Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An orchestra mom

I was never in the marching band. Frankly, I never felt the desire to wear the uniform and the funky hat that seemed to weigh more than some of the wind section members. Plus, I didn't play a marching band instrument. But when I arrived in college, I discovered that marching band was its own special little fraternity, a family unit at a time when your only family units seemed to be within a Greek system my parents couldn't afford. In retrospect, marching band didn't seem like such a bad thing.

OK, obviously I survived college without being in the marching band. But like many parents, I recycled a few dreams when my kids were born. Maybe one of them would be in marching band. Think of the trouble it would save me. If they were in marching band, I wouldn't have to worry about them becoming, say, cheerleaders, or athlete groupies who hung out at games hoping the star quarterback would look their way. Sure, the hats were a consideration - both my kids have my hair, and hats are not our friend. Still, I hoped at least one of them would pick up a flute, or a saxophone or other band-appropriate instrument.

As the oldest child neared middle school, I tested the waters. Middle school afforded the opportunity to learn an instrument. "Honey," I said, "Why don't you take up a marching band instrument? I think marching band would be fun."

The oldest child hesitated and then said, with childlike honesty, "No offense Mom, but marching band is for dorks."

(Hear that shattering noise? That's the sound of yet another parental dream breaking into itty bitty pieces.)

Get this, though. Older child decided to pursue an instrument, even though she still eschewed marching band. She went to the "try out" day and was placed with (marching band appropriate drum roll, please) the violin.

Now, I'm not up on what's a dork and what isn't - it's hard to see the dork picture when you're in the dork frame - but how does the violin escape the 10-year-old "dork" pronouncement while, say, the saxophone continues to be dorky? Don't get me wrong. I love the sound of a violin when it's in the right hands, preferably someone with a pitch perfect ear and a well-resined bow. But how can a violin be fine while a drum set is dorky?

Maybe she's seen the marching band hats.

Anyhow, we're about five months into the violin experiment now. Those who have never had a beginning violinist at home, consider yourselves lucky. A beginner on the violin makes noises that would have small forest animals running for cover. A woman giving birth to a 13-pounder with a big head can't come up with sounds like this, sounds that make cold shivers go down your spine. Thank goodness she started in the summer and we could all go outside while she practiced.

Yet, somewhere between months 2 and 3, we began to notice something. The cold shivers didn't happen when she practiced. Sure, our ears were probably becoming desensitized, maybe in the way you get used to your own body odor and don't smell it while everyone around you is gagging. But you couldn't argue that my little fiddler was getting better and less likely to be sent to the roof for practice.

For the past few weeks, I've listened to more renditions of Offenbach's "Can-Can" than I care to admit, to the point where I've made up my own lyrics that involve getting a cookie for the dog. (Don't ask.) Oldest child is now trying to play Christmas carols by ear, and she's amazingly adept at it.

Tonight is her first concert. (As an aside, she informed me last night that she will need dress shoes for the concert, because her orchestra teacher nixed her Bjorndahl slides as "not dressy enough." We have a two-hour window to find appropriate shoes for a kid who thinks appropriate is a synonym for dumb.) Tonight we officially add "orchestra parent" to our ever growing list of labels. I wonder if orchestra parents are like soccer parents and like to dissect every performance, whispering remarks about how Casey on the viola didn't quite hit the high C or Ellie in the second chair position really deserves first chair. As much as I'm trying to be funny, I imagine that truly competitive parents are always going to play the comparison game, whether their kid is kicking a ball or taking a bow.

As for me, I'm dusting off an old dream and starting a new one. I wonder what it takes to convince the high school's marching band that they really need a string section?

1 comment:

Amy said...

Congratulations orchestra, Mom. One advantage of the orchestra over the marching band -- or the soccer team -- is that Symphony on the Prairie aside, orchestra takes place inside safe from the snow, sleet and rain.