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Diary of a music mom

Since fifth grade, both #1 and #2 have been playing instruments; #1, the saxophone and #2, the trombone. #1, Autism classic, plays the very same saxophone that I started on in fifth grade. I  teach him daily and we go once a week to our new sax teacher and they work on jazz. #2, the aspy is a lot more autonomous and he doesn't require my attention when he practices and gets by with his weekly skype lessons from grandpa and his private teacher.

Every year, our school district hosts a solo and ensemble festival. The kids have roughly eight weeks to choose a listed piece and then perform it with an accompaniment. Every year, I make the boys participate even though it means I need to spend more time with #1 to make sure he doesn't sound like a moose in the wild and more like a saxophone player.

It always turns out like this:
I choose the new piece and we trudge through it slowly and painfully.
I second guess my choice because I think it's too much, too hard, too intricate for him.
We play it again and again for two weeks and slowly it sounds less terrible.
I doubt myself again.
Week four, it begins to sound better and I feel validated in my choice.
By week six, he's improving but needs revisions and fine tuning.
Week seven he seems to be doing well and listening to instruction.
Week eight he regresses.
Game week, he's playing inconsistently and I'm just praying he plays it right.
Performance day=total crap shoot

It is such an emotional rollercoaster for me.
I make him practice every day, play him YouTube videos of other performances and yell at him repeatedly to play the notes on the page and play the music as written. Some days, he gets it and other days, he's just a hot mess. It's maddening, infuriating and extremely frustrating. And then I remember the one thing i always say about him, " the one thing that is 100% predictable about him, is that he is 100% unpredictable."

Last year, he played a piece that was a level of difficulty lower and he received an top score of Superior and moved on the state level where he received an excellent score. (slightly lover than Superior) So I thought, that he could do a higher level  and do just as well. The one thing I underestimated was the change in private teacher would affect his performance. Mr Ted  played piano and spent time each lesson teaching them to play with the accompaniment. So when they walked into Solo ensemble, they were more than trained to do well. This year, we met the accompaniment the day before the performance and it was bad.

At our only rehearsal with the accompainment, #2 struggled. but I recorded the piano part and then handed it over to his trombone teacher and they worked on it. #1 couldn't even get through the piece with the accompaniment. So I recorded it and when we got home, we practiced unsuccessfully for over an hour and then I gave up. I sat in the chair and lost it. I was sobbing uncontrollably. Although I knew that  It would be hard for ANYONE to only have one rehearsal with their accompaniment before a performance, I was beside myself. My child was going to fail. It was certain.

As tears were streaming down my face, I thought of all the time and energy I placed into coaching him through each note,  measure and phrase. I  felt that I was the only one who saw what he was capable of because he seldom showed it. I wanted him to be nothing short of amazing, to show all those people who prejudged him that he was talented, and there was more to him than a big kid who meandered around scripting to himself.  Those people didn't realize how far he has come. Those people didn't realize that three years ago he couldn't even read music and I had to write the notes in on all of his music. Those people didn't know that he has perfect pitch and will often figure out the most interesting part in band and play along until he's busted. Those people didn't realize that he has raw talent which could be amazing if nurtured properly. I wanted that performance and his grade to be the trophy. I wanted it.  As for him?  He was tired of playing the song and all the pressure I put on him.  Playing saxophone was just something he did because I made him.  Period.

That night, I replayed the rehearsal in my mind over and over again. I thought about all the strategies we could try to help him succeed. I noted all the observations, devised a strategy and then stressed dreamed the night away while the song played in my head.

I woke up, wrote down the strategy. As we drove to the school, I prepped him for the performance and reminded him to hold out his notes and follow the dynamics. (we wrote the note values on top of the notes and highlighted the dynamics. His music looked like a color coded scribble page) I spoke to the piano player and asked him to speed up to the tempo he practiced at home and told him to hold on for the ride and follow him the best he could.

We met the judge, settled in. He played his scales. And then he began. The first two lines were great. I thought, "Maybe, I was wrong. He's not going to tank. Maybe I should've of recorded it." And then he got to middle section and that's where it started to go wrong. He held notes too long and seemed to be looking around the room. He looked at me mid-way, got the evil mommy stare, and then he snapped back to it and ended the piece well. At some point, I facepalmed. NOOOOOO. We practiced this. He was crashing and burning. All this practice. All this time and energy. Oye vey.

In the end he got a score of II, excellent. The judge praised him and said nice things and offered suggestions for improvement.  #2 also walked away with a score of "II".  If they received a "I", a superior and made it to states, they would have had three more months to refine the piece before they performed it again.

But now It was over. They didn't make it to states and would never have to play those songs again. I took them out for breakfast and then ice cream. I told them that it is hard to only have one practice with the accompaniment and expect things to go well. I reminded them that they were playing a harder level and they did a good job. And then we talked about how we missed Mr Ted and how well he prepped them last year.

After that day, I came to the conclusion that  playing music should be fun.. As long as #2 enjoys playing, he will play whatever his teachers make him.  Trudging through a piece isn't #1's idea of fun, but playing jazz is. So, for now on, we're jazz people. We don't need trophies or grades. We're going to let the music he makes speak for itself. And I am going to try to reign back the stage mom. Maybe just a bit.

And now that it's over, I reflect back to the conversation we had on our way to the performance. He asked me what would happen if he got a "II" instead of "I". I told him if he got a "I" then he would qualify for states like last year and we would have a few more months to work on the piece. "If  I get a "II" will I still get ice cream?" I told him he would. "And I'll never have to play this piece again?" I nodded "yes" and we did our thing. After he got his score, he said, "Vocalise is now in my past. I will never play it again."

 And now I'm wondering, did he choose to not be his best or was it just serendipitous?


  1. So . . . he got what he wanted. Maybe next time, it will be your turn :-)


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