"I can sing Bass," my sixteen-year-old son, Tom, told the church choir director.
"Are you sure?" I asked, looking up at him. (At 6' 7" he's already broken the genetic ceilings on both sides of the family.) Just yesterday he struggled to hit notes an octave below the melody line. That Sunday, only one tenor (my husband, Ed), one alto (me), and my son showed up for rehearsal of the Faur Requiem. Because neither Ed nor I can sing without following a strong lead singer (we help to fill out our sections at best), the director offered to work alone with Tom.
I stayed, curious to hear this boy-man's voice. He followed the choir director, on pitch, in rhythm. Then Tom hit a low, low E, rumbling and resonating like a winter brook, and goose bumps crept up my arms. I saw what could only be called rapture on his face, and I shivered.
How, after the often-fought battles over family time and homework, cross-country skiing and long bike rides, had Tom ended up sharing our love of music? I pondered this and realized we'd done something right.
There were my off-key attempts at "I Gave My Love a Cherry," rocking baby Tom to sleep on my lap. As Tom grew and Matt was born, Ed would lie in bed with them at night and sing "A Frog Went A' Courting" or "Annie Laurie" or any of the many folk songs his mom used to sing to him.
In first grade, Tom tried piano lessons. It took less than half a year of little practice during the week and great enthusiasm on the day of his lessons to realize his main motivation was to play with the teacher's kids. When he asked, we let him quit.
Then came violin lessons in which he tried to meet the expectations of a perfectionist teacher. That lasted only two months. Tom joined the children's choir at church, and we let him be responsible for remembering practice. In fifth grade, he took piano lessons again.
During all of this, Tom listened to Ed's slightly off-key fiddle sawing and to my self-taught struggle to play hammered dulcimer and the flute at church. And besides the ubiquitous classical music in the background at home, he heard hours of Irish and English folk tunes and a sprinkling of Beach Boys and jazz.
In middle school his musical taste followed his peers to punk, heavy metal, and alternative. Then, as he began singing in the school choir, we heard "Phantom of the Opera" and "West Side Story" interspersed with Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins.
And now Faur's Requiem?
As I thought back on it all, I realized that music had never become a family battleground. We had no agenda around music. We didn't try to live out any of our own unfulfilled desires through him with music.
Music was and is just something that adds joy to our lives. And Tom had learned this, without any "teaching" or "pushing," but through exposure and a little encouragement.
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