One of the joys of parenthood is jubilantly applauding the performance of a sixth grade band that your child is a member of while whispering to your spouse, “That was the most God-awful thing I ever heard.” Listening to ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ is torture enough. But when the songs are barely recognizable you tend to sit there with gritting teeth and clinched fists. But you applaud. Loud and appreciatively.
I guess the reason is that you know how hard it must be to play a musical instrument. Those melodic tones that you expect to hear when your child picks up his flute or trumpet or baritone are replaced with shattering screeches, burps and honks. You quickly figure out that the best time to take that exercise-walk that you have been avoiding is when your kid embarks on ‘practicing’.
So this was the situation with my daughter, a budding flautist, too many years ago. Did I say ‘flautist’. A parent of a musician learns many vital things such as “I am not a flute player Dad, I am a flautist’!
So on July 4th, my wife and I and my son and my sixth grade flautist, were enjoying the 4th of July festivities at the local city park. While eating hot dogs we enjoyed the performance of an Army band playing patriotic music in the center of the park. For the finale of their enjoyable performance the band performed ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’, a wonderful Sousa march. During the last half of the music, a young Army lass arose and walked center stage and performed the difficult piccolo solo that is pretty much the hallmark of the song.
Two points. A piccolo looks like a flute but is smaller and plays in the higher octaves with sharper tones than the flute. Second point. I asked my daughter if a flute player was a flautist was a piccolo player a picolautist? She looked at my like I was stupid, but I could see her mind whirring and knew that she didn’t know the answer. It is not true.
Anyway, the music was stirring and the piccolo lass was whipping through all those notes up and down and all over the scale with effortless ease. Elleana, my daughter, was transfixed. She stared intently watching fingers flying all over those keys on the piccolo and how at times the artist would dip her head and turn a little as she would encounter a difficult passage. Elleana’s eyes were locked on her.
You see, most flute players – I mean flautists go on to learn the piccolo which is a bit harder and takes more technical expertise. I have since learned that being able to play the piccolo solo in ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ is sort of a right of passage. If you can do that, you have become a true flautist.
“Did you see that Dad? I’ve never heard anything like that. She is amazing – how can anyone play like that?”
My daughter was awestruck and babbling. So, as any Dad would do, I suggested that we go meet the young Army lady. Elleana looked at me like I was crazy. She told me that we can’t just walk up there and the performer was a real professional and we can’t just…
I grabbed Elleana by the hand and dragged her up to the bandstand and to the Piccolo Soloist who was carefully packing up her flute and piccolo. I introduced myself and introduced my daughter as an admiring flautist. Elleana stammered and looked at the ground and muttered something incoherent. The Soloist (that is what I will call her) reached out to shake Elleana’s hand and said it was wonderful to meet a fellow flautist and then put her arm around her and started talking with her as an equal musician. Elleana suddenly became animated and they talked and talked and I sort of wandered off alone.
Fifteen minutes later Elleana bounced up really babbling and talked about how the Soloist said this and show her that and she said such-in-such and she was so nice and she said that I could and that I will and she even said that if I practiced hard that someday I would be on stage in public and play that very same solo. When we got home Elleana went to her room and grabbed her flute and proceeded with her screeches, burps and honks.
The kid stayed with band and the screeches became fewer and some beautiful melodic sounds started whispering from her practice. Somewhere along the way she became the First Chair of the high school flute section. We dutifully went to concerts and football games to watch her march and to her contests and were mighty grateful that it was no long God-awful but really pleasing to listen to.
I’m not sure if it was her junior or senior year when we attended an end-of-school-year performance. Yep, you got it. The band ended the performance with ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’. During the second half of the song Elleana arose from within the band wearing the elegant purple swishing long gown which was the concert dress, and she walked purposefully and confidently to the front of the stage. When the time came, that piccolo rose to her lips and she performed the solo fast with fingers flying so fast that they were a blur and she would dip her head and turn a little when she tackled a difficult passage. The sound was crisp and perfect with notes dancing all over the stratosphere. Of course it was perfect and of course she, and I guess the band too, got a standing ovation.
Parents watching their kids grow up. I often wonder if she remembered the Army Soloist while she was performing on that stage. Maybe it is my imagination but Elleana’s dips and turns and the angle of her head looked an awful lot like what the Soloist did. I was proud.
And I wished that I knew how to contact the Soloist to thank her for providing fifteen minutes of friendship and encouragement to my kid – the Piccolautist.