Bringing up Eric Clapton

The school year began in much the same way as the previous four: new teachers, adjusting to school hours, pretending to read the various emails and forms sent my way from teachers and principals…

And then came….guitar.

The Gort was in music class one day and learned that kids in grade 4 (not fourth grade as we call it in good ol’ America) could sign up for various musical activities. Like ukelele club. And guitar.

So he eagerly volunteered himself to spend his Monday lunchtime learning how to play the ukelele because maybe he’d heard me listen to ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ one too many times and thought he might also accompany himself whilst crooning in the manner of Israel Kamawhatsit. Or maybe he just thought playing a mini-guitar-esque instrument would be fun, I really don’t know.

But he’d committed to the ukelele so when they sent out forms announcing once-a-week guitar class after school, he wasn’t interested. ‘I’m already doing ukelele,’ he declined when I asked if he wanted to participate. As though the thirty minutes a week commitment was already too much.

So I left it at that, even though – I won’t lie – I feel a substantial twinge of guilt that I spend not-an-inconsiderable-amount-of-time teaching other people’s children how to play piano, whilst completely ignoring my own children’s musical education.

A few days later we happened to stop at a music store to purchase piano music for the aforementioned other people’s children, when the Gort saw the guitar room, filled with guitars of all makes and price tags. And, just like that, he wanted to play guitar.

The investment on my part appeared to be minimal: write cheque, deliver to school, leave child at school for an extra hour on Tuesdays.

Oh, and get the kid a guitar.

In typical Johnson fashion, this seemingly simple action was stretched out over the better part of a week, as we discussed the pros of renting versus buying (‘His brothers might play the guitar too,’ I argued. ‘His brothers might not play the guitar,’ the professor argued), wasted time with our sixth family member (Kijiji), and consulted a friend whose husband teaches guitar. Finally it was the day before lessons were to start and the kid still didn’t have an instrument.

So I drove to the recommended guitar store and asked for a 3/4 size instrument. ‘We’re all out,’ the guy told me. ‘You might check our store in Royal Oak…it’s about a 30 minute drive from here.’ So I drove the thirty minutes to Royal Wherever and walked into guitar store number 3 (I’d stopped at another one on the way). I asked about renting a guitar and he handed me a form to fill out that included a blank for the name of my parent(s). ‘Oh, that’s just for if you’re under 18,’ he explained and promptly crossed out that line. Since, as he’d inferred, I’m ancient.

I filled out the form and handed it back to him. ‘Occupation?’ he asked, because I’d left the line blank.

‘I drive around Calgary looking for guitars,’ I offered, for lack of a better explanation. A childless man in his very-early-twenties, he failed to recognize the hilarity and truth in my reply. ‘So you’re a stay-at-home mom,’ he guessed. Emptied of clever replies, I simply nodded.

The next day, the Gort had his first guitar [group] lesson. He came home and, stickler for protocol that he is, promptly set the oven timer and began to practice. ‘I’m supposed to practice five days a week for 15-20 minutes,’ he explained. He pulled out the handouts he’d been given, removed the guitar from its black carry-case and began to ‘practice.’

I, having spent many years staring at music, glanced at his music: six lines with numbers on them. ‘What do the numbers mean,’ I asked. ‘That’s the number of times you’re supposed to play the string,’ he answered. Though the answer seemed implausible, I couldn’t very well argue with someone who’d just sat through a group guitar lesson. And yet…..’that doesn’t make any sense,’ I disagreed, ‘because it says ‘0’ here,’ and I pointed to what-looked-like zeroes sprinkled throughout the music.

‘Well, that’s what the teacher told us,’ the Gort insisted.

But I couldn’t let it rest, and that’s how I found myself Googling ‘beginner guitar’. Within seconds I had my answer. The number referred to the ‘fret’ not the amount of times one ‘plucks the string’ and the ‘0’ referred to open string, i.e. no frets.

And, with that misunderstanding out of the way, he began his 5-days-a-week work of practicing Ode to Joy. Dum dum dum dum doing. Whoops. Start over. Dum dum dum dum doingggg. ‘You know this song,’ he asked, clearly surprised, when I ‘suggested’ he was playing something wrong.

How to explain: Beethoven. Symphony. Everyoneknowsthissong.

By the fourth day of practicing, he’d turned it into a game, not unlike musical chairs. ‘When I play slow, you have to move slow,’ he told his brothers, ‘and when I play medium, you have to move medium, and when I play fast, you have to move fast.’ So he played and the boys – mostly Percy – tried to oblige by moving at the appropriate speed. ‘Medium,’ he insisted, ‘that’s supposed to be medium!’ Though truthfully it didn’t seem very different from slow or fast.

For the second lesson, they learned how to play an E minor chord. And, just like that, the Ode to Joy was summarily replaced with continuous e-minor-chord-strumming. I was lying on the couch, trying to close my eyes for a few minutes and he was sitting two feet away from me playing nothing but a rapid succession of e-minor-chords and I felt like I was on a Friends episode and Phoebe Buffay herself was sitting in my living room, getting ready to sing Smelly Cat.

Oh, the joy.


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