My son, Ben, as I have mentioned here, is an amazing guitarist and an all-around great person. He plays guitar and/or drums in several bands, and he and I enjoy singing and playing together.
I’ve been taking a singing class for almost two years now. At the end of every semester, we have a “cabaret night,” in which students perform the songs we’ve been working on for family and friends.
Last year, I brought in a song that Ben and I had been working on at home. I asked the teacher if it would be all right if Ben came in on cabaret night and accompanied me on it, and she responded, “of course!” It went well, and since then I do a “Ben song” every semester. It’s become such a tradition that fellow students are now asking him to accompany them, too.
This past semester, we worked on Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” I had some difficulty with the bridge—there is a point where it changes time signatures, and I kept forgetting and holding a note for an extra beat, to Ben’s increasing frustration.
In the past, I’ve been nervous about performing other songs, but I’ve felt comfortable about the “Ben songs”; we sing them for fun at home, and so the performance seems more like an extension of our living-room play. As this cabaret night approached, though, I realized that the opposite was true: I was confident about the two other songs I was slated to perform, but nervous about “American Tune.” I thought at first it was because I felt underrehearsed—I had worked on the other two songs extensively in both of my voice classes and by myself, but our schedules have been such that we haven’t had a lot of practice time together this semester. So we scheduled a block of time to rehearse — and my anxiety worsened.
I finally realized that it’s because he’s gotten so much better than me that I was intimidated — I felt afraid of screwing up the timing and making him angry. I worried that he wouldn’t want to work with me anymore. And the more I worried, the less able I was to sing that part. I would start getting nervous as we approached the problematic bridge, and then every way I did it sounded wrong. I wondered if this was how he felt back in the early grades, when I would try to help him with his math homework, and he would start doodling and humming, anything but concentrate on the task at hand. I wondered if he felt like he couldn’t do anything right, if he feared that if he messed up too badly I wouldn’t love him anymore.
The day of the performance, I spent several hours practicing in my head while swimming, walking to the subway, and riding the elevator. At lunchtime, I walked around the city with my recorder turned to the one time I’d gotten it right, listening over and over.
And then we got to class and I messed it up. He followed me heroically, and nobody else noticed (we think).
Afterward, I apologized to Ben. “I can’t believe I did it again, after all that work!”
“Are you kidding?” he said. “You sounded fantastic! You only missed that one beat — I totally screwed up the ending, and I’m so sorry!”
I hadn’t noticed.
We’ve already started working on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for next semester, which starts in a few weeks. I’m so grateful I’ve got him for at least one more term. I hope I prove myself worthy!