At no one’s urging, my daughter sat at our piano and sounded out the simple tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” practicing it over and over until she could play it quick and smooth. I joined her to add a couple of complimentary chords, so that she would understand the potential of a song.
She wanted more. I dug out my son’s first lesson book. He’d taken piano and voice at a private music school, then picked up cello and guitar in his public middle schools, but no matter how hard I’ve tried, I’ve yet to convince my daughter to take lessons to learn to play an instrument. She doesn’t want to set a timer for thirty minutes of daily practice or be required to perform in a recital. She flipped through the first few pages of my son’s old book and began asking questions. Where do my fingers go? What are the keys called?
I showed her how to identify the notes A through G, how patterns repeat over and over on the keyboard, how to move her fingers through a scale. I walked away as she began randomly striking keys to hear how their notes combined. She called me back when she discovered a pleasing riff she wanted to share.
I explained that the notes she’d chosen were a portion of a chord, then demonstrated how she could create some easy chords herself. She added two she particularly liked to the end of her riff and decided this was a song. She asked me for paper to record where her fingers had gone so she wouldn’t forget. I printed off a few sheets with keyboard diagrams she could color. She kept at composing for the better part of an hour, asking me to listen each time she added a new progression to her song. She had no purpose besides pleasing herself, no motivation to continue besides the sheer joy of creating.
When I was my daughter’s age, I spent hours alone in my bedroom spinning records over and over, memorizing lyrics and melodies, learning to sing by imitating what I heard. I wrote song lyrics out on paper, studied the forms they took, tried to mold my own words into similar shapes. Those days continue to resonate.
We grow up and we require better reasons for spending our time. We seek measurable results, quantifiable benefits, proof that the outcome of our lives will be worth the cost of our days. My daughter doesn’t want the applause of an audience or an award of excellence or royalties from publishing her song. She is content hearing the harmony she has made. She has not yet learned to need anything extra for her effort.
I sit here shaping these words against an imperative to defend every minute I spend. I fight to remain faithful to the pure impetus of creation, to serve as a reliable witness, my daughter’s student in this lesson.
I’m participating in Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge. This is #17 of 52.