Arleen Williams joins us today for Music Tuesday with a post about music and parenting. Thank you so much, Arleen, for sharing this!
I am not a music person. My office is silent when I plan classes or grade papers. I don’t plug my ears with earbuds when I walk. NPR plays on my car radio. When I write, I prefer to hear the words in my head. Should I write in a public place, the music must be loud enough to drown ambient conversations. And though there are musicians I appreciate and enjoy – Dylan and Cohen, Marley and Cliff, Muddy Waters and Louis Armstrong – when I listen, I want to listen. I’m not fond of background music. Our home is a quiet place.
In my teen years, I attempted to teach myself folk guitar. Didn’t we all? Wasn’t that the thing in the 1970s? I didn’t get far. I lacked both patience and a singing voice to accompany the guitar. “My bags are packed, I’m ready to go …” was such a disappointment to my own ears, I gave up.
Still, when my daughter began kindergarten, I was convinced of the importance of a music education, and Erin started piano lessons. Four years and two teachers later, Erin still hated piano lessons.
As the mother of a single child, I tried to be as fair and democratic as possible. So when Erin demanded to know why she had to practice piano every day when neither her father nor I played, I fell for the bait.
“Okay,” I told her. “Let’s ask Dell if I can take lessons, too. I’ve always wanted to learn.”
And it was true. I’d even tried a group class at the college where I teach only to get bored and frustrated. I struggled to learn the language of music and couldn’t keep my butt on the bench long enough to improve. There was no plot to follow, no interesting characters, nothing to hold my attention.
After the first month or so of lessons, it was clear to Dell and me that mother and daughter were cut from the same non-musical cloth and neither of us would ever master even the most basic piano skills. We fumbled along, but only one of us honestly voiced her boredom and frustration. I was still busy setting a good example. I forced myself to sit in position, my lower back aching, and curse myself for ever volunteering to take lessons. And that was before any thought of the annual recital entered my head.
Dell suggested we play one or two individual pieces and a duet. She suggested this to the two of us. Together. How could I weasel out of it with my ten year old at my side awaiting my response? Trapped, I agreed.
I practiced like never before, but as the date approached, my terror knew no bounds. Here I was a forty-five year old college instructor. I spent every day in front of students and I’d given more than my share of conference presentations. But the idea of sitting at a piano to play anything, let alone a duet with my daughter, had me shaking. Literally.
The day arrived. The program had us spaced out: first my solo, another student, Erin’s solo, two more students, then the duet. Lots of time for tension to build. Somehow I made it through Greensleeves and returned to my seat. When it was Erin’s turn, she walked to the piano bench like a pro. She had three prior recitals under her belt after all.
Our names were read for the duet. I wanted to vaporize. How can a young girl’s eyes be pleading and defiant at the same time? I wobbled toward the piano with her and we floundered our way through This Land Is Your Land. When it ended, I wrapped my daughter in an embrace of understanding and apology. That was the last time either of us played the piano.
Twenty years later, the silent piano continues to occupy a corner of our dining room. Maybe someday I’ll have a grandchild who wants to play.
Arleen Williams is the author of three books. The Alki Trilogy includes Running Secrets, a novel about the power of friendship in helping overcome the dysfunction of family and life, as well as Biking Uphill, which touches on thought-provoking contemporary political issues including immigration. The Thirty-Ninth Victim is a memoir of her family’s journey before and after her sister’s murder.
Arleen teaches English as a Second Language at South Seattle College and has worked with immigrants and refugees for close to three decades. Arleen lives and writes in West Seattle. To learn more, please visit http://www.arleenwilliams.com.