Ahhh, the serenity…

Last week my eight year old son, Rylan, came home with this…

recorder

A Rather Ear-piercing Contraption Often Releasing a Discordant, Excruciating Racket. Otherwise known as a Recorder.

He has been in raptures over his new plaything and constantly walks around the house with it poking out between his lips, followed by ‘sound’ (and I use the term loosely) that is so painful it could be used by riot police, instead of tear gas, to beat large crowds into submission. However the smile on his face is priceless and well worth the associated pain.

We were told at the start of the year that all Grade 3 students would be receiving their recorder during first term. When this didn’t happen, I had hoped, rather guiltily, that the entire shipment of recorders had been involved in an incident that rendered them silent or useless – such as a small nuclear blast or exposure to a solvent strong enough to melt them back into little globs of cream coloured plastic.

But, my hopes were crushed when in the first week of term 2, Rylan raced over to me at the school playground, a mile wide smile on his sweet face, holding the object of worldwide-parental dislike, in his little, gnawed at the fingernails, hands.

“Mum!” he screeched, “look what we got today!”

I hadn’t seen him this excited since Easter Sunday.

“A recorder!” he beamed, “listen to this…” he said as he blew as hard as he could into the instrument.

And that was when it started…the sound that is pitched to divide the human brain straight down the middle.

I could feel my ear canals starting to collapse inside my head and developed an instant toothache.

“Ooooh, that’s fantastic, sweetie,” I replied, trying to sound enthusiastic, but probably not doing a very good job.

“And listen to this one…” he said and then continued to blast away.  All the birds nesting in a nearby tree took flight and flapped for their lives.

And so it went on…and on…and on.

Most of the other mothers in the school yard had the same look of shock, disappointment and surprise on their faces. The initial deer in the headlights expression soon made way for drooping shoulders, hunched backs and dragging feet as each mother pondered the noise that would soon permeate her house for the remainder of the year. For the next eight months. For the next two hundred and forty days until Christmas day is once again upon us and our kids have new toys to play with.

The worst thing about the recorder, is that it never sounds any better, even after the kid has mastered it and is proficient in both reading and playing music.  No one can make a recorder pleasant to listen to – it’s not soothing like panpipes, or stirring like Bagpipes, it’s not energising like a guitar or drum kit, it’s not beautiful like a violin. It doesn’t invoke any of the emotions or feelings usually associated with the beauty of music. It still sounds like a plastic instrument designed to hurt people. There is no light at the end of this tunnel.

And the worst, worst part is that Rylan is a perfectionist. He will plug away at something until he has mastered it completely. He taught himself to whistle like a lumberjack in less than a week. He designs and builds Lego jets that look as though NASA has made them.  He even worked out how to land a simulated jet on an aircraft carrier on his IPod touch as though he had been trained by the RAAF.

So, you can see my conundrum – it’s a vicious cycle because Rylan will continue with it day and night until he is happy with the quality of his playing – of which there is no such thing for a perfectionist – not realising that no one, not even Louis Armstrong himself, could make the recorder sound appealing. It will never end.

So, what am I to do? Hide it? Squash it under my car tyre? Feed it to the dog?  No, I need to suck it up like every other parent on the planet, like my parents did, and let Rylan enjoy his recorder, that’s what. It brings him so much happiness to blast us out of our seats and make our brains rattle in our heads, make the dogs whimper and hide, and fill the room with ‘mood music’ – which is a cross between a Yodeller and a howling wolf.

It could be so much worse, after all, there’s only another two siblings behind him, who in the years to come will also bring home a recorder. Ahhh, the serenity.

The recorder recital from hell…

Picture this: it’s 1981 and a young girl is standing on stage at the local town hall looking out into a crowd of nearly two hundred people. It’s the inter-school music competition and she is about to participate in a recorder recital with her grade six music group. She cannot read music, memorise notes or play the recorder.

I was that girl. My navy blue cord overalls, cream skivvy and tan knee-high boots did nothing to bolster my confidence. Hardly the epitome of fashion, but it was an improvement on the patent red leather clogs and crocheted dress my mother had chosen for me. Clogs! Really? Did she not like me? We weren’t even of Dutch descent for god’s sake.

But what I was wearing didn’t matter, because unlike The Spice Girls, fashion was not going to give me any musical ability. As I stood on the stage, our teacher, Mrs Gillespie proudly fussed over us and the only thought making the short journey across my mind was: ‘how the hell did I get here?’
I’m tipping that my mother had something to do with it. She always had a love of music that she projected, vicariously and forcefully, on to me. I would have welcomed a cold sore with more warmth and enthusiasm. The only interest I had in music was to marry John Taylor from Duran Duran when I grew up. Or Simon LeBon, but only to make John jealous.

My brain was so paralysed with fear that it didn’t even occur to me to take the easy way out –to burst into tears and run away. Or feign illness and double over in pain, dry retch, pretend to pass out, fake a snake bite. No. Nothing like that even entered my mind. Damn it. My best friend, Lea, was standing next to me. Not only was she fashionable, popular and smart, but she could actually play the recorder. I envied her for a lot of things, but her musical ability topped the list right at that moment.

Mrs Gillespie tapped her stick on the podium and flicked her long blonde hair. I bought the recorder to my mouth, only to remember that it had a small lump of chocolate wedged in the mouth piece. I had forgotten the cardinal rule of recorder playing – do not play when you have food in your mouth. I had tried rinsing it in hot water, but only burned my fingers. Boiling water was beyond me at that age and I couldn’t seek help from my mum seeing as it was her chocolate that I had stolen in the first place.

Like horses out of the gate on race day, we were off. The ear piercing, brain dividing sound of twenty recorders assaulted the audience head on. From where I was standing I could see the curious expression of pride and pain on their faces; pride at watching their kid play, and pain at having to listen to it.

The sound was strong, confident, happy; all except for mine, which warbled like a shy kettle – a pathetic wail that must have been heard by the audience because it was a completely different sound to every other recorder. If it were possible for a recorder to have an Asthmatic wheeze, then mine did. It wasn’t a case of not blowing hard enough, it was that, in the claws of fear, I had forgotten how to breathe. I also played the same note for the entire recital – two songs in C.

At the end of the recital the music teacher’s husband, Mr Gillespie, shook each and every little hand of the group as he enthused, “Excellent! Excellent!” My mum and step-dad were so proud that I didn’t have the heart to tell them what really happened.

Consequently, the next year, my first year of secondary school, my mother enrolled me in Flute lessons. She had always wanted to play the flute. I, on the other hand, had no interest in playing an instrument that I had to spit into. It was a long year, but thankfully, puberty hit me and I turned into a snarling horror who didn’t give a toss about hurting my mum’s feelings. It was then that I finally told her what I really thought of music lessons.