Saturday, November 8, 2014

Thank you for the Music

I somehow rush home in the nick of time after work on Thursday, grab a calm little Peanut and rush her to our music school. 

The Piano teacher M suggests in his business-like manner that today I let him give Peanut a mock test since her Grade 2 exam is coming up next week.

I readily agree and sit outside the class, lost in my own world. My guitar teacher N, with whom I have a class after an hour or so, passes by and gives me his usual formal 'Oh hello Yashodhara.' ( He's one of the few people I regularly interact with who uses my full name) 'I hope you've been practicing.' 

The guilty look on my face obviously gives it away even before I can say the words, but he's rushing for another class and gives me a wave. I hear the strains of Peanut's playing through the door. It sounds like she's doing alright. Whoops, she missed a note there. And there's a little faltering on that scale. But she'll do fine. Right? Right. 

Before I know it, there's a cool little pair of hands covering my eyes and I'm guessing it's not any of the teachers. 'Hello Peanut' I say. 

'How'd you know it was ME?' 

She's been sent out by M to call me into the class and I pick up my books and guitar and purse and phones, feeling hassled and enter the class. There is no chair today but I don't bother and just sink to the floor in a tired heap. It's been a busy day at work and this routine is one that I'm still adjusting to. 

'How'd she do, M?' 

'Very BAD.' M says, busy tabulating her score in his diary. He finally looks up. '75 only.' He gives me a look that suggests it's all my fault, even though I'm one of the enthu enough parents who's actually taking piano lessons with the kid in a bid to try and keep up. 

We go through her lesson, with him explaining the things that Peanut is supposed to work on. Scales. Arpeggios. Slurs. Her pieces. Adjusting her position on the stool and so on. I take notes assiduously, for once, my phone to one side. I try to keep my handwriting neat because now that I have less time at home, I have to make sure that the notes are clear enough even for Peanut to read and absorb herself at home. Thank Goodness she's a good reader, I think. 

After a while, Peanut's class time is over and M says to me 'Now YOU.' M is a very, very good teacher and a fantastic player himself and this makes me a little afraid of him. I have tried to practice for a few minutes daily but I've missed a couple of days this week and it shows up in my underconfident playing. After I've warmed up though, I'm able to play some of the songs that he's been helping me with earlier. 

'Very strange song.' He says about one Oriental sounding number from Peanut's Grade 2 book that I've been trying.

'Because of how I play it?' I suggest.

'Not only that.' He says, face completely straight. 'The song itself. Very strange one.' He's taught the Trinity grades, and he's not all that used to teaching the Royal School of Music curriculum. He was of the view that the latter is only for 'Serious students of music' but once he heard Peanut playing the pieces initially, he was convinced that she was advanced enough to switch to that system. 'Anyway' He nods slowly. 'There's some hope for you with this song.'

M is a very straightforward fellow with a quirky sense of humour that shows up only at certain times. I realize he means to be encouraging. 'Oh really?' I can't help but smile at him. 'You think? You really think there's some hope for me?'

'Yes, yes.' He says, still very serious. 'Some hope is there.' He nods again. 

I roll my eyes and decide to try a new song. He gives me his excellent technical instructions on how to read the music and apply the fingering. And then, ten minutes before the class is to end, we're looking at each other blankly. I'm tired and don't really want to go on anymore. Peanut is happily scratching on the whiteboard in the room, humming to herself. She's quite amused by my attempts at piano, often informing me at home 'But MA, that's an E-flat..' or 'MA, you're so SLOW.' I have requested her to be quiet in the class while I'm getting my instruction from M. Or else. So she leaves me alone now for the most part. 

'That's enough.' M says now, much to my relief. 

'It is?' I sigh and start to put away my book. 

'Yes, yes.' He says with great conviction and then adds 'For ME.' 

I look at him to see if that was meant to be a joke, but he's already busy making notes in his diary about our lesson so that he can remember what to catch me out on next time. 

