Thursday, January 25, 2007

Not Too Far from the Tree is He

Almost as soon as daughter went off to sleep a bit early to fend off a cold she picked up over the weekend, son began interrogating me on the whys and hows of a tune he had made up and been playing on the piano.

So we did a brief little introduction to music theory, and I illustrated for him that the song he had composed is in the key of e-flat minor. We got about as far as we could before I really, REALLY wanted my old theory book, which evidently is gone.

The text, I recall, was titled simply 'HARMONY' -- and I can't recall who compiled it. I'm taking a break from my google and amazon searches to reflect a moment on how nice it was to spend that time with my son over a subject he has a keen interest in: composition.

One day a few years ago my son found some staff paper and worked up a nice little tune he titled "Water". It is a lovely little tune, and he sort of just sat down intuitively and wrote it on the staff paper. Now he is sitting at the piano and trying to extract a tune from the keyboard to the staves.

I was not much older when I started to study music theory. It was, truth be told, the only math I really ever enjoyed, and I was very good at it, because it all had a function that made brilliant good sense to me, unlike the imaginary number system.

Seeing him this engaged and entwined in a creative activity of this nature is very reassuring. I think he has a hunger for instruction, but I'm careful not to overdo. But his constantly-searching monkeybrain keeps the questions coming, and it was so much fun to watch as the little lightbulbs came on, and more questions.

As we enter the "Tween" stage I've been worried a bit about my son. He's not an everyday kind of kid. While developmentally he may follow a textbook series of stages, he is still his own kid, with a curious array of likes, dislikes, fears (he hates going under bridges, and I haven't figured out yet where that comes from), talents, and blind spots. He is one of the most curious people I've ever met, ever content to unravel the great mysteries, such as what one might do with a 600 foot robot or in this case, how you represent the notes exactly as they are played -- with one note in the left hand and the others in the right. He's so far ahead of himself he's going to come up behind himself one of these days.

I am not, as a rule, looking forward to his adolescence. I didn't particularly enjoy my own (who does?!) and he is a soul-searcher to a far greater degree than I ever was as a young girl. There are times when he craves company. He is a classic illustration of the "let it come to you" model of coaching. Given the opportunity -- a quiet moment without his whirlwind-creating sister around -- he is a fountain of questions and contemplation.

I just love that about this kid. Although I worry he thinks a bit too much about things, I am so grateful he's at least mindful of some of the bigger questions -- and rarely afraid of them. He hates this war, and is quite discouraged by our Brainless Leader. He thinks about his place in the world, as a member of humanity. He is an absolutely amazing big brother, who just loves his sister unconditionally and embraces her victories and coaches her through her dark times. Stepping back it is a wonder to see these two together the way they are.

I watch my son carefully as at times I think I can detect a bit of depression. Someone like him with his feelers out all over the universe and sharing empathy with all of humanity is bound to get exhausted. And he's not unlike other creative types I know -- always a sense of perfection embedded in what he does, which I think sets him back sometimes. This I do worry about because I know many adult men whose obsession with perfection have interrupted their ability to try.

I think he shares the joy and enthusiasm of bluegrass because of its powerful, uplifting, forward-moving spirit. It always makes us feel better to put the day's cares away with a little music. And knowing that he is as curious as he is about how music is notated gives me some confidence that there is still time to guide this Tween person through the rockiest times by helping him hold on to those pieces of himself that he will still carry as a grown man -- hopefully the good pieces.

One of our favorite artists is the young and impressive Bryan Sutton. Here's a popular well-known tune called Billy in the Lowground from Sutton's 2006 Sugar Hill release, Not Too Far from the Tree. This old tune with Sutton's update is a celebration of tradition and musical geneology. See if it doesn't get your toes tappin' and your brain snappin.


At January 26, 2007 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thinking of your son made me smile. Thanks for the story. He's a great kid and on his way to becoming a fine man.

At January 26, 2007 4:51 PM, Blogger Shannon said...

I still have my theory books I will pass them on when next we meet.

At January 27, 2007 9:07 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Anon, thanks much, I hope so.

SHannon -- YAY! And thanks to Shameless Agitator who found the book I was talking about -- Walter Piston was the theory guy. I'm even thinking of getting the workbook for good measure.

At January 27, 2007 10:57 PM, Blogger Shameless Agitator said...

The anonymous post was me. I thought I'd logged in. oooops.


At January 29, 2007 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so cool that you've got something to give him that he really wants!

I like the way you describe your kiddos. You don't act like you know everything about them as a lot of folk do. And that's what makes it so clear that you really do know them.

Thems some lucky kids. {-; Very cool, MM.

At January 29, 2007 9:49 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Thanks, you guys! I'll never have a better or more fun job than the MAMA part of MandoMAMA. I is one lucky lady.


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