The little pianist, violinist, clarinetist, drummer boy

Our guest room has transformed into a percussion studio. There’s a snare drum, a marimba-ish/xylophony instrument, a drum pad, and assorted sticks and mallets where once there was a peaceful rest for weary guests.

Big Brother, the artist formerly known as a clarinetist, and even more formerly known as a violinist, and still kind of known as an occasional pianist, is suddenly a percussionist.

He’s been taking piano lessons for a few years. He’s pretty good. He could probably be really good, but that would require practice, and of course that’s out of the question.

In 5th grade, he had to choose between playing a string instrument or joining the choir. He chose violin, and he hated it slightly less than he hated the idea of singing for an audience. It was an unfortunate choice, because you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars to rent a voice for the school year, even one that just mouths the words.

Sixth grade brought the option of switching to a wind instrument. His mother still had her clarinet from high school, making the instrument’s cost roughly equal to that of a child’s voice. The small clarinet case was easy to transport to school. It was the perfect situation, until the boy discovered he hated clarinet as much as he hated violin.

A month ago, we got an email from the band teacher. Some students were being allowed to switch to percussion. Big Brother wished to be one of them. This was not a decision to be taken lightly, as it would entail the procurement, at parental expense, of additional apparatus, and (I’m hoping the email didn’t actually say this, but I fear it did) enrolling in private lessons – also at parental expense.

“I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum. My family spent it all on my drum, on my drum, on my drum.”

I grilled the child about this. Yeah, he told his teacher he wanted to switch to percussion, but he changed his mind. He probably wasn’t even going to audition for it.

Relieved at the false alarm of additional parental expenses, I deleted the teacher’s email and went along with my marginally contented existence.

Last Friday, at my regularly appointed time to nag the kid into practicing his clarinet, he told me, “Oh, I don’t have to do that anymore. I switched to percussion.”

“You said you weren’t going to switch,” I accused.

“Yeah, but then I tried out and the teacher said I was pretty much the best at it.” (Note to band teacher: You just sunk any chance of having him practice by telling him that.)

Monday evening, the boy and his mom were late coming home from his piano lesson. When they finally arrived, they brought boxes. Inside the boxes was my percussion nightmare, lacking only a cluster of tympany. I didn’t ask if we were renting or purchasing; I’m not ready for that info. Either answer is the wrong one.

Let’s see if he ever practices on any of this.

This kid changes instruments as quickly as . . . well . . . as his father did when he was in school. But that’s another story.





Is it too late to rename them Barry, Robin, and Maurice?

I am prone to bouts of nostalgia for the 1970s. It was the decade of my innocent years. The ‘70s began with me forming my earliest memories and ended with me standing on the cusp of teenagerdom. It is appropriate that I have a soft spot for those days.

Why my children so easily follow me into that ‘70s groove, I can’t explain. The decade of their formative years is not half over with yet. They should be assembling the mental scrap book that will draw their hearts back to these good old days in times to come. Maybe they are, but in their spare moments, they are boogying back to the ‘70s right beside me.

Musically, the ‘70s decade was an odd dichotomy of timeless classics and curious songs that seemed fitting at the time, but now make me wonder what other questionable choices were being made by the grown-ups of my youth.

This doesn’t mean these song aren’t still fun to sing, especially if you are riding in the car with the other two members of your boy band strapped into their respective booster and toddler car seats.

When Le Freak (remembered by children of the ‘70s as Freak Out!) came on the radio, my bandmate in the booster said, “Oh yeah, I know this song.” I found that a little odd since I’d heard it about five times since sixth grade and not at all since he was born.


The record that made us all freak out.

As if sensing my skepticism, he began singing along to every “Freak Out!” – of which there are many.

I’m convinced our bandmate in the toddler seat did not know this song, but he picked it up quickly. He began echoing every “Freak Out!” his brother sang. This being a new number to him, he was just a little off the lyric so that his contribution sounded like “Eee Ow!”

Being the founding member of the band, I could not sit idly by. There was no room between instances of “Freak Out!” to add a second echo, so I took up the role of singing the “Awwwwwww” buildup to each “Freak Out!”

Altogether, we drove down the road sounding like this:

Driver’s seat: “Awwwwwww”

Booster seat: “Freak Out!”

Toddler seat: “Eee Ow!”

Repeat the cycle.

A lot.

It’s the main feature of the song.

Back in the day, it seemed like a fun song. Then it seemed like a stupid song. Now, it’s a fun song all over again. That’s the magic of the ‘70s.

It put us all in good mood.

When the new baby is up to singing, I may just bow out of the group and see if we’ve got a brand new generation of Bee Gees on our hands. Being a child of the ‘70s, nothing could be more appealing to me. If Chic could put me a good mood, driving around with my own set of Bee Gees in the back seat would put me on top of the world.

Bee Gees

I’m thinking my new Bee Gees won’t be quite so hairy.


Stop acting like a child, kid!

I’ve got five-year-olds figured out. When they hit us with whining, histrionics, and petty stubbornness, it’s all a bluff to lower our expectations of their sophistication. Secretly, those little sponges of knowledge are picking up every tiny bit of data and storing it away to use to their advantage.

Sometimes, though, they get too full of information to keep the secret. Then, they have to let out some of what they know. The more these moments amaze us, the better the whining ploy has worked.

In the space of 24 hours, my son did great damage to his carefully-built façade.

We were in the car, listening to some of my old people music (not my super old people big bands; my moderately old people 1970s) when The Hustle came on. Hearing “Do the Hustle,” the boy wanted to know what that was.

“It’s a dance where everybody gets in a row and all do the same things, like spin around and clap their hands,” I told him.

“Oh! Is it like a conga line?”

Huh? What kind of birthday parties are these kids having? At least he hasn’t come home wearing a lamp shade on his head.

Early Hustle

“Do the what now?” (Image: D.A. Sigerist)


The next day, as he was puttering around the house, I heard him humming Pomp and Circumstance.

“Where did you learn that song?” I asked.

“At preschool graduation.”

Preschool graduation was 10 months ago. And it’s not like we’ve been watching the video of it all that time – or ever, since the day after graduation. Also, Pomp and Circumstance is not one of Daddy’s old people songs.

we do love to march

Mommy’s explanation: “Well, you Germans do love your marching.” (Image: Underwood & Underwood)

Recalling how he figured out the basic melody of Carol of the Bells on the keyboard, I told him, “You’re pretty good at music. Would you like to learn an instrument?”

“I don’t know.”

“What instrument would you play? Trumpet?”



“No. I hate woodwinds.”

Right. I didn’t know what a woodwind was until I was in ninth grade, and had already spent two years in the school band.

“What’s a woodwind?” I asked.

“An instrument that has a wood piece where you blow.”

“What’s the wood part called?

“I don’t know.”

“I’ll give you a hint. It sounds like the same word as what you do when you open a book.”

“It sounds like look at the pictures?”


Later, he asked, “Daddy, can we make a German flag that looks like the American flag?”

“That wouldn’t be much of a German flag.”

“Okay then, can we make the flag of Greece?”

“I’m busy right now, but you can make it.”

He got a blue crayon and made a paper flag of Greece. “Daddy, can you find me a stick to put my flag on?” he asked.

“I’ll have to look for one.”

He pointed through the window at the ravages of winter in the back yard. “You can get one from nature if you want.”

This kid just put a big dent in his cover story. He’ll have to demonstrate great petulance to repair it. In this too, he is equal to the task.

Greek flag

Unlike the German flag, the Greek flag requires only one crayon.