One of the new things Rees gets to do at school in 5th grade (in addition to being the top of the heap, having a part in the school musical, and getting free ski passes) is instrumental music. Music teachers come into the classroom and demonstrate instruments. The kids pick their favorites, try them out, then can have "free" group lessons at school.
Rees came home very excited after the demonstrations. I wasn't sure he would even be interested, though he does like piano. But I was curious, if he was interested, what instrument he'd be drawn to. He doesn’t seem like the marching-band type and I wasn't sure he'd be into a string instrument, their too fussy, too temperamental. I dreaded a child who would be into the bass or tuba or something unwieldy. So I was interested when he told me that the instruments that most captured his imagination were the clarinet and the French horn. He said he liked the way they both looked and thought they made beautiful sounds.
Not my decision, but I was secretly thrilled about the clarinet. They are easy to carry, versatile, practical-seeming instruments. I thought the thin black silhouette would suit him and he would gain transferable skills. So that's what we'd had all these years: a clarinet player. It all made sense.
Now the French horn is a beautiful instrument, to be sure, and I've always liked it, but it seems a little more specialized and obscure. It is considered one of the most difficult instruments to play and I always remember French horn players as the ones most likely to blow it big. Obscurity, frustration, difficulty: these things do not suit Rees.
The day they got to try the instruments at school, he came home both disappointed and excited. For some reason he was unable to make a sound on the clarinet mouthpiece, but on the trumpet mouthpiece he was already a pro. A form was sent home saying he could do clarinet "with work," but would be great on the trumpet, and could do French horn with private lessons. Hmmmm.
So Rees (and my) dreams of clarinet evaporate, he's aiming for the French horn.
I don't know why, but this idea stayed in my thoughts a long time. French horn? I couldn't see him toiling away, diligently practicing. He’s just not that structured of a guy. I didn't want him to play a "dead end" instrument. On the other hand, I could see him enjoying being unique, one of the few French horn players rather than one of dozens of clarinetists. What was it about the French horn that was so hard? If it proved too challenging, could he switch? Precision, intonation, these are not Rees' strong points. But in the end, any amount of playing a new instrument is good, develops new parts of the brain. How else to know if an instrument is for you other than to give it a try? Despite him hearing about these challenges, the additional private lessons, and even being told they would have a place for only one French horn, he had his heart set on it. And in the end, it has to come from him.
So yesterday [now three weeks ago], we rented a French horn (the rental a 10th birthday gift from his grandfather). He has barely stopped playing it since. And, I have to say, I am impressed. I had no idea what beginning French horn would sound like, and to be honest, it does not sound too different from those long plastic horns they blow at football games, but he plays with gusto. If it were me, I would sit down and want to know how to do a scale. I would be methodical, systematic, timid, and bored. Not Rees. He sits down and feels it. He tries different things, experiments, repeats. This morning, he had four different things he would play: "jazz," "blues," "elephant," and "reveille." We were woken up to "reveille." It's exciting to see him so enthusiastic. A sound only a parent could love to be sure. But when his friend showed up with his new saxophone, we counted our blessings.
Time will tell whether Rees is in this for the short term on the long haul, but in my new quest to embrace the ephemeral, it doesn't matter. French horn is not necessarily "his instrument" or the one he'll play for life. But it is the one he is enjoying right now and going with. Whatever the future brings, it is a great experience.
One week later: He came home from school telling me about the breathing in instrumental class and how it makes him feel happy. They practice breathing out for longer than they breathe in, taking really deep breaths, holding their breath, etc. As a violist, I never got to do that! As an adult, I know how important breath is, how it can change your energy and your mood, how good oxygen is. I think that is exactly what he needs to be exploring right now. Something he can take with him for life: breathing.
Three weeks later: He is still going strong. Had one disappointing day at class—something frustrating happened, that made him feel he couldn’t play, and he wouldn’t say what—but luckily that was immediately followed by his private lesson. His private teacher, a student at CU, is really great with him and he is always thrilled and excited after his lessons with her. So the ride continues with it's ups and downs…. Breathe, Jen, breathe….