Learning a musical instrument.

On one of the radio stations here in Auckland, a bizarre advert is currently running. A smug sounding man of about my age encourages us to listen to his daughter on one of the most rewarding and creative journey’s of her life. Silence follows. He then proudly declares that he has bought his darling a digital piano and some headphones so that he doesn’t have to listen to her playing chopsticks 2000 times. Oh how I laugh every time he gets to the punch line. I am in the car whenever I hear it, and I usually have to pull over; it makes me laugh so hard that in no time at all I have tears running down my leg. Not!

What the advert seems to be saying to me is that the guy wants his daughter to play the piano and he’s only too happy to pay for it, as he has a really great job from which he earns loads of money. But God forbid he actually has to engage with his daughter and listen to her play the bloody thing!

Or maybe I’m just reading a bit too much into a 45 second commercial.

It particularly irks me for two main reasons.

The main one is that our eldest two have started having piano lessons. “Oh how very middle class of you,” I can hear you thinking. All I can really say to that is “Well at least they aren’t learning the harpsichord” but it isn’t really much of a defence.

When I was a lad I was lucky enough to learn to play several instruments; the violin, the piano and the E flat horn. These endeavours all ended the same way. Badly. This was largely because I didn’t enjoy practicing . I was banished to my room “for at least 20 minutes” to work out why Clair Du Lune always sounded like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Invariably I’d get the instrument out of its case (quite a job with the piano), strike up a tune, and two or three minutes later settle down to read a book.  As you can imagine, this did little to further my musical ability, and my parent’s dreams of me playing in the London Philharmonic were dashed. On the positive side, my love of the written word was reinforced and all in all I don’t think that this was such a bad thing.

Mrs L. was also subjected to years of piano, clarinet and saxophone lessons. She is a far more gifted musician than I am, but it her heart wasn’t ever really in it. She would have preferred the freedom to experiment with music rather than have to learn set pieces for her music exams.

Whilst Mrs L. assures me she has not given up on music, she is merely in the middle of a lengthy hiatus, I took up the guitar when I was at University. I didn’t have any great desire to play, but all of the guys who were in bands seemed to have a lot more luck with the ladies than me. Unfortunately being able to play “Puff the Magic Dragon” did little to impress them, although my general disregard for personal hygiene probably didn’t help my cause terribly either.

Anyway, I’ve got a little side tracked.

Even though Boy-Boy and Fraboo take the lessons, all three of the kids seem to really enjoy their time there. Mrs L. tells me that a particular highlight of the sessions is when Jojo, as if to voice his frustration at not being included in the fun, does “a big red face” and provides the tutor’s house with a very special aroma.

One lesson a week isn’t really enough for them to move forward, so Mrs L. and I decided that we needed to get them an instrument to practice on. We found a decent second hand keyboard (at a very reasonable price) and so, we are now the proud owners of a Casio Symphonia (or something). For now we just allow the children to use the keyboard as a sort of toy, without prescribed times for practicing or pieces they have to learn. We listen to them play the music which their teacher has given them (we are currently on Row, Row, Row your boat), and have been pleasantly pleased with their progress. It has been really interesting to see how they all play it though.

Fraboo will happily play for half an hour. When she’s at the keyboard, there is usually a lot of tightly shut eyes, swaying and gentle caressing the keys. Often this will be accompanied by some soulful but improvised lyrics about a dog and a stick or something equally banal.

When Boy-Boy sits down, he will carefully study the music, and then the keyboard, ensuring that he understands exactly what is required of him. He will practice where he is going to put his fingers before actually depressing any keys. When he does eventually play the music, there is no subtlety. Each key is pressed with the same pressure, leading to a uniformity of the sound. He has yet to notice that not every note should be played for the same duration but then again, I doubt that too many four year olds would be able to do that.

Then there’s Jojo. His style of playing could best be described as thunderous and tuneless. He hits the keys with maximum force and has a tremendous time doing it. The joy on his face as he tries his utmost to destroy the poor keys is a delight to see.

These observations are almost a perfect reflection of their own personalities. Fraboo is very creative; a real free spirit. She is always making something or drawing something. Very few days go by when she hasn’t made small gift for a family member or soft toy.

Boy-Boy is far more measured. He likes to try to understand things before he embarks on a particular endeavour. He has a thirst for knowledge, but deals best with absolutes. For him something either is or it isn’t. There are no shades of grey for this boy.

Now our youngest; Jojo. I appreciate that he is probably too young for us to know what his personality is going to be like, but he is stubborn and physical. Rest assured that when he is smashing those keys, he is definitely playing one of his favourite nursery rhymes, the keyboard is just making the wrong sounds.

As I’ve said Mrs L. is a far more accomplished musician than I am. She plays the keyboard beautifully and I love to listen to her “tinkling the ivories”. Her favourite song to play is “Hello” by Lionel Richie although I’m not quite sure what that says about her personality.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post how there are two reasons I find that advert so loathsome. The second cause for my ire is simply this. I’ve spent the last wee while explaining how much of an inadequate parent the guy on the radio is, which means that I can’t buy the kids any headphones and have to listen to chopsticks 2000 times. Smug git!

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