Encouraging kids is always in tune
Special to Stars and Stripes November 10, 2023
Our minivan chugged northward along the Autobahn on the way to Robinson Barracks Middle School. I peered out the passenger side window, wondering where the German cars that whizzed past us were going in such a hurry. Truth be told, I secretly wished I was going with them. To me, middle school orchestra concerts were a form of torture.
Our son, Hayden, had expressed an interest in playing the tuba after we PCSed to Germany. “Tuba? Really?” I’d wondered. Despite tuba being the most difficult instrument to find, purchase and transport, I enthusiastically indulged our son’s odd interest. With assistance from the music teacher, we found him a dented tuba that had been abandoned in the base school’s storage closet. They hadn’t had a tuba player in many years, and Hayden was all too happy to fill that empty seat.
Although some parents would’ve steered their child toward more accessible instruments such as clarinet, violin or trumpet, my husband and I indulged our children’s musical whims because we’d felt denied as kids.
My mother was an experienced classical pianist, and I’d grown up wishing I could play like her. She’d been forced to practice during her childhood, so she wouldn’t put her own kids through that. Instead, she waited for us to ask for lessons. Without encouragement, I never asked. To save my children from the same regrets I had, I made piano lessons mandatory for them.
My husband’s musical education ended abruptly in Catholic school. During the opening night pre-performance rehearsal for “Anything Goes,” the chorus was practicing the third bridge of the title song. As they belted out “Just think of those shocks you’ve got, and those knocks you’ve got,” the conductor stopped the song and instructed, “This side of the room, again from the top.”
Half of the chorus sang, “Just think of those …”
“Stop!” the director shouted. “Now, tenors only, begin again,” he said, motioning to Francis’ section.
“Just think of,” the boys crooned, but were stopped short again. The director pointed to Francis and the boy beside him. “You two only -- go.” Francis and the other boy sang out as they had done before, but the director held up his hand, then pointed directly to Francis. “You!” he stared intently into Francis’ confused eyes. “Don’t sing tonight. Just lip sync.” And that was the end of Francis’ education in music.
At Robinson Barracks Middle School, parents, siblings and other obliged victims filed into the cafeteria lined with metal folding chairs. Due to poor acoustics, skidding chair legs, audience chatter and tuning instruments were deafening. Soon, the stage curtains at one end of the room opened, and the middle school music conductor stepped up to the mic.
After a brief introduction, the director turned to face the orchestra, and each musician obediently poised, ready to play their instruments. They had gangly limbs, big feet and mouthfuls of braces, and were dressed in their father’s ties, dresses purchased at the base exchange and wobbly high-heeled shoes. But they might as well have been playing in the New York Philharmonic. They were as serious as a heart attack.
We heard the tap-tap-tap of the director’s baton on the edge of the music stand, and his arms raised aloft. With the full attention of his orchestra, he thrusted his head and hands forward to signal the start of “Marche Militaire.”
Twenty minutes later during “Coney Island Express,” I dabbed a tissue at my head to see if my ears were bleeding. Bless their eager little hearts, the violinists screeched like chickens being slaughtered, the clarinets sounded like cats in heat and a rogue horn randomly bleated off key. Although we saw Hayden’s cheek’s puffing away, we couldn’t detect the low register of his tuba through all the racket.
After fistfuls of Duplex Creme cookies and Styrofoam cups of tepid coffee at intermission, we somehow made it through “Highlights from Harry Potter” to curtain call. On the minivan ride home, we hid our auditory trauma and showered Hayden with praise. Our parenting methods weren’t pitch perfect, but as long as our kids felt encouraged and supported, our family would always be in tune.
Read more at themeatandpotatoesoflife.com and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org