It all started with show-and-tell. My daughter (in grade three at the time) was learning about wind instruments in music class, in preparation for the class getting their own recorders. The students were encouraged to bring in any wind instruments they had at home – some brought toy recorders, whistles, kazoos and one kid even brought in a set of decorative pan pipes from South America (they didn’t work, though). My daughter asked for permission to show my flute to her class.
Why not? I dug it out of its perch up on the highest shelf in the closet (the only place where I could guarantee its safety, free from grabbing, grubby little hands). I showed her how to assemble it properly and played a few notes. She tried to make a sound using just the embouchure, and after many tries, was able to produce a low, windy note. With that skill mastered and a stern warning not to let anyone touch it, I sent her off to school with it the next day.
When she came home that afternoon, she had a brochure for an adult community band, and a request from her music teacher that I should join. HA! Yeah, right! I hadn’t played — actually played — my flute for about 25 years, as near as I could figure. The last time I’d been part of a band was grade eight, and even I can’t remember what year that was. But the next time I was in the school, I bumped into the music teacher, intending to blow her off with tales of my woeful lack of any skill greater than amusing my kids by playing Greensleeves or the theme from M*A*S*H. But she wouldn’t be deterred. She encouraged me, she told me about the group’s novice band and she finally prevailed upon me to at least come and give it a try. The next day my daughter came home from school with a stack of flute music for me to practice!
So I thought about it a bit…in a way, I’d have loved to join a band again. It was a lingering (though mild) regret of mine that I hadn’t continued in band all the way through high school as my sisters had…I witnessed the great opportunities for travel and camaraderie that they enjoyed, as well as the pure joy of making beautiful music, and I wished I had kept at it myself. But when I looked at the scores this band was playing — all those flats and register lines and sixteenth notes — I got intimidated. I sat down to play and discovered that although I could still turn out those few memorized tunes, I could barely remember how to read music, and had forgotten almost all the fingerings.
*SIGH* So much for joining the band.
But later that same day, when I was just chatting with my Mom and told her the funny story of the band and how much flute I had forgotten, she encouraged me to go anyway. She was so positive and excited for me that it somehow caught on, and I went to the next rehearsal. I sat with the “never-evers” in the novice band, and found that I very quickly picked up the fingerings and even remembered how to play both the b-flat major and e-flat major concert scales. I attended several more rehearsals over the ensuing weeks, and had just the most fun time.
And last night was the first band practice for the 2009-10 season. I had a blast. Compared to the other players I totally sucked, but I stuck it out and I know I’ll only get better with practice. When I came home just after 9:00, I was gripped by the strongest impulse to call my Mom. I wanted to say, “hey Mom! Band started again, and I went, and it was so much fun. Thanks for encouraging me!”
But of course, I couldn’t. And for some reason, that tiny little insignificant thing — that desire to be praised and encouraged by my Mom — that hit me like a ton of bricks, and I realized that I have been living in a bit of a grief-vacuum lately. It’s been days since I’ve cried over the loss of my mother, and I can’t really put my finger on why that is. I think about her, all the time, but her absence seems somehow surreal. It’s as if she’s gone somewhere and I can’t reach her but I know she’ll be back.
But: in the real world, she never will, and all the things (big and small) that I want to share with her will have to pass by unremarked-on, at least by her. And so I sit and practice my flute, telling myself that I know my Mom would have been both happy for and proud of me, and convincing myself that that knowledge is as good as hearing the words from her. In her voice.
But it’s not. It’s just not.