It’s really all Richard Hallam’s fault.
We were celebrating my wife’s birthday in the tea-room of a hotel in Liverpool. It had been an unseasonably cold and rainy day in May, and my family had been largely hotel-bound while I had spent the day at the RLP Sistema event. As a result, my daughters were suffering from a surplus of energy and a shortage of outlet. Rather, they were enjoying the surplus of energy: the adults were the ones suffering, as a consequence.
Richard’s bright idea was to demonstrate in his masterful, seemingly disinterested didactic manner precisely how the silverware of the table could elicit different tones or sounds when used to strike the teacups, saucers, plates, centerpieces or glasses. Thus was the monster unleashed, and our peace, previously intact if but tenuously, forever shattered.
Sophie’s mania continues to manifest. No longer content with merely striking objects, she insists upon singing. While her contribution is limited in the number of pitches she can produce and the somewhat aleatoric manner in which they are generated, she tyrannically demands the involvement of those around her. Should the Itsy Bitsy Spider’s bewildering, repeated attempts to scale the perilous water spout be intoned solely in verse, outrage will ensue. “No! SONGING!” will be the tempestuous demand. This insistence can be problematic beyond issues of intonation. In her unique rendition, Old MacDonald’s farm is populated solely by a strange hybrid creature capable of both bovine lowing and ovine bleating in capricious alternation. Monotone or minor keys are unacceptable. Any variance from the major will be met with an immediate interjection. “No! HAPPY!” will be the unfailing response of the modally hypersensitive.
In an effort to pique her interest and divert her energies into more constructive musical activities, a violin was produced and played in front of her. The reaction was one of gratifying delight and enthusiasm, until a stringless teaching tool, an advanced “cardboard violin” (courtesy of Luis Dias of Child’s Play India) was produced for her. No sooner had the wooden dowel been applied in predictable fruitlessness to the plywood when the whole apparatus was immediately thrown down. “NO! MOOOSIC!” In the words of Joe Smirnoff: “The child wants to be rewarded with sound.”
Although the rewards at the sonic level remain exclusive to the artist and not her audience, it has still been incredibly gratifying to watch her musical awakening, and how music and sound are, for her, a place for experimentation and exploration, but more importantly, a source of genuine pleasure and joy. I refute the suggestion that genetics are involved. I do not believe there is anything innately biologically special or predestined about my daughter’s interests. She has merely been immersed in music since she was born. Not with the intention of cultivating her inner Anne-Sophie Mutter, but as lifestyle choice on the part of her parents. Already concepts of taste and preference are emerging: her younger sister, barely a year old, has herself shown a distinct predilection for the operas of Mozart, and a marked disinclination towards Stravinsky’s primitivism. Neither daughter hesitates to vocalize displeasure or disagreement with a musical selection, for that matter. For the most part we oblige – and why wouldn’t we? Repetition of activity, of sound, of any experience, is critical to the learning process. We want her to learn, as much about music as about herself.
And so while I sometimes curse Richard Hallam’s name, when my older daughter now practices percussion techniques on the boxes in a department store (“DRUMMING!”) I also thank him for having catalyzed, with almost imperceptible yet highly focused intentionality, her musical interests with a knife and spoon on a cold Liverpudlian afternoon.
4 thoughts on “The (Musical) Monster Awakes”
Hilarious, and beautifully written.
🙂 I remember trying to explain to one of our contemporary composers why the music pedagogy is based on traditional works in very inside keys and not more contemporary and adventurous compositions. As teachers the choice is not in our hands. Abreu knows what he is doing.
Jonathan, Thanks for this beautiful evocation of awakening musicality. In this area as in so many others, our children are our best teachers.
My life – and my understanding of the idea behind Sistema – changed as I watched Sophie grow.