As I write this, a piano is playing in a room about thirty feet away. The sound coming from there is faint, but clear. And the notes that someone is tapping out are forming what is might be the second-most familiar tune in the American musical canon behind only “Happy Birthday”.
You know what I’m talking about. Da-da-da, Da-da-da, Da-da-dada, Da-da-dada, Da-da-da.
Yes, it’s that classic known to parents of every five-year-old who has ever taken piano lessons: “Hot Cross Buns.” And now, as my wife and I sat in the music store lobby, with trumpets and violins on the wall, drums on the floor and racks full of music-lesson books all around, we could hear our own five-year-old daughter, Little Sis, play the song with all the fervor and timing a kid of her age could muster.
In another room down the hall, Little Sis’s big sister, Maddo, was doing her version of something that we couldn’t hear. But knowing Maddo the way we do, I’m pretty sure she attacked her keyboard with a little more Jerry Lee Lewis than Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
It’s rare that a kid doesn’t learn how to play at least one instrument for at least a little while at some point in their young lives. Back when I was a kid, you could learn almonds any instrument by simply showing up to school every day. At my grade school, you could rosin up your bow (and maybe play your fiddle hard, too) and join the orchestra in the fourth grade. Fifth grade gave you the chance to play in the elementary school band. Drums. Sax. Clarinet. You name it, and you could try it out. However, guitars must have been too exotic for our school, and for some reason, the piano was off limits.
But horns. Oh, there were so many horns. Chuck Mangione’s instrumental “Feels So Good” was a big hit when I got to band class. And I knew what instrument I wanted to get my hands on.
Mr. Doll (Band Teacher): What do you want to play?
Me: FLUGELHORN! Like Chuck Mangione!
Mr. Doll: Flugelhorn’s kinda big for your hands. Try the cornet.
And that’s how I began what would be eight years of playing the cornet, the step-brother of the trumpet. And through my entire cornet-playing career, from fifth grade until I graduated from high school, my parents never paid for one musical lesson.
But Ronald Reagan was in his second term when I got my diploma. Times have changed since then. I don’t even know if my daughters’ school has band, but I do know if they do, it’s an after-school activity and parents pay for it.
And that’s how my wife and I nor find ourselves in that music store lobby at 5:30 on Friday nights. We asked them if they wanted to learn the piano. They both said, “YES!” And the only day and time that we could get them in together, but with different teachers, was on Fridays at 5:30. And at $140 a month per kid, with no make-ups if we can’t make a lesson, we aren’t going to be skipping out of town too often for a long weekend.
But, we want them to at least try to learn the piano. Maybe they’ll give up on it after six months and never play again. Maybe one of them will come home tomorrow and be able to play “Werewolves Of London” by ear. The girls seem to like the lessons and practicing at home. That is when they practice.
We try to get them to get on the keys for at least 10 minutes a night between their weekly lessons. We’re lucky to get 10 minutes each for the whole week. That’s because by the time we get everybody home from school, wash their hands, deal with the initial pleas for pre-dinner snacks (which, of course, come immediately after they have just finished off something that they didn’t eat during lunch), listen to them bother and fight with each other for a while, make them a dinner that 100% of the time at least one of them won’t like even though they have never tried it, deal with them fighting some more, listen to them repeatedly ask us if they can have dessert even though ALL of their dinner remains on their plates, given them a bath, watched them fight some more, put on their pajamas, dealt with them begging to watch more TV…After all of that, it will actually be past their bedtime. By then, it’s too late to shove them in front of our Yamaha baby grand for a couple of runs through “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
And we’re on the brink of falling asleep ourselves, anyway.
So, there is no organized practice schedule for our girls. Like many parents with young kids, most of what we do between when we pick them up from school and put them to bed is done in a catch-as-catch-can fashion. One day, we may decide that we want to go practice Maddo’s soccer goal-shots. The next, they surprise us and only want to go to the library. All of this cuts into the piano time, dinner time and time for ever catching up on the last three episodes of Showtime’s “Shameless”. It’s almost impossible to get done everything that you want, and, inevitably, some things fall through the cracks.
And sometimes, you just have to hope that the kid remembers where middle “C” is on her own by the time Friday night’s lesson rolls around.