Ah, the sounds of spring . . . robins twittering gaily in the morning . . . newly hung wind chimes ringing in the soft breeze . . . the gentle patter of May showers . . . the flat honk of a trombone practicing in the living room . . .
Yes, as our budding musicians near the end of school, it is time for one of the most difficult of parental obligations: attending annual spring band concerts. Because of all of the hand-wringing instances where our kids are placed in the spotlight, listening to their first performances is by far the most painful.
Of course we can’t blame our kids for this. Musical instruments are very difficult to learn. Any one who has heard a beginning violinist knows exactly what I am talking about. A few minutes with the long, ear-piercing squeal of a violin can make water-boarding look pretty good.
Fortunately, there is a fundamental law that applies to all beginning instrumentalists: the degree of listening pleasure is inversely proportional to the relation to the performer. It works like this. The instrument always sounds best to the performer. It sounds pretty good to the performer’s closest relatives. It sounds politely passable to friends and acquaintances. And to everybody else, it sounds like an endorsement for earplugs. If this law were not true, orchestras would only consist of drums and harmonicas.
This is what I was thinking as I sat in the school auditorium on a warm spring evening listening to my son’s concert band warm up with rousing renditions of the B flat and C major scales; which I think were played simultaneously. Eventually, the conductor ticked his baton on a music stand and the audience of proud parents grew silent.
My son lifted his horn with anticipation, and just before the downbeat filled the entire auditorium with music. Great, big, beautiful music.
It’s a fundamental law, you know.