Treasure in a Wooden Box

Dainec posted Treasure in a Wooden Box at Backwash on September 24, 2003 — there’s an update at the end!

He trudged between the neighbors’ houses towards home, and I did a double-take when I glanced out the window to make sure he was on his way. He was burdened by something more than the usual homework-laden backpack.

“You have a cello,” I noted, using my keen powers of observation. After all, I had signed the permission form for 4th-grade strings, and I wrote the check to cover instrument rental for the year. I’m good at putting two and two together like that. “When do you start strings class?”

“I already did,” he responded. “My homework tonight is to practice. Do you want to listen to me practice?”

Without waiting for an answer, he cast off his backpack and unzipped the instrument case. “A lot of kids have played my cello before me,” he said solemnly.

I had been a little nervous about my son being responsible for something so delicate as a stringed instrument. He’s not exactly the careful type. But when I laid eyes on his cello, my fears vanished. The finish is worn. A chunk of wood is missing from the bottom edge. I notice that the back edges are held together with what looks like wood grain contact paper.

Turbo interrupted my thoughts. “This is the fingerboard,” he said, pointing to a piece of wood that juts under the strings. “Never pick up the cello by the fingerboard.” He paused. “I’m just touching it. It’s okay to touch it, but it’s not a handle.”

“Do you know what this is?” he asked, pointing to a spot near the top. “It’s the peg box. We’re not supposed to turn the pegs. Only the teacher does that.” He paused again. “It’s okay to touch the pegs, just don’t turn them.”

I’m fascinated and impressed. We’re a family of musicians, but I’m a woodwinds person, and SpiritMan is a more of a rock/electronic type. MoonChild is the only experienced strings player in our house, having started viola in grade school. She has since added piano and bass guitar to her repertoire. If she had more time, she’d be playing drums, too. Moon has the music in her; it’s intuition.

Turbo, on the other hand, never seemed all that interested in learning an instrument. So I was surprised and secretly pleased when he told me he was planning to participate in strings this year.

I had started piano lessons at age 8, but my heart wasn’t in it until 5th grade presented the chance to be in band. The first day of class, we looked at pictures of different instruments and listened to a recording of their sounds. I chose flute at first. We all started by playing the mouthpieces. It looked rather odd, the future trumpeters with their little brass nozzles, the winds players making kazoo noises.

The flute was beyond me. I switched to clarinet and made a glorious noise that lasted through the rest of my school career.

“This is what we’re learning,” Turbo stated as he positioned the cello between his legs. He began bowing vigorously on the open strings. DAH – DAH – DAHDAHDAHDAH … DAH – DAH – DAHDAHDAHDAH …

He played with confidence. The tone was amazing, not the stuff of tenuous first attempts.

SpiritMan called to say he was on his way home, and I held the phone up for him to hear. “Is that Moon?” he wondered.

“No, it’s Turbo. Isn’t it great?” I couldn’t wait for him to get home and witness for himself.

Later, Turbo carefully put away the cello (I noticed the entire back is covered with contact paper, a true school instrument), zipped the case, and surveyed his room for the safest and best place to keep it. I helped him move a bookcase so that the space would be just right.

Dare I say that I’m proud? That I’m excited? That I’m bubbling over with anticipated joy? I look ahead and I see my past: the satisfaction of expressing feelings for which I had no words, the exhilaration of being part of something beautiful and fleeting, the excitement of facing an audience despite my internal butterflies, the healthy competition and the easy camaraderie.

I don’t imagine for a minute that I’m raising concert musicians who will perform before millions and make untold riches. But if they can uncover the pleasure and beauty hidden in notes and chords, they’ll have something that will remain theirs for life.

Maybe even longer.

Update:

Turbo switched from cello to trumpet a few years later, but didn’t keep it up. However, he has an amazing voice — which he’s used in a few garage bands and to serenade select girls. Moon still has a love for music, but decided to pursue a career as a software engineer. She occasionally gets out her bass guitar and plays tunes from Sabaton and other favorite bands. SpiritMan has a large collection of percussion instruments. He and I are part of a kirtan band, Indra Adhira. I still have my clarinet from high school.

Aine :)