Saturday, June 27, 2009

Music Criticism

Spare a thought for the parents of children who are learning music in one form or another. Tonight, I endured my first-ever "concert", and honestly, I wish my mother was still alive so I could prostrate myself at her feet and apologise from the bottom of my heart for every hour she ever spent at orchestra performances, concert band gigs, and all those endless rehearsals.

I mean... for fuck's sake. We buy or rent or whatever the instruments. We engage the teachers and pay for the lessons. We remind the little fuckers to practice, and then lean on them until they actually do it, and then we sit in on the practice to make sure they're actually going in the right direction. We drive them back and forth to lessons and rehearsals, and we sit around like suicidally bored garden gnomes while these go on, because there's never enough time to actually get anything done while they're in rehearsal or class, but it always takes longer than you think. And of course, we keep the other siblings in line through the whole process.

And then, of course, we have to go to the goddam concerts. Is there some weird, psyche-altering endorphin that comes into play when our little darlings play their hearts out up there on stage, making a collective noise not unlike a group of very unhappy cats in a rainstorm? No! There is not. That noise the Junior String Orchestra makes sounds just as fucked up to us parents as it does to you, casual listeners and unfortunate bystanders. Except that YOU can leave. We can't go anywhere until the fat kiddie sings. We sit there, rictuses frozen onto our aching faces, applauding politely at every pause, counting the minutes -- no, the seconds! -- until we get our lives back, and wondering what the fuck we did this for.

Indeed. Why? Because, of course, the kids are acquiring music -- one of the single most marvellous things about being human. For a few years they will practice, and struggle, and rehearse, and argue, and then inflict the most heinous performances on us -- all in the hope that one day, they'll realise just what a wonderful thing they've been given.

And then there's you, sniggering not-so-quietly at us long-suffering parents. You should take a step back, and think again. Because while ninety-nine out of a hundred of those kids will never be more than casual musicians, playing for the fun of it and for the appreciation of their friends (and even that is a very cool thing to be able to do!) the remaining one in a hundred will be part of the next generation of music and performance. And if parents like us didn't drag our sorry arses through the misery of practice and rehearsal and off-key, ear-grinding performances, the rest of you would be fucked for music and dance and the like in short order. Sure, some kids are self-motivated... but they still need encouragement and support, so spare a thought for those of us who have died that The Music May Live.

The concert tonight lasted an hour. It was... less bad than I feared. But the high point of the whole evening occurred in that breathless instant of silence, that penultimate moment of expectation as the conductor raised her arms just before the first note of the very first piece of music.

In that incredible stillness, there in the performance hall, the Mau-Mau squirmed briefly, and let fly a truly epic fart. I did not know a three-year-old's digestive tract was capable of producing such volume and tone without tearing itself to shreds. It was an eye-watering, sinus-searing, ripsnorting barbarian of a thing, and I swear it echoed around the entire hall, followed by a wave of giggles.

I have never before been so pleased that the Mau-Mau prefers to sit on her mother's lap.


  1. Absolute truth? I really do not know. I think I heard her giggle. But I was two seats away (the gap between us was where the Mau-Mau was supposed to be sitting) and I turned away, trying not to howl with laughter -- and also trying to look like I didn't know the pair of them.

  2. Hilarious. I used to love to practice piano. Nobody ever had to make me. I just loved plinking and playing. I'd make my friends listen when I learned a new song. But my parents were smart enough to put the piano in a room off the den where they usually did their relaxing....

    Problem was when I was old enough to move out of house at 16, I could not fit a piano in the back of my car. Thus have not played in years but someday will start over and get back to it.

    Great story Dirk. And yeah, you're a really good dad.

  3. Painting...arguably the pay off is equal for the spawn, yes, redecorated walls in the name of artistic inspiration happens, but it's quiet.

  4. The Mau-Mau's already learned the most important thing about music - perfect timing.

  5. It was truly unbelievable, Doc. Goddam comedic genius, if it hadn't been so embarrassing.

  6. These are the moments that make parenthood truly outstanding, as you know have something to drag out at every chance when they are older for pay back.

  7. So I take it that Mau Mau is going to learn trumpet?

  8. It's revenge, don't you realise that? I can undertsand that after being made by my mother to play piano, when i wanted to learn guitar.

    Revenge pure and simple...

  9. "counting the minutes -- no, the seconds! -- until we get our lives back, and wondering what the fuck we did this for...."

    though that could describe most the time spent once you embark on the 'adventure' of being a parent.

    LAst thursday we saw a performace of 'The Mikado' done by children in year 2, 3 & 4. -'nuff said.

  10. The whole Mikado? Or just selected scenes? Please tell me they spared you at least some of it...

  11. Barnes, ah a punishment to fit the crime!!!!

  12. heheh my littlest bloke could Fart For Australia! Now if he could do it on command...

    One of his aunties gave him a harmonica for his 4th birthday (a good one, it's a Hohner), and the boy can already make some quite musical sounds with it, which is better than mindless 4 year old bleating with it. Promising even! I may learn to play it myself.

    Of the other three boys, the eldest(14) has taken up drums at school , next son (13) plays flute, cornet and trumpet. He plays in a school band and a local brass band, is is pretty good at it. Son 3 (12) plays clarinet, saxophone, euphonium and trombone and plays in the youth orchestra, school band, brass band and...something else. He's then most musical of all. Pity they live so far away, as I've not seen them play in their bands - but have heard them when they visited last. And I tried to teach them some guitar and bass. They are old enough now to be past the earbleedingly bad stage of music!

  13. Regarding recitals, the lead engine pulling the train is still part of the train wreck.

    I hated practicing the guitar, so I have never complained about my kids showing a lack of interest in instruments. Both took dancing lessons, but Thing 1 dances like Elaine in Seinfeld.