Several years ago, I found myself at Cleveland, Ohio’s own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of my fellow visitors pointed out an exhibit that showed a report card from John Lennon. It seems that John Lennon had a difficult time with math, which surprised us. We had both always thought that math and music went hand in hand, that learning music would help one excel in math, and that mathematical talent would help one learn a musical instrument. I thought of this recently when I observed my daughter’s Christmas concert, performed by all the students at her school who are taking lessons to learn to play a band instrument.
The process by which each child chose to play a particular instrument was the result of a rather random process. First, if a child’s parent has an instrument at home, they should learn that instrument. Since I have a guitar at home, and there is no guitar in the school band, that did not help. Second, any student interested in playing an instrument was invited to meet with the band director and try out different instruments. I don’t know which instruments my daughter tried, but I do know that she went in determined to learn to play the drums, and came home with a referral that said “percussion.” For someone who once had difficulty making themselves understood by many adults, she certainly got her point across and was allowed to take drum lessons. She has been learning to play the drums since then, and is enjoying it very much.
As I watch her with the other drummers, I am immensely proud of the young woman she is growing into. She is one of only a handful of girls in the drumming section, and all of the drummers seem to have a very fun approach to their contribution to the school band. They are definitely the “cool kids” in the band, and my daughter, who also excels at sports and, recently, at academics, easily assumes the personality of a member of the drum section. In addition, being one of the percussionists puts her in a unique position in the band. Not only does she get to learn to play the drums, but occasionally, there are other instruments that she gets to play, if only for a moment. For example, she tells me of learning pieces that allow her to play the cymbals or tambourine.
The grammar school band concert was everything you might imagine it would be. It began with very young children stumbling through “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Jingle Bells” and progressed to older children who were starting to sound quite good. I enjoyed the music, especially the seasonal songs, but was especially moved when I heard my daughter and her class play one of my favorite pieces; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, listed in the program as “Ode to Joy.”
When my daughter was a baby, I used to play Beethoven's 9th Symphony on the stereo and dance around the room with her, marveling in the amazing tiny person that had come into our lives and who I now held in my arms. To this day, when she asks me what my favorite song is, I do not answer with any song that might be heard on the radio, but with “Ode to Joy”; it is, indeed, my favorite piece of music in the world. And so you can imagine that I was caught in tears as I listened to the sometimes squeaking and clanking band play Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. No, it was not a perfect presentation of the very old music, but I could not help but remember the words from another song. Yes, it was imperfect, but in the end, she played her best for all of us.
Or, as that other song says, “Pa Rum Pum Pum Pum.”