His enthusiasm, if not his playing, hits the right note

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Nelson, my oldest son, blasted another note on his trombone. His room, directly above my chair in the living room, offered no sound barrier, no corral for the noises filling our house.

One terrible final note erupted, followed by a short silence. A pile of books crashed to the floor, a door slammed, and, finally, blissful silence ensued. I picked up my book, determined to finish the sentence I'd started half an hour earlier.

Nelson brought his instrument home from school last week for the first time. He eased up the tight metal latches on the case and held his breath as the lid creaked back. I smiled at his reverence and wondered if my father saw the same awe, excitement, and fear in me when I'd opened my flute case the first time.

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Nelson's school trombone, covered with scratches and dents, bore testament to the number of hands that had learned to play on it. A pungent smell of mildew (from the case) filled the air.

I wrinkled my nose and sat back while he assembled it, completely oblivious to my observations. He gently pushed the mouthpiece in and held it up for inspection.

He raised the instrument to his mouth and blew. A noise that reminded me of the muffler in my first car exploded in the room. He looked at the book and blew his second note. I sat patiently beside him while he played "Hot Cross Buns" - one excruciating note at a time.

And then I clapped and cheered.

He was terrible and he knew it. But he smiled, wanting to believe me. I threw my arms around him and assured him of his inborn talent. I asked him how it felt to play such a large instrument.

"Mom, it's very easy to learn," he answered with the wisdom of a seasoned musician. Still, he didn't offer to perform again.

"Talent's only part of the trick, Nelson," I told him one night after supper. "It took years for me to play the flute without sending people running for earplugs. You're doing just fine."

Nelson shrugged his shoulders and took his trombone upstairs to practice.

As I sat trying to read my book, I remembered the hours my father patiently sat beside me, as my audience and my mentor. He clapped when I tried, encouraged when I stumbled, and hugged me when I really sounded awful.

Most of all he enjoyed it, and I now understood my dad's enjoyment had nothing to do with the quality of my music. It had everything to do with me.

I put my book down and went upstairs to listen to my son. Maybe he needed an audience.

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