Music Appreciation 101

Every week for half an hour I sit in the lobby of the little Calliope Music Studios, where my nine year old takes guitar lessons. This week, a young girl battles with Carol of the Bells on the piano while her visiting grandmother sits in. Down the hall, one of the instructors is practicing her piano, the notes flying so rapidly that I am forced to imagine her fingers. Across from her studio, the low voice of the guitar teacher and my son’s rendition of movie themes: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, James Bond.

In the cacophony, there is a sense of peace, and appreciation for the focus of each student, and understanding of how far they will have to go before their fingers fly seemingly without effort across their chosen instrument.

My son makes his teacher laugh. He begs for a piece of gum, given to those who practice well, and probably those who do not. With his free hand, I know from watching him practice, he brushes his too-long bangs to the side between musical phrases.

I wonder if a child decides to be inspired, or if one is simply lucky to be moved by some inexplicable connection with a song, a teacher. Do they realize a sense of peace in the middle of their lesson, or the mingling of unassociated piano, guitar, saxophone down at the far end of the hall? Is there satisfaction felt just in the act of successfully connecting the notes?

There is too much noise in our house to listen to music. I rarely turn it on. So every week for half an hour, I sit in the lobby of a little music school listening to notes that do not go together, to children still stumbling over the hard parts, to clumsy scales, to Carol of the Bells before it is ready for recital, and it is in those moments that I appreciate music.


A Lesson from My Third Grader

My sister recently took a personality test that was supposed to rank her strengths. She was frustrated that all the “fun stuff” came in last.

I suffered from the same disappointment back in high school. I was really good at grammar. But what high school girl aspires to that when her friends are getting standing ovations in the school musical or scoring the game-winning goal for the lacrosse team?

I wanted to be more interesting. I wanted to make people laugh. I wanted to be good at the “fun stuff.” I was clearly unsuccessful at the time, since some of the boys called me “the Librarian.”

My third grader has been teaching me a lesson about the “fun stuff.” He too wants to be the most interesting guy in the room. He aspires to be the kid who everyone else wants to play with. But he too is good at grammar and multiplication, when what he really wants is to play quarterback in the NFL. Not a likely scenario, he discovered this fall, after dropping out of recess football games when they got too rough.

Like all of us, he wants to be good at the “fun stuff.” The difference is how he responds when he is not.

When he was little, he changed the rules to his advantage so that he stayed at the top of the “fun” game. But his brother and friends have caught on over the years.

Now, he redefines fun.

When he watches sports, he yells and cheers and jumps up and down for every play until everyone in the house finds their way into the room to watch with him, even those not so interested in the game. We want to share in his joy.

When he stays after school to get ahead in the Rocket Math challenge, he talks about it so much and with such enthusiasm, that until he raced through division, a long line of third grade moms were forced to wait in carpool line for their boys well after school ended. Then this spring he turned an assigned book no one wanted to read into the only book anyone wanted to read, just by talking it up.

And when he quit recess football because he was afraid of getting hurt by his more aggressive classmates, he may have been teased by a few, but a few more ended up begging their parents to buy them Puffles (ridiculous stuffed animals inspired by a video game) so they could join his game.

His theory seems to be if you can’t be the best at the “fun stuff”, change what’s fun.

Then be consistent and joyful and welcome all, because when you let them play, they will spread the news – there’s something really fun going on, and I know the kid that’s making it happen.

When the Governor Came to School

Recently, Colorado Governor Hickenlooper came to talk to the kids at my sons’ school. Parents were invited, so of course, I showed up to hear what he had to say to a gym filled with 4-12 year olds. The article I wrote about it was published on Yahoo.

Screenwriting Lessons

The tremendous response I received from yesterday’s blog about my five year old’s very bad day reminded me of a screenwriting professor at USC. He said three things that come into my thoughts every now and then.

1) You are not going to put up with Los Angeles for long. I always wondered if he said that to discourage me from trying to succeed as a screenwriter because I wasn’t good at it, or if he was expressing his own dislike for Hollywood, although he was a great success and so planned to stay. I probably should have asked before leaving.

2) Kill the dog. If anyone had a dog or a horse in their screenplay, he always found a point when that animal, he claimed, had to die for the benefit of the story. And the funny thing was, every time he recommended it, students gasped in horror, “Can the little girl die instead?” or “What about the cowboy?” He found it very strange that writers cared more for their fictional dogs than their fictional people.

3) The worst written character is often the hero. I was concerned that my lead character was the most boring in the entire screenplay, and he replied that that was because most writers protect their main characters from wrongdoing, weakness or anything else that might cause an audience to judge. It was as if we were protecting our innermost selves. Villains and minor characters, he said, are easier to write because we actually care less about them, so make them more colorful, more flawed, more vulnerable.

When I wrote yesterday about my son’s very bad day, turning a typically wonderful lead character into a momentary villain, and revealing my own poor parenting morning, suddenly friends, fellow bloggers, family and people I barely know were engaged in my story.

Everybody likes a character with flaws so we can root for them to overcome. I need to remember that next time I am about to decide not to share a bad boy moment.

Thanks, professor.