Posts Tagged ‘piano’

Violins and Head Wounds, Part II

May 11, 2009

I’ve already heard from some friends asking me where I got this ‘Head Wound’ part.  Well, it’s not entirely original to me.  I did suffer the usual head wounds of childhood, being dropped on my head by my mother, the single knuckle rap on the top  of my head by my father (the full extent of his discipline), the usual galloping beneath low lying limbs on my horse and getting bonked that way, but nothing really serious.  Perhaps that flying hockey puck to the back of the head on Madsen’s pond was the more serious injury of this period.  The bugle event was to the FRONT of the head, so that was special.

However, “Head Wound Hannah” was the sobriquet we gave to a woman we worked with at Emory University.  This was 15 years ago so perhaps she has changed.  We can only hope so.  This poor woman was so ditzy, so ‘childlike’, so…well, plain DENSE, we made up this story  she had suffered a head wound, probably from a riding accident, just to curb our anger at her…..embarrassing us.  We were creative, not kind.

However, there are these little ‘related posts’ that are fun to read after you post a blog entry, and so I did today and one story really moved me.  It was about a young woman who started violin at 4 and realized  around high school  it had eaten up her personality.  She skimped on everything else, including school work and probably social life to attend to this bitch violin.

I laughed  when I read:  “Only practice on those days you eat”.  I remember that one.

This article made me think about our only child.  He didn’t speak much at 3 years, and that is because he was adopted by us just at that age.  He came from a bad situation.  We didn’t know how to be parents, but we tried different things.  The only thing I could think of was food and music.

He was very tiny, only 24 lbs. at 3 years.  So we feed him three breakfasts… upon waking, one on the way to daycare next to the university where I worked, and his breakfast at the daycare.  I got fat, he just grew upward.  He  still didn’t talk much after a few months with us, but one day, snug in the back seat in his carseat, we were listening to music on NPR.

“Oh, Christopher! This is possibly  Mozart”,  I said, trying to interest him.

“Probably Haydn, Mommy.”

I almost wrecked the car.  And he was right.  Soon after I was talking to a child psychologist about our son, and she also was gifted in music.  Apparently children under the age of six…or until that age, have a remarkably keen ability to distinguish tonal patterns in music, and thereby can identify (in some cases) composers and pieces.

That settled it.  We would develop a little musician, and then he would blossom.  Yes, into a little monster until we all wised up.

We started with a tiny Suzuki violin.  Lunch was mommy and son in the conference room doing scales.  He was almost 4 and tiny, with tiny hands.  That Suzuki was an 1/8 of a violin.  He composed the “Dragon Opera” at 4, which was a hideous group of discordant notes and chords.  It was a “DRAGON”.  Of course, we finally got it.

Later he got a 3/4 violin, a couple of them.  We just collected 3/4 violins for some reason.  Not that any of them were better than the last, but we had about 3 hanging around. We could have made planters, but didn’t.

When our son started First Grade, we got a call from the principal.  That was the time period when schools still had music and instruments for children to try out.  There were two cellos and one kid had put his foot through one.  We were informed that our son was crying hysterically, with his arms wrapped around the remaining cello and he refusing to let go.  Luckily I could walk to school, and usually did, and retrieved our son with his big, wet eyes.

We promised him a cello, but it was years before he got one.  He then fell in love with piano….and we bought him a very old and heavy baby grand which still occupies a portion of the front living room.

He had a remarkable ear, and went through two teachers in a year.  One just disappeared (he was a trombone player anyway) and the other, a woman, was excellent.  Christopher couldn’t really read music, but picked up a large part of Mozart’s  “A Little Night Music” by playing it on the cd over and over until he had the pattern down pat.

He was a perfectionist and a grunter.  He would practice scales over and over, and get really fast on this very hard to play piano.  Hard to play because the action was heavy, not light and responsive like a more modern piano.  Our piano was from the 1920’s or so.  But an excellent sound because it was used as a concert instrument in a very small hall.   Dense, walnut and honey sound…just hard on the fingers.  You got really strong playing it.

He gave a couple of concerts to nice and quiet adults.  The Mennonite Church was a favorite place for concerts and he played some Mozart perfectly, and also an amazing A-B-A piece he composed when he was around 8.  I can still remember that piece, because it was very atmospheric….like snow falling…Beautiful.  Of course, his music teacher had to write it down, because he still couldn’t really read music, except for the Mozart he was learning.

His first competition was a scream.  Our 9 year old son was going to do the rather well rehearsed Mozart piece and his own composition, when a beautiful Korean girl played before him.  She was incredible.  He was so in love with her playing, and her image up on the stage, that it rattled him severely.  He got through 1/2 his Mozart, and started to stumble and walked off the stage in mid flight.  I was horrified and he was in tears.  Took a while for him to explain what happened, but it was a lesson to all of us.  Don’t play AFTER the Korean girl.

I did my own concerts for about 10 years, until around 2004.  I had my own accompanist, Dr. Guy Benian at Emory, a fantastic musician and one I worked with almost exclusively for those years.  But life changesd and I started to feel guilty about all the rehearsal time away from my young son, and I quit.  Other things came to the fore, like writing, so it was time.

We did attend some harpischord seminars those years, because I was also doing some very early music, and Christopher loved the harpischord.  The action is so damn easy with those instruments, and you fly over the keys.  And two keyboards to play with on the doubles.  We thought about buying a harpischord…and I even helped build one decades ago in college, but they are tempemental instruments and they really are hot house things.  One would have perished fast in our house. The cats themselves would have killed it.

However, Christopher still did my vocal warm up scales, and he was a demon.  He worked me hard most mornings, and we are thinking about going back to this a bit this summer.  We have to do it soon because he is off to Navy training in December this year for 4 years.

He got his cello about 5 years ago.  My brother, who plays the oud, lute, guitar, violin, piano, cello, etc.  …every stringed instrument…and a 12 string guitar, gave us a beautiful student cello from the 1940’s.  Japanese made, so I think it is a bit earlier. But it has a wonderful sound, deep, rich chocolate, a bellow like a bull, and except where the music hating cats knocked it off it’s stand and displaced the neckboard, it is a wonderful instrument.  However, we keep breaking strings, and I think it’s the repair job we did ourselves.  My brother thinks we are trying to tune it like a viola.  Perhaps he is right.

Our son took to the cello like a duck to the water.  And damn, if that isn’t a hard instrument to play.  It gets your fingers fast….they plumb hurt.  But he flies through  scales, and we play little …kinda….duets….me on the hated violin and he on cello.

He recovered his speech soon enough and I like to think that the music was key here.  I know that he has become very mouthy.  Perhaps it’s all in the plan.

Lady Nyo

%d bloggers like this: