Play, Kittens, Play!

Months of hard work payed off…

Tonight my kittens shone forth on the stage in their very first music recital!  A prouder daddy there never was.

All day long there were butterflies.  And that was just me.  Actually, son and daughter don’t seem to have grasped the magnitude of the event.  As much as I sometimes like to delude myself into thinking that they are anything other than carbon copies of their mom (and thankfully so, especially if you’ve met me in person) it was never more apparent than today that they really have not tapped into what little DNA I was feebly able to pass along.  You see, when I was a boy and had to perform in a piano recital things were different…

As a child I must have exhibited some kind of musical talent because I remember my mom, as only a mom can, gently steering me in the development of said talent.  My dad, on the other hand, wanted to insure that I could read music.  To his mathematical mind, this was a game, a code to be unlocked and only a select few could do it.  Therefore, if I could read music then I would be statistically unique.  Mom went out of her way to find the right piano teacher.  And every Friday for many years during grade school I walked down the block at a few minutes to 5 and spent an hour with the most wonderful lover of music!  My teacher was a woman who had escaped Cuba as Fidel was literally claiming power and clamping down.  She had made a life for herself in New Jersey and delighted in sharing her gift.  When I think of the teachers I’ve had in my life (and those who’ve influenced my own teaching style) I think of her.  From her I learned discipline tempered with fun — the fun of doing something you love, of making music, of taming the instrument.  We laughed and studied.  I never really became “great”.  I learned to read music but was never comfortable sight reading.  For those not in the know, “sight reading” refers to the specific technique of being handed a sheet of unfamiliar music and playing it relatively flawlessly the first time.  This trick comes in handy for a career as a musical accompanist at Broadway auditions.  My method, relying heavily on my incredible gift of memory, has always been to study a piece methodically, commit it to memory, and throw the book away.

Where am I going with all this?  Ah yes, at the end of every year came our audition.  Did you catch that?  Not a recital, no, that came later.  First we had to audition to advance to the next level.  At the audition site, usually some church, the student (me) would go into a room with a judge, sit down at the keys, and be told to play at least half of our prepared repertoire on command, without the book.  As mentioned, the lack of book was no problem for me.  But oh the nerves!  I don’t know why but I have never been able to play in front of strangers.  I think it’s a fear of failure.  I know it’s a fear of failure.  I can remember throwing up before getting in the car to head to the audition one year.  It’s a wonder that I now make my living talking in front of large groups of teenagers every day.

So when Daddy knew that his two babies would be taking the stage for the first time I almost threw up again.  And yet it didn’t seem to phase them.  At Sunday mass I prayed for them not to be nervous.  I ran around like a headless chicken for the afternoon trying to insure that everything was perfect.  I spiked, shaped, and styled son’s hair so it would shine under the theater lights.  I tuned his violin.  I tried to give them both a “don’t be nervous” pep talk without alluding to nerves.  That’s a tough one.

When we arrived at the theater (coincidentally, the theater that was rented was at the school where I teach) I looked for any sign that their anxiety would get the better of them.  And I began to realize that their mom’s genes were shining through.  They were cool as two festive cucumbers.  I was sweating and ready to hurl.  I saw the program.  Son was up first!  He wouldn’t have any comparison.  This was not good.  And in the back of my mind was looming the fact that he had looked for and found every excuse to avoid practicing for the past week.  Oh God, this was going to be a disaster…  He walked up onto the stage when his name was called.  I ducked down in my seat.

He bowed.

I tried to pull myself together to get some video.

He… He didn’t look half bad as he put his bow up in the air and tucked his violin under his chin.

I wiped my brow.  My baby girl was sitting in my lap, her beautiful dress crinkling as she crossed her legs and rocked back and forth to the music.

He slid the bow down across the A string.

He was doing it… He was playing the damn piece!  I gingerly moved my little girl into the next seat as I started to approach the stage, ducking down to avoid blocking others’ views with my phone.

His piece, Variation A on Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, sounded more magnificent than any piece ever played!  As he reached the end, I patiently waited, my heart paused between beats, and when he lifted his bow off the strings I jumped up in the air and yelled “That’s my boy!”  Then I wet myself.  No, wait, that didn’t happen.  Not to gloss over my daughter’s performance; but essentially, it was the same — no nerves, no sweat, no mistakes.  Her song, the same as his except on the piano, was as beautiful as had been his and she looked so perfectly adorable.  Again, I wondered how these two could possibly have been produced by me.  Thankfully for them, I think they got the memory thing from their old man (hence the lack of practice not really affecting their performance) but they got their true talent, beauty, and poise from their mom.

When it was all said and done I did what any proud daddy would do.  We took the kittens to dinner and got dessert.  And then I realized that this was just the beginning…  Lord, I’ve got another ten years of this, don’t I?  I’m going to stop writing now so I can go vomit.

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