What a son taught his mother about music

I found the Suzuki violin-lesson notice tucked inside a zippered pouch in my kindergartner's backpack. When I asked Nathan if he wanted to take violin lessons, he shrugged.

"I used to play the violin, and then I took up the cello," I told him.

"Think of all the fun we'll have. I will be your 'home teacher.' And eventually we'll be playing duets - your violin and my cello."

So together we started violin lessons.

For the first few months, the children sat and watched their parents learn how to hold the instrument and play 10 different versions of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Then it was the children's turn. Nathan practiced standing and holding a macaroni box under his chin and sliding a wooden dowel across this box.

Eventually he was handed a pint-size violin.

I got goose bumps from the sound he made, which was like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. The sound got louder, like a cat whose tail is caught in a car door. I started wearing earplugs during our lessons, and Nathan started crying during the sessions.

Within months, I knew my son would not be a violin player, and I would not be a home teacher. This was not the "fun" I promised.

After that experience, I was astonished this year when Nathan, now a fourth-grader, showed me a notice from school about band instruments and told me he wanted to take lessons. I was certain which percussion instrument he wanted to play and even more certain what my answer would be. But he surprised me.

"Flute," Nathan said.

"Flute?"

"Yes, flute. The music teacher played it, and I really like how it sounds," he said with a smile.

Why couldn't he have chosen an instrument I knew something about? How could I help him with fingering? And how would he handle the wisecracks about playing a "girl's instrument"?

But Nathan stood his ground. He wanted that flute. And he got it.

I put a chair and music stand in the living room. Once a day I reminded him to practice, and Nathan did the rest. Within a few months, he progressed from short, shrill toots to simple songs - including "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Given an instrument he loves and enough time to learn it, Nathan is becoming a musician. More important, he's having fun making music.

And I'm having fun just listening.

Jean Francis lives in Lansdale, Pa., with a budding flutist. Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to: home@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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