Music can come in all forms. As parents, we know banging pots and pans together and tapping a wooden spoon against the refrigerator can qualify as music. In fact, what some consider loud rackets of banging, clanging, and long riffs on the whammy bar to just be noise can be music to someone else’s ears. It just depends on who is playing and who is listening.
My wife and I both played instruments when we were kids. I tickled the ivory on the piano (I was like the Mozart of ‘Chop Sticks’) and my wife played the trumpet (for my own safety, I’ll leave it to my readers to insert their own Dizzy Gillespie jokes here). Even with our limited history with instruments, we both thought it was important our kids explore playing an instrument and something other than our CorningWare as they got older.
Hannah, my oldest, reached that point this year as a fourth grader. It’s in fourth grade her elementary school allows the kids to voluntarily decide if they would like to play an instrument. Hannah, since the first day of school, has been talking about this moment. She could not wait until she would be able to pick an instrument. A few weeks ago the time came. The kids were finally able to pick their instruments. Hannah, long past her early days of banging and clanging and already a seasoned Recorder player, quickly decided on the clarinet.
My first instinct was to buy, along with her clarinet, a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones. Because in all honesty, I was thinking this might be one of those times all I heard was noise and the music wouldn’t be there. Plus, this was not my first go-around with the clarinet. My sister was a clarinet player, which still causes me to have nasty flashbacks whenever I hear geese honking. Because I know the sounds coming from any instrument not played how it was intended to be played echoes more like car crashes and wounded animals than a musical instrument.
I told Hannah before buying it; her clarinet would be a serious undertaking. She would need to practice, daily, and take care of the clarinet as if she spent a good portion of her paycheck to buy it and not me. I explained to her that when she was playing her clarinet I didn’t expect her to be Artie Shaw but I did expect her to put all of her energy and effort in to it. She didn’t know who Artie Shaw was but she did assure me she would practice as hard as she could and she would indeed treat her clarinet great; even better than she sometimes treats her little sister. I gave her a quick history lesson on Shaw, told her to be nicer to her sister then told her the clarinet would be ordered that night.
A few weeks ago, her clarinet came to the school. Not since the last day of school the previous year, had I seen my daughter as happy coming off of the school bus, as when she came home with her clarinet and sheet music stand.
Hannah immediately wanted to show all of us how to properly put the woodwind together. As I watched her tiny hands put the pieces together then line the reed up and finally douse said reed with enough saliva to drown a small dog, I began to shrink back. My eyes closed a little bit as she was getting ready to blow in to it. I was anticipating the noise not the music.
While those first sounds to come out of Hannah’s clarinet, to some, might have just sounded like noise, but I didn’t hear it that way. My eyes opened up and my shoulders came back down because what I heard pour from the clarinet was my little girl’s excitement and anticipation for this moment. I heard her determination as she worked to get each note out. I heard the pride in her voice when she asked us how it sounded. I was so happy for her and so proud of her that I never heard that noise but what I did hear, that was music to my ears.