The Music Man's Visit

LAST Monday night the Music Man stopped by. It had been one of those typical weekday evenings until he came, one of those evenings that whiz by and disappear into the next morning. We were finishing chores and homework, trying to recover from one work day and prepare for the next. But then the Music Man came, and the evening was transformed into a stellar night.

I didn't expect the Music Man. I was washing dishes and coaching my son, Matthew, as he practiced piano in the next room. He was in a hurry to be done, so it wasn't going well. I bit my tongue, waiting for him to become more involved in his music. Finally I left the dirty dishes and sat down beside him at the piano.

We sparred; I asked him to concentrate; he rebelled; I insisted. It was a familiar skirmish. Then it was over, and we began to work together. We checked the rhythm on one piece, then began on Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer." I played the right hand while he held his own in the bass clef. Soon we were beyond mother/son and teacher/student. We were two friends making music together.

Then it was Ann's turn, the six-year-old who plays "only if Mom will help me." I decided to give up on the dishes and persist as a piano parent. Ann and I discovered fifths; in fact we found dozens of them lying around on the musical page. When she played her first harmonic fifth - two notes together - she grinned.

I kept her attention by quickly pulling out an old book of songs from "The Music Man." She was ready: We had sung these last night. Her clear high voice carried "Goodnight My Someone" to her dad and brother across the room. They looked up, surprised. My high, less-clear voice supported hers through the unexpected musical intervals and three-syllable words. Although I didn't dare omit the piano accompaniment, I played as quietly as I could because Ann was leading. And because I was enchanted.

I assumed that I was the "someone, my love." Ann had often told me so - except, of course, when she was angry with me for not letting her have a friend over to play, or when I read longer to her brother than I did to her. In spite of these lapses, we were still best friends, "just because," she said, "you're my mom." I could be reasonably sure that tonight she was singing to me.

Not wanting to loose my soloist, I led her into "Gary, Indiana." No matter that Gary, Indiana has lost its charm, or that the young star Ron Howard is at least as old as I am: The song is a classic. Ann sang on. She sang without "r's," so that Gary came out "Gaywe." Then she moved gracefully on and offered "a logical explanaTION ... how I happened on this elegant syncopaTION."

Her concentration amazed me. This was the child who spent every waking moment articulating each and every detail of her life - whom she loved, what she would wear, why she couldn't wait five minutes for a snack. Now she had forgotten everything except the music. Her snarled hair still dripping from the shower, her hands folded primly on her nightgowned lap, Ann sang.

The evening continued as the children turned on a CD of "The Music Man" and began to dance. They sashayed and they spun, moved to romance by "Till There Was You." I tried not to stare, knowing that my nine-year-old would stop if he saw me watching. Yet I couldn't take my eyes off him. Overwhelmed by the music - or by his own state of perpetual motion - my Music Man lifted his partner into the air, then landed her safe and giggling.

Suddenly we heard trumpets. The Music Man announced, in his timely rap style, the demise of midwest morals, and the need for a boys' band to subdue evil tendencies. Like the Iowan townspeople, my kids bought the whole idea as soon as they heard 76 trombones coming around the corner. Matthew, usually at odds with the limbs of his own body, was transformed into a stunning and agile drum major. He led the parade with bravado, waving his imaginary baton over his head and turning to check on his band (a six-y ear-old in a nightie).

The parade finished, the female lead turned away from him. Now she became Marian the Librarian, and she faced the front door, concentrating on her books and trying to avoid this outrageous charmer. The Music Man danced around her, begging for one look or encouraging word. (He "loves her madly, madly, madam librarian.") He skipped up on the coffee table, over the chair, and finally jumped in front of her, looking in her eyes. Still refusing to respond, she sidestepped halfway up the staircase before jumpi ng, ambitiously, to the couch.

Then the show was over. The Music Man and his girl went upstairs to brush their teeth and left the living room in disarray. No matter. We'd just been granted a special evening, one of those gifts that come unannounced in the adventure of family living.

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