Pandemonium of Music

Who knew that having musical kids would be chaotic? I thought, before I started this journey, that musical children were calm, practiced when they should and played wonderful, beautiful, classical music. I guess I forgot my own experiences with learning to play an instrument.

I will have to say that getting my children to practice has never been much of a problem.  Instead, I have found myself saying things like- “If I hear you on the piano one more time I will…… (fill in the blank)” or “Get off the piano! It’s not your turn to practice”. I think one reason my kids play as well as they do is that when I say “Go do your math!” They reply “But Mom! I still have to practice!”

The challenges are many faceted.  On the one hand you want your kids to practice, on the other, with 5 kids taking piano lessons; it can take most of the day to get them through all the practicing. My oldest daughter solved that problem, but introduced another, bringing home stray instruments. Most parents deal with the stray animals- we deal with stray instruments.  My daughter found out that a neighbor down the street from us was moving to the “lower 48” and didn’t want to pay to move their piano.  My daughter insisted she needed her own piano so she could spend more time practicing. In no time at all she and I were rolling a piano down the street in the dark (she didn’t want to wait).

Getting another piano seemed like a good idea, until we moved it into our 2x2 sq. ft. house! The only place it would fit was in the entryway, though the bench did make a convenient place to sit to put on your boots! The size of the house meant that the 2 pianos were about 10 ft apart, one in the entry and one in the living room. Two pianos did solve the practice problem- everyone had plenty of time to practice, but it created a new problem, dueling pianos. One child pounding out “Mary had a Little Lamb” in the living room and in the hall was “The Turkish March”. I could only take it for so many hours before I would demand peace and quiet!  In addition, it has messed up my ability to recognize certain classical pieces as they are thoroughly muddled in my brain. I can hear Debussy’s Reverie mixed in with Beethoven’s  Bagatelle.  No wonder I can’t think straight.

Dueling pianos did have an unintended affect though. When my daughter was competing for the local Arts Council piano scholarship the auditions were held in the high school auditorium at the same time the high school was setting up for a play that evening. Not good planning on someone’s part, but my daughter wasn’t fazed by all the noise and distractions; it was part of her usual practice, toddlers on the lap and noise! She won the scholarship.

As my children grew in their musical talent they continued to collect stray instruments (my husband does too!). We have harps, pianos, guitars, a banjo, saxophone and a trumpet, penny whistles and several different kinds of drums. The owner of the drums wanted them in the worst way. I said Absolutely Not! After all, I need to keep my sanity. He did not give up.  One day, just as my husband and I were about to head to the big city, my son ran up, handed us several hundred dollars that he had saved from his summer job and asked us to PLEASE buy him a drum set while we were there and handed us the ad to show  which one he wanted.  It was a lost battle after that and he got his drum set.

Silly me. I thought that having my younger children learn to play a recorder until they were old enough for regular lessons was a great idea. But for some reason, I could never find them. I’d buy a new one and that one would disappear too. One day I was cleaning out a box and found one of the recorders buried at the bottom. I said “There it is! I’ve been looking for this!” One of my older boys was walking by and told me to put it back! He then asked me where I thought all the other ones had gone. It seems none of my kids can stand the sound of a recorder (especially played by a pre-schooler!) so they had hidden each one in a different place. I stopped buying recorders.

Another challenge I faced I didn’t even become aware of until a friend and I were talking after a recital where her only child and two of mine had preformed. She complimented me on my children’s playing, and then remarked that she was glad her son didn’t play loud songs like my kids did. She was grateful her son liked the quieter classical composers. You mean I had a choice? Who knew? My kids favor composers who pound the piano and are very dramatic (think Chopin, Scriabin, and Tchaikovsky). This was brought home again when one son broke two strings on our piano while he was playing. I was not happy. His teacher was thrilled! She told him that meant he was playing the piece correctly! What? He was supposed to do that?

When we moved to our new house we promised the kids that we would replace our 2 old beat up pianos with new ones. We took the two kids most interested in the choice with us to the piano warehouse where they had about 100 pianos to choose from. They thought they had died and gone to heaven and ran round trying them out. Each piano has a different sound and they were determined to find the one most suited to what they like to play. One found an old 1917 piano with a tinny jazz sound to it and was playing his favorites. The other found a brand new concert grand and was playing a Debussy piece. As I walked around looking at prices, a woman and her friend came in to the store. I was close enough to hear her tell the salesman that she was looking for a used piano for her 6 year old daughter to start lessons on. As they were talking my boys jumped up, found new pianos to try and started playing again. The woman put her hands to her head and turning to her friend said “Oh! I can’t take this noise!”  I wanted to put my arm around her shoulders and say “Oh, Honey! Turn around and walk back out that door! If kids’ playing well bothers you, “Mary had a Little Lamb” 500 hundred times in one week is going to push you over the edge!”

Being the parent of musical children is not for the faint of heart!