Wednesday, July 7, 2010


For the past few months, we have been undertaking a family project as a quest to ensure that Josh's ability to play music isn't lost in the burdens of keeping the family running. You could call in Project Partridge or the Von Trapp Experiment or something clever like that, but the main premise is to bring musical instruments into our house and set about playing them together as a family as well as on our own. The hope was that music in large quantities can be a part of Josh's life without him having to carve out large swathes of time away from the family to do it. Meanwhile, the rest of us get to play music, which adds to all our lives.

The experiment has met with mixed results with the children. The youngest ones are sometimes interested, but a little unfocused. Nate had a brief moment of playing with us, but has shrunk back, as teenagers do, to solitary drumming because he didn't like our choice of music much. Mostly, Josh and I play together now, after the children have gone to bed over a glass of wine. We have dabbled in various combinations of piano, guitar, vibraphone, harmonica and voice in variations of Pachelbel's Canon in D and "You are My Sunshine" and lately some of Josh's originals. For me, this has been another grand experiment in "doing it anyway." While my husband is a natural musician of prodigious talent, I love music, but have always had a tremendous inferiority complex about it. My skills, in my estimation, have never sufficiently matched the passionate feelings I have.

So now there is the clarinet. I played clarinet from fourth grade through sixth grade. A few years ago, while visiting my parents, I decided to take my instrument home with me. It was in tough shape. As part of our recent music initiative, the good people of Cadenza Music repaired it for us. I love having it back - it's beautiful black body and shiny keys, the ritual of greasing the cork and the woody taste of wetting the reed. But most of all the clarinet is the perfect symbol of how I feel about playing music.

I couldn't wait until fourth grade when I could join band and learn an instrument. There were two main girl instruments - flutes and clarinets. Like Betty and Veronica, there were flute girls and there were clarinet girls. Flute girls were ultra-feminine, light and airy, and nice - the girl next door that would make a great wife. Clarinet girls were dark and bookish and sharp and edgy. My sister played flute. I would play clarinet. Despite my initial excitement, band wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. The music was horribly boring. Because my mother wouldn't let me participate in the summer band program, I was relegated to third chair - the most boring simple part of boring simple music. Without success, there was nothing to hold me to it, so I quit and focused on choir, where I did well. Later, I quit choir, too, for lack of positive reinforcement at home. As an adult, I picked up singing again, eventually, but the damage was done. Music felt like it was full of rules that I didn't get because I missed critical years where "everyone else" learned these things. In my mind, I am always third chair.

So now I struggle against those feelings. Each time I play an instrument or sing, I hear a voice in my head the whole time telling me I'm not very good. I'm hoping that if I play long enough that the music will drown out that silly voice and I won't care. The truth is that not doing things that I love is much more painful than struggling with my inferiority complex.

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