Creating some big noise
Music is heralded as a salve, a tonic, a soothing sensation for the soul. Such euphonious pleasures do not, alas, derive from the exuberance of a beginning musician. I know of which I speak, for I have one in my home.My son is launched on a musical career with dubious beginnings. Be assured that the half-sized violin is capable of producing sounds that transcend the mechanics of the human ear. I have heard them, and they are only a slight improvement on chalkboard scratching.My son began his musical career in the third grade on the half-sized violin – a tiny and rather beautiful instrument. Under the sawing of an unschooled bow, this diminutive apparatus groaned and screeched with banshee virtuosity, literally bringing tears to my eyes.My only defense was to add to the cacophony, so I bought a violin of my own and furnished my own interpretation of cats in heat. The ensuing duets performed by my son and me combined the squawking of a raven and a badly squeaking bicycle brake. During rehearsals, my wife’s facial contortion was part smile, part grimace.To his credit, my son learned how to bow and finger the violin, and he learned to read music, a noteworthy achievement. He played his miniature violin in an ensemble comprised of his third-grade classmates. Together they made a sound that warmed the heart of every parent in the class and raised the hackles of every cat in the neighborhood.But the violin paled before the larger, grander and more sonorous cello. My son cast aside his pint-sized fiddle and embraced a half-sized cello, clutching it with bony knees. The new wails were lower now and, gratefully, more mellow.Diligently he sawed away at his cello, reading the bass cleft of “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “The French Folk Song.” His teacher said he was “on fire,” and his mother and I swelled with pride as he performed on stage at the Waldorf School.Now when my son and I played duets, we produced something approximating musicality. Our Christmas medley last year had the makings of a father-son duo that was headed straight for “American Idol.”But the cello wasn’t enough. Several of my son’s peers were playing in a stage band, so he begged to move into the brass section. “I want to play something that makes noise,” he confided to his mother and me. “Real noise! Big noise!”Enter the trombone, a big, brassy instrument capable of shaking windows and shooing our indolent hound out the door. Even the dog, whose howl exceeds OSHA decibel levels, knows there is no competing with this REALLY BIG NOISE.For the first few days, our son made sounds on the trombone that had not been heard since the reign of the woolly mammoth. These were primal sounds, the same blasts that leveled Jericho and launched the Huns against the ramparts of Rome.When we finally got a trombone book with instructional CD, the raw verve of those early sounds became channeled into more orchestrated, melodic, rhythmic sounds. The trombone still qualifies as BIG NOISE, but it is moderated by timing, pitch and rudimentary lip control.My son shows incredible excitement for the sheer volume of the trombone, for the long, oiled slide and brassy bell, and for the most captivating thing of all – the spit valve. Here is a water maker that sprays a rivulet of pure saliva! What more could a kid want from an instrument?Where practice on the violin had become a grim discipline, the trombone is musical ambrosia. The instructional CD has become a muzak mantra in our home, and the droning melody of “Au Claire de la Lune” rings in my ears like tinitis.My only fear is that our son will tire of the trombone and look for something better, something with BIGGER NOISE. His musical exploration may one day escalate to the tuba, and when that day comes, the dog and I will head for the door, vying with one another for a warm corner of the dog house.Paul Andersen wonders if the Alphorn is legal in the U.S. His column appears on Mondays.
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