afterwards convince my mother and I to go out for pie and coffee in celebration, even if it was a school night. I remember sitting on his porch drinking 7up with a lime after every lesson while he had a martini. One every day. We’d turn on Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw and he’d have me play along with the CD or the record player so that I would start to sound just like them. He had shelf after shelf of records–numbered and alphabetized. I remember the day he told me I was better than him. I remember the day when he cried telling me how important I was in his life, how proud he was of me.
He taught me not just to play notes, but to sing.
It’s the piece of advice I give to every young musician I come across. When I listened to some of these students today I thought, “Has anyone every told you to sing the music? Don’t just play it.” And I remember when he died–after my senior year of high school, during summer vacation. I remember going to his funeral and being so disappointed. Here was a man who had brought music into so many lives and not a single instrument was played or note struck at his funeral. His funeral was common. It was normal. He was not. If I’d had my instrument and I had known, I would have gotten it out and played a tune in his honor.
I remember thinking that it was probably for the best that he died before I went to college. It might have broken his heart that I was going off to play volleyball and not become “the next Artie Shaw.” But then again, if he could see me now, he’d see that the music is still there inside me. That I’m still singing. And I think, my children are singing. I think he’d be proud.
And then I think he’d say, “Get your kids some music lessons! What are you waiting for?” Okay, well maybe that’s not what he’d say, but it’s what I was saying to myself as I got in the car to drive home Sunday afternoon.