Johnny Can’t Read Music

Posted: April 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Mom, Music, Sisters | 1 Comment »

The girls and I got to spend an afternoon with my sister Judy and her adoptive Indian parents this week. And by the end of our visit I was convinced that everyone who doesn’t already have a set of these—Indian parents, that is—should get one. Judy’s no fool.

We ate an incredibly delicious home-made Indian lunch, and, not unlike our Italian kinfolk, the more we ate had a direct correlation to how delighted our hosts were. There was a lot of fretting over and playing with the children, and we capped off the afternoon with a cup of chai tea that was so warm and mellow and sweet it nearly caused me to curl up in Amma’s lap like a drunk cat sleeping in the sun. Finally we took a tour of the fabulous Eichler house’s equally fabulous yard, snapped a few photos of everyone with the girls on their laps, and called it a day.

What I was taken by in meeting these lovely folks was their warmth and welcome, and seeing how much a daughter my sister had become to them. But later on the phone, Judy also told me about Appa’s impressive background in academia, and Amma’s—and her parents’—staggering brilliance as musicians. Something for which her family is renowned in India.

Presenting, of course, the perfect opportunity for me to remark to my sister with my highest quality sarcasm, “Oh I get it! That’s why you two are so tight! It’s the whole music thing.”

One of my family’s favorite pastimes, aside from rhythmic throat clearing, unsnarling our hair in the morning, and doing laundry, is making fun of our profound musical ineptitude. No doubt I’ve mentioned that somewhere in this here blog before.

If we are not in fact all tone deaf, we’ve spent the better part of our lives believing ourselves to be. Oddly, from as far back as I can remember, my father has boasted about this as if he’s reporting my oldest sister was elected to the Senate. At any rate, it seems to have become a self-fulfilling familial prophesy.

Which, as you might imagine, has impacted our singing. And our staggering un-Von Trapp-ness can’t help but make me think of a meeting the four of us had with a priest the day after our mother died. We were planning the funeral program. And the priest, Father McSweeney (God bless him), a delightful world class Irish nut job, was enthusiastically, gleefully, talking us through some options of song choices.

He was waddling about the room at a frenetic pace, flipping through song books and clucking in his thick brogue, “Oooh, that’s a good one! A good one, indeed!” Despite our heavy sadness—or maybe because of it—he was determined (I resisted the urge to say “hell-bent”) to whip us into a little sing-along. So he suggested some old standard hymn that was beaten into our childhood brains and started in, beckoning to us vigorously with his arms to join in. We got through just a few verses before our collectively cracking voices had us cracking up laughing, and had old McSweeney bellowing cheerfully ceilingward, “He loves us all, no matter! He loves all our different sounds of praise.”

I guess it’s the closest you can get to having a priest tell you your singing sucks.

In my father’s stint years ago as president of his local Rotary Club, he was required at the start of each meeting to lead the group in singing “On the Road to Mandalay,” a tradition I find both charming and absurd. Anyway, Dad’s voice is so bad—and actually quite booming—that he decided quite early on that he’d lip sync the words for the sake of the group. Something that must’ve been obvious, but that no one called him on. (One of the rare times I can imagine my father determining that not talking was the best course of action. Yes, I’m my father’s daughter.)

In terms of actual instrumental training, as kids my sisters had a limited stint of uninspired piano-lesson taking. But by the time I arrived ten years later, my parents couldn’t summon the energy for me to go through those likely fruitless motions.

I’ve joked to Mark that my instrumental prowess is limited to playing the three-note “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder. But truth be told, I’ve forgotten how to play even that.

It’s all my very long way of saying that I know I don’t get the music thing. And frankly, along with the other socially-alienating fact that I’ve never seen Star Wars, I’m pretty comfortable with it.

But then a couple weeks ago I bought a toy for the girls when I was at Target. The sad fact is, I rarely seem to think to but them toys. So I was pleased to have remembered that I have kids and kids like to play. And in that happy frame of mind I removed a little red plastic xylophone—you know the typical kiddie style-one with the different colored keys—from the box. It’s got the drumstick thingy attached to it by a string, I guess so you don’t lose it, or so your kid doesn’t swallow it and disembowel themselves from the inside.

And as I’m admiring this new plaything, which was certain to bring them hours of creative fun, this white paper fell out of the box.


I was dismayed. Yet a second look at the packaging confirmed that the toy is for children ages 18 months and up.

Now, is it just me, or am I not correct in assuming that in a little more than three months time, it’s unlikely that Paige will be able to utilize this music sheet? I mean, aside from the fact that she’s got the Bad Music Bruno Gene Mutation (albeit tempered by Mark’s musical skillz). Still!

Now, I’m no expert, but I couldn’t help but wonder if some kinda color-coded sheet music, or even one that identifies the letter notes that’re printed on the keys, might be more, uh, user-friendly?

Who knows. Maybe I’m totally wrong here, and come this summer, I’ll be walking past Paige’s room and will hear her pounding out a mean “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” on the xylophone. I’ll peer in to see her crouched down to follow along on the paper, perhaps tapping her foot to keep time.

I can only hope for as much.

1 Comment »

One Comment on “Johnny Can’t Read Music”

  1. 1 Kathy said at 8:02 pm on April 21st, 2009:

    Ha! This reminds me of when you heard Sacha and I singing our kids to sleep on New Years Eve and you kind of shook you head in disbelief, saying “I would never even THINK to do such a thing…”

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