My husband is a musician. He started playing the drums when he was about the same age as my middle school-aged stepson is today and he has long harbored the dream of making his living as musician (although his primary instrument today is the mandolin). He was close to that dream once, but had to pass on the chance because it was incompatible with being a single parent. That was right about the time that we met, and in the years since then he has continued to put his musical goals on hold for the good of his son.
He hasn’t stopped playing music, though. As a testament to that fact, we have a house full of musical instruments. There’s a drum set in the basement and three mandolins, a guitar, banjo, keyboard and double-bass in the living room.
It stands to reason then, that he would assume that his offspring would share his love of music. In fact, it’s more than an assumption. It’s a dream. He would like nothing better than for his son to follow in his footsteps and pick up an instrument to play, just for the love of playing.
He has been sorely disappointed.
Since GT was a toddler, my husband has been trying to get him to love playing music. He tried to get GT interested in playing on the drum set, but GT always thought it was too loud and covered his ears when his dad would play. Then he bought a strumstick so GT could play around with a stringed instrument without risking damage to the more expensive guitar or mandolins. For a little while GT would walk around the house carrying the strumstick and twanging away, but it’s been sitting gathering dust for years now.
It was just not happening.
There was one more chance, though. One more opportunity for GT to catch the music bug. 5th grade band class. 5th grade is the year, at least in public schools in rural areas like ours, where kids get to start concert band class. My husband and I both started band at that age, and my husband was determined to make sure GT did too. Surely this would be the impetus that GT needed. This would light the fire of musical passion.
GT was skeptical.
They went to the orientation, where the band teacher demonstrated all of the instruments for the incoming class of 5th graders. Then, the students all got to pick their instruments. GT’s best friend picked the trumpet. Then GT picked the trumpet. He told his dad that it looked like the one that would be the most fun to play.
I suspect appeasement.
My husband found an old (but surprisingly nice) trumpet at the antique shop across the street, and GT started band class at the start of the school year. It was an unmitigated disaster. GT hated every minute of it. He would forget his trumpet at home when he needed it at school, and leave it at school when he needed to bring it home. For the first few months we could coax him into practicing until it just became too much work for everybody and we just gave up. He even missed one concert in the middle of the year because we forgot to check the calendar and he “forgot” to remind us.
By the end of the school year, we were all weary from the effort and looking forward to the summer break. GT, however, was positively gleeful, assuming that his year of torture was over and he’d never have to pick up the trumpet again.
His father had other ideas.
He wasn’t ready to give up yet. Maybe it was the wrong teacher, or the wrong environment. We were considering switching to a nearby middle school for the next school year, and this new school had an expanded musical program that GT surely would find more success in. My husband made a deal with his son — one more year and then he could quit if he wanted. I could see that this had “bad idea” written all over it, but my husband was immovable. This was going to happen.
As it turns out, GT was just as immovable. He was not going to cooperate. Once he took his trumpet to school on the first day of his sixth grade year, we never saw it again until Christmas. He was supposed to be practicing at least 100 minutes a week, but we never had to sign off on his practice log. You can’t practice if you don’t take your trumpet home.
It was the mandatory lessons that finally torpedoed the whole effort. By late October, GT had missed so many of the twice-weekly mandatory lessons that he was getting a failing grade. My husband worked with the teacher to help GT make up some of the missed sessions, but it was clearly hopeless. This child that could still remember the name and abilities of just about every Pokemon he’s ever seen (and he had put away his Pokemon cards years ago) could not be bothered to remember to leave study hall on Tuesdays and Thursdays for his trumpet lessons. The thought of continuing this struggle for the rest of the year finally broke my husband’s resolve, and quite possibly his heart a little too.
A new deal was negotiated. GT would make it to his remaining lessons to keep from getting a failing grade, and his father would let him quit band at the mid-year break. All parties fulfilled their end of the deal, and after the semester ended the trumpet was sold off and my husband mourned the end of his dream while his child quietly rejoiced.
Here’s the interesting thing, though. Shortly after the end of the semester, GT and I were running some last minute Christmas errands and we stopped off at a music store to pick up some things for his father. While I was shopping, I noticed that GT had wandered over to one of the drum sets on display and started playing on it, trying out different sounds and rhythms. This could just be a bored kid keeping himself occupied in a store that finally has something remotely interesting to play around with. Or, it could be that, free from the pressure of his father’s good intentions, he finally had a chance to explore his musical interests for himself.