Ten minutes later, I'm seated in front of N in a larger studio room. N is a younger man than M although both of them appear to be in their twenties. N is probably about twenty three and reminds me of Vijay's nephews. He's an easy going man who has quite the vocabulary. His emails to me and even his conversation in the class include things like 'This will perhaps make things more lucid' or 'While the timbre is rather questionable here, I feel...' I always wish I had audio recorder and often have to hide my smiles when he goes into his earnest and incredibly articulate explanations around technique. 

'So.' He's not smiling today, in fact his well-cut high-cheekboned face is rather stern. 

Usually he's extremely polite and warm with me, even a little diffident - only going as far as to say stuff like 'Ballpark.' or 'Something like that.' when I play something where the Timbre is Questionable. But I've picked up the signals by now and know when he's not happy - I just have to look at his face while I'm playing and there's a particular goggle-eyed, slightly horrified expression that he has on, which quickly melts when I stop playing and he then nods vigorously saying something like 'Almost.' before proceeding to tell me exactly how I was screwing it up. 

'You've not been practicing. At all.' He says to me. I shift uncomfortably in my chair. It's the first week that I haven't picked up my guitar at all since I started lessons with him a few months back. 

'I know. I'm sorry. I just about manage a little time each day for piano. Been missing guitar practice.' I try to lighten the mood and say jocularly. 'I guess I'm a little more scared of M than you.' 

Big mistake. 

N draws himself up in his chair and suddenly, he's looking both goggle-eyed and menacing instead of the handsome easy-going youth that I'm comfortable with. 'Well.' He says 'That can be corrected. I can be strict.' I squirm a little more and proceed to busy myself with getting my guitar out of the case. 

N has a plan in mind. He's not teaching me anything new and he knows my penchant for wanting to constantly learn new songs. He says instead that I should just go over everything we've learned over the last few months and focus on the techniques he's been trying to instil in me, which have involved a fair degree of unlearning of years of wrong fingering and hand position. It's a more silent and intense class than usual and I fervently wish I had remembered to carry my guitar-diary into this class. I resolve to make the notes on my phone as soon as we're done with the class. 

By the time we're done, N has thawed a little bit and the light is back in his eyes. I'm still unable to look him in the eye for too long though as I think through when on earth I should fit the guitar practice in. 

I've not been able to fit writing anything new in while busy on weekdays, as it is; the days seem to pass by in a flash ever since I started work; but I know it's something I was meant to do. It's just that with the kids, the work, the yoga and so on, it's a little tough to fit in regular practice with both piano and guitar. Why am I learning two instruments again? It was easier when I was doing piano and voice. But heart of hearts, I know the guitar is my instrument and it makes a difference to be able to pick it up again. 

Peanut is taking a group voice lesson and it finishes exactly when my guitar lesson does, and she's waiting outside for me, humming to herself and looking rather pleased with life in general. We bundle into the car and go home together. I'm still feeling a little hassled and inadequate. 

But the one thing that I really value about this one day in the week is the fact that Peanut and I get some mom-and-daughter time together. She's singing a song to herself now, reading from the paper that her teacher has given out today.

'Make me a channel of your peace...where there is hatred, let me bring your love.'

I listen to her little clear voice, still going a little bit off in some places. I close my eyes and then the words register. Hang on. 

'Let me see that.' I demand, practically snatching the paper. 

It's as I thought. It's a musical rendition of the beautiful prayer attributed (perhaps wrongly) to  St. Francis of Assisi. It's something that I repeatedly used in my sabbatical and one that I'm very fond of. I discovered it through the writings of the brilliant Eknath Easwaran, first suggested to me by the one and only Dipali. 

Peanut and I sing it together now and I pick up the tune easily. My driver as usual silently suffers through it all the way back home. And as the words sink in, suddenly I'm relaxed and happy. Life is good after all. 

And in the silence that follows, I remember seeing the sign at the music school's reception, on the notice board, declaring. 'Without music, life would be a mistake.'

True. True. And it's not one that I'm going to make. Or Peanut. 

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