Life without music would be a mistake
The above quote from Nietzsche is what my oldest daughter uses as her wall slogan on facebook. An accomplished cellist, Isabel, now 20, has been a music lover all her life. Perhaps a bit longer even. I remember going to a jazz club in Madrid one night with my wife María when she was seven months pregnant with Isabel. The swirling sound of Frank Lacy’s rollicking trombone seemed to touch off an especially vigorous round of kicking and dancing from our soon to be firstborn.
As a newborn, hearing music would almost always arrest her attention instantly. Lullabies soothed her to sleep, although at times not without some poignant whimpering and gurgling that we eagerly took to be attempts to hum along. A few months shy of her second birthday, she had already learned to use the sound system in the living room, pushing Play on the CD player and adjusting the volume. It is an abiding image I have of her, standing on her doughy baby legs in front of the amplifier and CD unit, concentrating as she poked her finger at the button, waiting in rapt attention as if for an oracle to speak, and then raising her faint eyebrows and waving her arms to spin into a triumphant dance as El Señor Don Gato
would come on for the umpteenth time that day.
When she turned three we signed her up for a music academy. The system followed there was that a parent had to go to the classes with the child in order to be able to guide their playing at home. So once a week for three years I had the pleasure of attending piano lessons with my daughter and a small group of other toddlers. The goal for the first year was for the child to learn how to pick out middle C on the piano (do
in the do-re-me-fa-sol-la-si
musical nomenclature used here in Spain) with her right thumb and play the four keys to the right of it, each key with it is own finger. They were to recognize those five notes on the pentagram, sing and play them on the piano; five notes, C-D-E-F-G (do re mi fa sol
sounds so much nicer) on the G clef — the treble clef, up there where Langston Hughes heard “the tingle of a tear”.
At first this struck me as quite ambitious for three year olds, but the kids were up to it and more. After a few months they could read, sing and play simple tunes with their right hands using those notes. The second year expanded the musical palette of the child musicians to a full octave and to the left hand as well, one octave lower, the F (bass) clef. Down there it was the left pinkie that played do
, ring finger re
and so on.
I tell you this as background for an anecdote I have always cherished. One day at home, when she was four years old, a red-faced Isabel marched up to me with a mournful pout, a few big tears straggling down her cheeks, holding her left hand out for me to examine and dote on a swollen finger while she bawled out her mortified lament: ¡Papá! Mi hermanica me ha mordido en Re de la clave de Fa
— “Daddy, my baby sister bit me on D of the bass clef!”. Needless to say, she did not know how to say “the ring finger of my left hand”.
So from the tender youngest age, music was already part of her life and body. Her hands as staves, each finger a line of music. Ah, the grace notes I still hear when she points one of those lines at me in my memories.
|Hands of Pianist - Rodin (Musée Rodin, Paris)|
Image at top by angelp from vectorstock.com