Yesterday I went into the kitchen and found my son, Porter, wearing a hoodie, which is uncharacteristic, and making a delicious lunch, which is not. “Nice hoodie,” I said.
“I’m going through an edgy teenager phase. Want some salad? It’s avocado ranch.”
He’s seventeen, so I was wondering when we’d get to the edgy teenager bit. Apparently, April 18th is as good a day as any, though I’m uncertain whether a white hoodie emblazoned with his choir logo will gain him entrée into the ‘hood.
Porter is the most musical of all of us. When he was a baby in his little infant swing, he happened to be sitting behind my sister, Shara, as she was playing the piano, and she heard him “singing” along, getting the intervals correct before he was even close to crawling. I introduced piano lessons in kindergarten, which all my kids greeted with the buoyant joy of a moldy sandwich, but I gamely soldiered on, applying their backsides to the piano bench, setting the timer for practices, and calling out the mother’s curse. “If you don’t practice, someday you’ll regret it!” I know the curse works because my mom cast it on me, and I regret it to this day.
Unfortunately, when we moved to China, we couldn’t find a teacher, and we’ve established I’m the lame duck with many regrets, so I was no help. Back then the kids didn’t even try to hide their glee as their lessons crumbled away, but time has passed and my son, Chase, has figured out that chicks dig boys that can play, prompting a renaissance at the piano bench that came to light when he arrived home from college for Christmas. Knowing nothing of Chase’s change of heart, Porter had begun pushing for a piano teacher on his own, and was happy as a clam when my Aunt Laura graciously took him on. I don’t regret starting them young because it cracked open a portal of sorts, though they didn’t fully kick it wide until years later. As children practicing was uphill both ways in deep snow, but as teenagers, they play for themselves far longer than I would have ever dared require.
Porter has also been learning what he can on YouTube, which led him to collect an array of funky little instruments such as a melodica, otamatone, mouth harp, and kalimba. Of course, there are also the usual suspects such as the ukulele we got him in Thailand, that initially alerted him to the existence of casual instruments. At the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown he ordered his first recorder, which I hadn’t realized was once a serious instrument, collected by the likes of Henry VIII who had seventy more recorders than wives, which is saying something. With centuries of fans, naturally there has been a great body of music composed for it. It was twentieth-century German composer Carl Orff, creator of Carmina Burana, who decided it was a perfect gateway instrument for children, and essentially sacrificed its classical reputation on the altar of grade school education. Thanks to Orff our views of the recorder have morphed so drastically since old Henry and his merry band of executioners that when Porter’s recorder arrived, the packaging stated in bold print “This Is Not A Toy.”
Porter started with a soprano recorder. Ever been in lockdown with a soprano? As a singer he has plenty of breath, so he took to it like a duck to water. At first it was all very charming and Renaissance Faire, but after two weeks of familiar tunes slinging loop de loops high up in the rafters, my crystal was trembling on the verge of shattering, and I was ready to slice my ears off.
It’s all part of the mother’s curse really, some combination of “If you don’t practice . . .” and “I hope one day you have a child just like you!” That’s potent stuff, make no mistake. Growing up in a family of six girls there were voice lessons, flute, violin, and we all took a stab at the piano. I stabbed the lightest, and now claim the title Most Pathetic Pianist, so if anyone asks me if I play it’s better to pretend I’ve never heard of such a newfangled instrument.
My sister Shara’s piano teacher told my mom, “Shara has no musical talent. Don’t waste your money.” But mom, who was famously parsimonious, continued paying the bills, and eventually Shara got the last laugh, graduating college in music performance and education, with a beautiful voice, piano, violin, and a number of other instruments to her credit. She’d caught fire on her own account, and as a teenager decided to pick up the violin, almost immediately joining the Idaho Falls orchestra, honestly believing she would soon be a true proficient. Oddly enough she turned out to be right, and today she runs a district orchestra program. But not one of her students plays first chair recorder.
At 4:00 a.m. Porter decided he had lived long enough without trying meringue cookies, which is not quite as edgy as weed, unless you make them in a white hoodie. My daughter, Abby, was also up, and testified to some experimentation with orange jello that may or may not have involved an attempt at juggling. I got up this morning to a prodigious mess in the kitchen.
“No music until the kitchen is clean, and your homework is done!”
“Are you kidding me?” Porter said, the edgy teenager tone somewhat spoiled by the fact that he had to put down his recorder, which, as we all know, is definitely NOT A TOY.
My childhood home was brimming with the eech and screech of constant practice, and never once did I stop to consider what that level of cacophony must have cost my parents. In our home the living room and dining room were one long connected space with a piano at one end, and the dining table at the other. One evening we were all sitting down for dinner, except one sister who was happily pounding away at the piano, oblivious to the meal cooling before us. My sister, Nat, hollered out in her best German accent, “Loodvig! Looodvig! You must eat!”
I’m not sure my life has changed much.
As kids my sisters and I were gobsmacked by Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and only slightly less with American in Paris which was on side B. We played it so much our parents actually hid the tape. Luckily, they didn’t hide the Mozart collection my dad found for $10 at a flea market in the Midwest, so we were free to wear that completely down to the nubbins. I, in turn, played a lot of classical music when I was in the car with my own kids, but I didn’t play any one thing in particular. Imagine my surprise when Rhapsody in Blue magically popped up on my teenagers’ playlists. I guess the cream rises, even when you’re edgy.
As a parent I have also learned that the eech and screech is still just as real as it was when I was growing up. Last night Porter and I were binge watching a good monster show, when it became clear I could not survive another episode without popcorn. I wasn’t gone long, but when I returned, Porter had plucked his violin out of thin air and was sawing away with all his heart. He paused and looked up, “I’m playing Summer, you know, Vivaldi.”
Abby, burst out of her room shaking her hands and vibrating with the heebie jeebies until she could get Porter’s attention. “My book was at a creepy part, then you started playing that murder song! What are you doing?!!”
Porter’s smidgen of violin instruction is all from the internet. My apologies to Vivaldi and all four of his seasons.
Porter’s alto recorder arrived this week, which is a fifth lower than the soprano, bringing the screech down to a reasonable level. I think I’m going to hide the soprano recorder in the same place my parents hid the Rhapsody in Blue tape, and if he acquires another piercing instrument during the lockdown, I’m not above recording the county emergency signal and playing it on a loop he can listen to wearing his white hoody, juggling jello, and downing meringue cookies.
Today Porter told me he wants a set of bagpipes for his birthday.
Ludwig, Ludwig, you must eat!