OVER the last year, my 13-year-old son, Dylan, has come to love the sound of the saxophone. He listened to one jazz cassette so many times that it became distorted. This was timely, since my daughter, Hallie, said that if she had to hear to it once more, she would move in with her grandmother.
Silently agreeing with her, I bought Dylan a portable cassette player with headphones for Christmas. ``I want,'' he said one day, ``to learn the saxophone.''
I've offered my children a variety of lessons over the years. I'd always thought lessons were a part of good parenting, like providing sturdy shoes and warm winter coats.
My children don't agree, although they do go for the shoes and coats. Dylan and Hallie prefer the self-taught mode of instruction. So it is that they've learned to ice skate, flip into handstands on the beach, and dance the length of our living room in total abandonment. Wanting to play the saxophone, however, encouraged Dylan to embrace the idea of lessons with a new fervor.
Because I go to the city at least twice a month, we contacted a man there who teaches in his home. Our friends who own an antique shop loaned Dylan a saxophone they'd purchased at a sale. Move over, sturdy shoes and coats; the era of lessons had arrived.
People familiar with music instruction already know that the first attempt on a saxophone produces a sound like that of a docking freighter. But this was new information to me.
As I approached the music teacher's house to pick up my son from his lesson, I heard the noise for the first time. And I was still a considerable walk from the front door. Then I entered the house. With the saxophone hanging from his neck, Dylan smiled blissfully, as though he'd just finished a successful set at the local blues club.
As we left, his teacher told him to ``go home and blow that thing until you drive your mother crazy.''
Any adolescent I know who is told to drive his or her parents crazy forms an immediate, unbreakable bond with the speaker. My son thinks his music teacher is a ``great guy.''
Dylan practices daily. Hallie and I like to listen to him - honest. It isn't so much the music that is pleasing as seeing how happy the saxophone makes him.
I told him how different his experience with music instruction is from mine. At his age, I learned the flute from a man who later left teaching for the business world. In group lessons, he lined us up from best to worst. I sat next to the last person - on the ``worst'' end.
The seating arrangement did nothing to improve my performance, and in fact, I gave up the instrument at the end of that year.
But then, just after Dylan was born, I yearned to play again. I took lessons from a friend, a pianist with a solid-silver flute and patience of like value.
At night, I'd drive the dark back roads to her house and enter the softly-lit warmth of her living room. As I got better, we'd play duets. Occasionally, her husband would remark at how good we sounded. Playing in harmony with someone became as satisfying as mastering a particular piece of music.
On the third lesson in my son's book, there was a duet composed of three notes - B, A, and G. Dylan asked me if I wanted to play with him.
My flute had been sitting on a bookshelf so long that the black case looked gray. I dusted off the case and put together the three pieces of the disassembled flute. I had to flip back through my old books to refresh my memory of how fingers should fit on the keys.
Our duet probably sounded more like that freighter coming into port than a musical interlude. To a casual observer, I'm sure we'd have a long way to go before we could play for an audience, even if the duet consisted only of an A and a G. But to my son and me, the room might as well have been filled with applause.
As my son grows and becomes more and more his own person, I'm having to back away, to ``play more softly.''
In the life of a teenager, there are few days of complete harmony. Side-by-side, though, playing the same music however haltingly, I was able to play as lightly as a shadow, to let the large sound of the sax through.
It was only one minute in one day of one year. But if a life is made up of moments, it was significant.
Life for a blossoming young adult would seem to mean ``driving your parents crazy'' one moment and then asking them to play duets the next.
A lot of practice goes into making something right, whether it's notes on a scale or learning to live in a complex world with people you love who can drive you crazy at the same time.
Sometimes the disharmony is what gives passion to the player and makes the harmony seem ever sweeter.