Friday, June 24, 2011

My Daughter's Finest Year

I write posts for a wide array of different reasons. Some are to share my thoughts on issues or to spread my opinion with a wider audience. Some are to convey knowledge. Some are just for fun. But a selection of articles here are for the future. Someday, many years from now, my kids will be able to read these posts and get a sense of their old dad's life at the time, his past, and even of their own younger selves. This is one of those.

My daughter's finishing up what I believe is her most successful year of school so far. Her grades weren't outstanding - she's a pretty solid B+ student who's going to have to work hard in coming years to compensate for the material she didn't quite master so far. But she had two incredible successes this year that, in the grand scheme of her life, surely will have a more profound effect on her than whether the grades on her report card were 5-10 points higher or not.

The first success had to do with her music. There are actually two performances in this category - one on the piano, the other on the trumpet. She's been a pianist now for... man, I think it's around five years. I'm sure she's been playing under her current instructor for at least four, and we'd brought in another fellow, Calvin, for a year or so prior to that to get her started. He was a lousy teacher, really - no clue how to teach at all - but it was enough to prove that she had some talent and enough interest that it was worth pursuing, so we kept going. As is her nature, she's not big on challenging herself, but every so often she finds a piece she really wants to play that's just a bit of a stretch for her and she tackles it. That happened this year.

In the spring, the school's new music teacher, Mrs. McGee, organized the school's first piano recital. It was awesome - I'd read about the recital's she'd held previous years at her old school before it closed, and I was always envious that our kids didn't get to do it here. And then they were! I don't recall what my daughter played - one of her own compositions, probably. For a couple of years she was churning them out pretty often and they were quite good. I really need to get them made into usable audio files sometime. Regardless, I don't remember what she played, but another girl played Journey's classic "Don't Stop Believin'" and my daughter fell in love with it. I had to go buy her the sheet music right away, and nothing would do until she learned it. To her credit, she practiced it relentlessly until she could play it perfectly and even without the music. For the last few months of the year, she's played it around school whenever anyone would let her at the piano, and I gather she's gotten a pretty positive response, even from kids who've known her for years and have heard her play lots of times in the past. That's pretty cool!

Granted, it's not as cool as what she did with her trumpet. She's been playing the trumpet for about three years, and I've forced her to practice 30 minutes every weekday throughout that time. It wasn't easy, either - she's about the least self-motivated kid you'd want to meet when it comes to anything she doesn't really want to do. Strike that - the reality is, she struggles with things that are challenging, and prefers to avoid them. Sorry, kiddo - I call 'em like I see 'em. Anyway, she wouldn't be caught dead just going in, picking up her trumpet (or sitting at the piano) and playing without being forced to. But after a few years of wrangling, at least she finally relented to actually doing her daily practices without a tantrum, which I can live with.

After her first year with the trumpet, we asked her band teacher for suggestions of material she could work on over summer break. The teacher sent us off to the music store, and we came home with two books. One had various "traditional" tunes, from the Battle Hymn of the Republic to When the Saints Go Marching In, Tom Dooley, and even The Entertainer. For whatever reason, she took an instant dislike to that book and hasn't touched it in two years. The other book was sheet music from various movies, including The Lord of the Rings, Rocky (Gonna Fly Now), the Pink Panther and others. She messed around with that one a little, but didn't really try to play anything out of it for a year or so. Eventually, she learned to play the theme from the Lord of the Rings movies and the Pink Panther. And boy, does she play the hell out of the Pink Panther.

She not only has the notes down - playing it without any of the squealed missteps that were pretty common during the first couple years when she was still learning the instrument - but she can actually make this cool growling sound that fits the tune perfectly. As young as she is, it's a pretty impressive piece to hear her play. Granted, the sheet music in that book is abridged so there's a sizable section of the original tune missing, but when you're listening to her play that's the last thing on your mind.

So this year she really nailed that tune and played it often. She practiced it just about every day here at home, and I gather she wasn't shy about playing it at school during her band practice and instrument lessons, either. Diving briefly off-topic, it's funny to listen to her talk about her peers and their music. As much as she hates to practice, she has no patience with the other kids, most of whom (she believes, probably not incorrectly) don't practice much if at all. She's forever complaining about it, entirely disregarding her own reluctance. I suppose not all parents choose to "make their stand" on the hill of instrument practice. Eh, you choose your battles, and I decided this one was worth fighting for. I personally regret never learning a lesson, an omission I'm doing my best to rectify now with my guitar lessons. But I digress.

Evidently she impressed her band teacher with the tune, because at their spring band concert, the teacher did something I've never seen done before in the 9-10 band performances I've attended these last few years - she let my daughter do a solo of the Pink Panther, accompanied by the band teacher on trombone and another young fellow on the drums. She got up there and played and growled and blasted her way through that tune, and it caught the packed auditorium of parents completely by surprise. When she was done, the applause was tremendous and I don't think I've ever seen her look happier. Well, maybe once...

You see, her other big achievement this year was as Sarah Brown, the lead in the class musical Guys and Dolls. I don't think she's ever wanted anything in her life as much as she wanted that part. She saw her friend gearing up to be Annie in last year's musical and she just knew she had to be up there on the stage belting out songs and performing for the crowd. She immediately started asking what this year's play would be and, once they told her, she set out to learn everything she could. She watched the DVD (the old one with Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson), the learned the songs, and dissected the parts and figured out which one she wanted, then she went for it. I discovered that she was schmoozing with the Art and Music teachers - who'd be casting the parts and directing the show. I found her singing the character's songs to make sure she knew them cold. Then it was time for the audition. Then the call-backs. Then the cast list. She got it!! She'd gotten the part! I swear, she was walking three feet off the ground for a solid month after that, possibly two.

When she got her script, she relentlessly stuffed every line, every song, every scene into her brain until she knew it inside and out. She even marshaled her fellow performers, helping to herd them into place when they didn't hit their entrances or their marks. She learned her leading man's lines because his head wasn't entirely in the game and he had a tendency to forget them. And when it came time for the one big night, she gave it everything she had. She sang, she spoke her lines, she hit her marks and she played her part like a pro. I've never been prouder of my girl, and she was absolutely beaming with pride. She knew she'd hit it out of the park. She knew she'd nailed it cold. And if she hadn't known, the onslaught of well-wishers - people she knew, people she didn't know, and practically every kid in the school - would certainly have made it clear.

And I never made her practice anything for it. I never (well, almost never) nagged her about learning her lines or practicing her songs. Her mom and I supported her and let her run with it. She was self-motivated, self-driven, and determined, and she achieved everything she could have dreamed of. I hope some kind of lesson, some deeper meaning, came out of it for her, because I know she's capable of so much if she just believes in herself. Perhaps, just perhaps, after such an incredible, successful year, she'll figure that out for herself, too. The school year's over as of today - here's hoping for many more great ones yet to come!

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