augury doggerel

Sunday, May 12, 2002


She was sixteenth of eighteen kids stuck up on the stage for parents and grandparents to admire. On the stage, clap clap clap, bow or curtsy, play plah play, bow or curtsy, clap clap clap, off the stage, next. This gave me much time, too much time, to dwell on the nature of certain instruments in the hands of beginners. Frets make the difference. Frets and keys. Without one or the other, the beginner may as well be swinging a knife blindfolded at a wedding reception for all of the pain it causes family members. Remember this if your kid is ever looking for an instrument to pick up.

The accordion, for instance, when it is played by a boy small enough to make him look like a man carrying a refrigerator, is not very, very painful, not if the boy seems to be in on the joke and allowing you to smile quietly with him at the absurdity of anyone, let alone him, using one on an actual stage. An accordion has keys that make it fairly hard not to hit a note, even if it isn't the right note. The piano � our kid's instrument � also has keys, and like the accordion, it is rarely very, very painful. If it starts out in tune, there is no note hiding in a piano that is entirely wrong, not since Schoenberg, though theory has its limits. One little girl reminded me that the guitar, too, is hard to use to really evil effect if it is at least in tune.

But the cello. And, of course, the violin. Both are cruel in new hands, and both, not coincidentally, are fretless, making it far too easy to play something and everything between B and C when you distinctly need one or the other. A cello between the tiny thighs of a child is bad, but it hums in a lower, softer register than the violin does; a cello gone wrong will kick at your guts, but you will recover. The abused violin is serrated, a swarm of angry biting flies. It makes you think of giving up altogether the habit of listening to sound. Forty minutes into the recital, there was a violin duet played by two kids who may not have played violins before. They smiled to each other as if they knew how much they were hurting a roomful of adults who had to sit and pretend they liked it.

Near the end, our kid got her turn on the safe piano. I heard just one wrong note, unless she has been practicing wrong notes all along, and she finished happy and well. Flowers to her teacher, photos of all, and then home to dig her fingers into the sandbox and do pretend gymnastics on the pole out near the garbage where people beat their carpets.


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