At the beginning of February I received a copy of an email from the music teacher at the boys’ school. All guitar students (i.e. the Gort) would be participating in a guitar performance towards the end of March, I learned. The note went on to explain that students would select pieces to perform and at-home practice would be imperative.
As in, parents would need to spend a considerable amount of time making sure their Eric-Claptons-in-training were practicing at home.
I noted the date of the performance in my calendar and took it upon myself to ask the Gort – periodically – about his approaching debut. ‘Did you pick a piece for the guitar performance yet,’ I’d ask. And he’d mumble something. (Something about how he didn’t have the music (yet), or needed to get the music…etcetera.)
We continued on in his manner for the better part of three weeks.
Finally – on his 10th birthday, no less – having heard too many fifteen-minute-practice sessions devoted to plucking strings repeatedly (aka ‘jumpin jack flash*’ – which seemed to be a kind of nonsensical tune that caused the professor and I to roll our eyes every time we heard it), I staged an intervention.
I repeated my ‘what are you playing for the performance question,’ the one I’d been asking for three weeks. And he, after some prodding and Tom-Cruise-esque cross-examination, revealed that there was no piece in the works.
It was thirteen days before the performance and my darling child would be playing the guitar version of ‘the-Emperor-has-no-clothes’ or John Cage’s 4’33.
I had visions of all his fellow guitarists performing nervous renditions of ‘Ode to Joy’ or ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhodie’ or whatever beginning guitarists play, while my blue-eyed wonder sat in the audience or, worse, played the aforementioned jumpin’ jack flash.
Perhaps if I hadn’t spent a fair portion of my youth trying to harness my nerves to tickle the (shaky) ivories at recitals and whatnot, the situation would have been resolved differently. But unfortunately the poor child has a pseudo-musician for a mother and, worse, one who spends a fair bit of time trying to extricate musical ability from the fingers of (other) elementary-aged children.
So, not wanting to be the kind of mother who rushed to the school to find the music teacher and explain that my well-meaning jack-flash-playing child didn’t actually have a piece for the performance, I took matters into my own hands.
We flipped through the guitar book I’d bought him before Christmas, searching for a piece he might (like to) play. (Which, given my utter lack of knowledge about the instrument that is the guitar, was no easy feat.) He settled on a very basic version of Greensleeves.
And thus began our nightly sessions of me teaching my boy basic music theory and basic guitar. He plucking the notes of Greensleeves with no discernible resemblance to the rhythm or tune, and me trying to remain calm. Ish.
It was awful and fine and ugly. And productive. Because a week later, the kid was able to play Greensleeves.
A March Miracle.
Six days later we walked over to the school for the big performance. The Gort went to the music room to tune his instrument while I went to save seats for the professor and the younger brothers. I scanned the room, looking for the source of the programs being perused by other parents.
‘Do you know where I can find a program,’ I asked the dad in front of me. He kindly passed along his extra copy since the performance had evidently attracted a larger crowd than anticipated, as demonstrated by the absence of available seats and programs.
I scanned the folded sheet of paper for my boy’s name and to see what the other kids would be playing. That’s when I noticed a curious thing. There were only two children playing guitar solos. My child. And one of his classmates. Everyone else was playing in groups. Groups of 4 or 5 or 8. Or whoknowshowmanykids.
‘Goran’s playing a solo tonight,’ a fellow school mom observed, who also happened to be the mom of the evening’s other soloist, ‘he must be doing really well.’
I gave her one of my famous quizzical looks. ‘No, we’ve been working like dogs on this. I thought all the kids had to play something,’ I stammered.
‘You play guitar?!’ she replied incredulously.
‘No,’ I assured her.
I simply do what needs to be done when certain public humiliation is at stake.
The professor finally walked in with his two sidekicks. I told him there were only two solos on the program and our Gort was performing one of them.
The subtext being: I’d somehow become one of those reality-show-beauty-pageant-moms, pushing my
star son out onto the proverbial stage, insisting he perform – a solo – when everyone else would be playing (anonymously) en masse.
Except for the girl playing ‘Tale as old as time’ with her dad accompanying her on the keyboard. Which hurt me a little, because I’d jokingly suggested to the Gort that I play something with him and he’d dismissed the idea saying ‘I don’t think we have a piano.’
After a very hot, musically painful hour, it was time for the Gort’s big ‘moment’. He sat in a chair while his guitar teacher stood beside him, poised to strum along. The Gort began the tune that will remain forever etched in my memory; strumming quietly while I held my breath.
When he was finished, his teacher commented to the audience about how the Gort had – seemingly out of nowhere – told him two days ealier that he could play Greensleeves.
The Gort returned to the risers holding his fellow guitarists and, together with a group of four boys, he began playing….Jumpin Jack Flash.
Apparently he’d had a piece all along.