Last week I visited my local library. I love my local library. I love that you can pop in virtually any old time and get books for free. Free! Same with movies and CDs and box-sets and even sheet music books. Awesome.
I used to dread going into Chapters to buy a book because I never knew what I wanted, I never knew where to begin to look and then what happens when you arbitrarily pick something and twenty bucks later and a few chapters in you realize it ain’t your thing?
That’s why I love the library. You can check out twenty books, read two pages of each and bring them all back if they’re not your thing. No harm, no foul.
But last week I happened into my hallowed bibliotheca and it was kid’s morning. Playtime. Something like that. Thank goodness they weren’t scrambling around the book room all uncontrolled and loud but those darling little chubby cherubs were in the “event room”. Door wide open. And with some over-zealous choirmaster at the helm they were all warbling “The wheels on the bus go round and round.” Over and over again.
I usually take my time at the library. I amble unhurriedly up and down the aisles, read back covers, first pages, reviews, just trying to get a feel for what my next three weeks will look like on the literary front. It is a joyous exploration. But not that day. That day I grabbed the first three books that looked vaguely interesting and high-tailed it outta there.
Because I … gulp … hate kid’s music. Hate hate hate. Like the Grinch hated Christmas, I hate kid’s music.
There. I said it.
Back when I was a kid (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) we didn’t have kid’s music in our house. We had a lovely hi-fi stereo that played classical music on the radio, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Sundays and the occasional Harry Belafonte calypso record when my trendy parents had a party. We traveled in Europe a fair bit so my sister and I were dragged to concerts. Opera. Symphonies and church music. Musical theatre and movie musicals. Some of it I actually enjoyed. Some of it I tolerated. I also learned to sleep sitting up.
And then many years later came my son. And I figured I was a grownup now and I would have to succumb to the standard trappings of new motherhood. A four-door car. Little league. Soccer mom. Kid’s music.
The four-door car lasted less than a year before I traded it in for a sporty Honda Prelude, 5 speed with sunroof, thank you very much. Sam tucked into the back seat quite easily and he loved the sound of the engine. Thankfully my darling boy was never into team sports (he was more of a skate/snow-boarder dude who has now learned to appreciate golf) so I suffered fewer-than-average soccer mom adventures. And there was never any kid’s music on at our house.
Okay, that may be a stretch. When some insipid ditty snuck its way onto our television I didn’t immediately toss a tomato at the screen. I sang along with Barney and the kids, yes I did, except I usually made up my own lyrics. Like “I love you, you love me, one of us has got to pee.” Sam found my creativity (?) hilarious.
What I mean is I never bought cassettes or CDs designed especially for children. Sam was given a few, we did try them out and I’m sorry (not really) but I simply could not abide them. And I love music. The only thing I love more than music is love. Music is an integral and important part of my existence. I write music. I play music. I sing music. I need music. And I very much wanted my son to appreciate music.
To that avail we found a piano teacher willing to come to the house. And when she did I made this directive very clear: we (as in you and Sam) will not follow conservatory guidelines, you will not teach him anything he does not want to learn, I will not force him to practice and he sure as heck won’t be entering any competitions. If this ends up being nothing more than half an hour a week of music appreciation, so be it. I will not shove music down my son’s throat. And neither will you.
Luckily we found a brilliant and inspirational instructor who got it. And was more than willing to rise to the challenge of doing it my way.
Later on in his regular schooling Sam was offered the chance to learn guitar. As part of the official music curriculum. Awesome. He plucked and plinked and plunked and it was somewhat heartening but not terribly encouraging, something which was further evidenced by his complete lack of desire to practice when we procured him additional lessons. Once high school hit he more or less abandoned all musical aspirations.
That said, his life was constantly filled with music. My music and his father’s. And our tastes are quite diverse so our boy was subjected to everything from Bruce Springsteen to Carole King to Barbra Streisand to John Prine to The Rolling Stones to Buckwheat Zydeco. There was a time I listened to nothing but Phantom of the Opera and Les Mis. For weeks on end. Celtic instrumentals. German Christmas songs. Smooth Jazz and country, Frank Sinatra and Patsy Cline, Sam got it all. All the time.
And then all of a sudden one evening I was lying in bed reading and I heard some guitar noodling coming from Sam’s room downstairs. I knew that he had taken quite a shine to John Mayer and was You-Tubing, studying and actually paying attention, but on this particular evening I knew something was different. I listened more intently. And then it hit me. This wasn’t Sam playing along with John Mayer. This was Sam. Playing. Alone.
I was flabbergasted. Because for a guy who had taken very few serious lessons and shown very little serious interest, he was really, really good.
Fast forward another year and he decides that after Grade 12 he wants to attend a music college. Something for which he will have to audition.
What are you going to do at your audition? say I.
Play the guitar and sing, he replies.
Sing what? I retort, my voice dripping with incredulity. I have never ever heard the boy sing “Happy Birthday” much less a pop song.
Something I wrote, he whispers sheepishly.
Ah, you write songs now, do you? I again fire back, wondering what magic this kid thinks he’s going to pull out of his ass.
Well, he finally agrees to sing something for me. He is sitting at my kitchen bar and I turn to face the stove, not wanting him to see the sure-to-be distressed look on my face when he finally opens his mouth. And he sings. John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing In A Burning Room.” And before he even gets to the chorus I turn around and I’m jumping up and down like some deranged orangutan yelling “Holy shit you are SO good. Oh my God you are so fucking good!”
He was. He still is. Even better as a matter of fact. Because it turns out the boy could also write music. And lyrics. And not just pop-mush, standardized, easy-rhyme pulp. My boy is a poet. His lyrics, his themes, his structure, it is all a beautiful thing to behold. Mature beyond his years and experience. Just inspired.
And that brings us full circle. I would like to believe that because Sam was not raised on musical pablum and because he was raised on a veritable smorgasbord of music, it all seeped in via melodious osmosis. It was all there every day becoming a part of him every day. Whether he knew it or not. And I am the proudest mama on this planet, seeing (and hearing) who he has become as a songwriter and musician. And you don’t have to take my word for it. He released an independent EP two years ago and his first official label release (Warner Music Canada) will come out next year.
Now I don’t want you thinking I’m accepting praise for my monumental parenting skills. I didn’t not play kid’s music because I thought it would turn Sam into a superstar. I didn’t play kid’s music because I personally could not stand it. Thankfully Sam’s father was of similar mind.
Yet in hindsight I am delighted that my personal aversion to Itsy Bitsy Spider led to an entirely different musical upbringing for my child. And a surprising yet gratifying career choice for a truly gifted artist. His future is yet to unfold. And even if he changes his mind and decides to bar-tend for the rest of his life, I won’t mind. Because I have heard what he can do. What he can create. What he can share with the world.
And I’m pretty sure it didn’t come from the wheels on the bus endlessly spinning.