Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Teach Your Children Well Redux

I am reading to Miguel at night a book about an orphan from the 1930s who is basically adopted by a funky jazz band from Grand Rapids, MI. The 12 year old is talking about learning some musical terms when I started to read one, ‘embouchure’, a word I’d never heard so I tried to quietly pronounce it before I mumbled, ‘em-boo-shure’.

Miguel looked over at me from his bed (I was leaning against a pillow cushion on the floor) and smiled.

“What was that word?” he asked.

I was afraid to embarrass myself again, but I uttered something. Miguel laughed and said, “Emba-sheer?”

“Yeah, that sounds like it. What is that word?”

I really had no clue.

Embouchure, as Miguel informed me, is the mouthpiece of an instrument. Miguel learned about it during this past year in his school’s band. He was one of two trombonists. And I guess all his hard work paid off.

I was impressed that my son knew something about which I was completely and utterly clueless. I fully embrace being surpassed by him at anything once he is ready to assume the mantel of leadership and success.

When it comes to music, he is ready. Really ready.

I love music, but have little or no (and that is charitable) musical talent. I cannot read music, carry a tune, or hum outside the shower, but I love, love, love music, performers, and all that creative expression.

I may not be able to rival Daniel Stern’s character in Diner when it comes to cataloging the B sides of various 45s, but I do know the name of Rick Nelson’s band, Chubby Checker’s birth name, when Chuck Berry was born, and where Gene Pitney hails from.

And I regret not having learned an instrument because I do love music. I bought a guitar about five or six years ago, but I have yet to learn how to play. It still rests quietly and lonely in the garage.

A few years ago, when I was teaching middle school, the director of the band asked me to join in with the band. Actually a few middle school students wanted me to do the vocals on a blues song on my choosing. I chose Big Joe Turner’s Flip, Flop, Fly. I bought a harmonica and tried to learn a riff or two to accompany the band.

But I couldn’t read music and didn’t have anything close to any musical aptitude. So I truly muddled my way through the opening of the song before I launched into the first verse, “When I get the blues, I get me a rocking chair…”

After weeks of practices and rehearsals, the song, as rendered by the band with minimal help (or in spite of my lack of talent) from me, sounded pretty good. On the night of the show, I lifted my harmonica to the microphone and started to wail. The crowd was pumped and we rousingly ended the show.

One of the parents came over to congratulate me, “Steve, your singing leaves a lot to be desired, but your harmonica was awesome.”

I didn’t have the guts to tell him the truth: I had the musical abilities of wilted lettuce. See, you can fool some people some of the time. Just not my son.

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