Friday, July 24, 2009

Pre-School Musical

A week ago, Westley started drumming, and he hasn't really stopped since. It started with an empty birdseed bucket and a couple of sticks from my parents' garden. The birdseed bucket has stayed, but Rob produced an actual set of drumsticks from his stash of strange promo items from work for Westley to play with. (Westley's face lit up like a Christmas tree when he saw them.) And when we're out of the house? Well, you know those rubbery-plastic things you use to separate your groceries from the groceries of the person in front of you? They make great drumsticks.

A woman in the neighboring line watched Westley banging out a rhythm on the shopping cart and said, "Hey, Gene Krupa."

"Truly!" I exclaimed, and requested that Westley play "Drum Boogie." He claimed not to know it. I still can't help but wonder if I've got a future musician on my hands.

Practically all toddlers like to bang on things, but drumming is just the newest of Westley's musical interests. He started to become really passionate about music a few months ago, starting with piano. I thought at first about cheekily titling this post "Nice Rach," because Westley loves Rachmaninoff. Specifically, he loves Olga Kern playing Rachmaninoff. I have watched Olga win the 11th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition more times than I can count, because I'd pull up YouTube and Westley would request her specifically: "Ga! Ga!" Sometimes, he moves his fingers along the edge of the desk while he watches, like he's pressing piano keys.

When he's not watching and pantomiming playing piano, Westley is experimenting with the closest approximations of an actual piano to which he has regular access. He says, "Pa! Pa!" and pointing frantically to the old Casio keyboard in my parents' office. He can turn it on and off himself, and likes to "play along" with the programmed-in song selections. He also pounds on his little Melissa & Doug piano, producing something that actually sounds musical in a postmodern sort of way.

Somewhere in all of the piano-playing and piano-watching, Westley discovered that orchestras have conductors. He has determined, with his toddler-logic, that this is Coolest Job Ever. He says "duck" for "conductor," conducts along, and knows who Zubin Mehta is ("Meh!"). His favorite piece of music right at the moment is "Flight of the Bumblebee."

What I'm still trying to figure out is: how did this happen? Besides the existence of YouTube, I mean. How does Westley find this complicated music even remotely accessible (especially the Rach 3)? I have a little, tiny bit experience with classical music, having played clarinet and bassoon for a combined total of six years. I can appreciate all of the creative energy that goes into creating and then learning and performing something like a technically challenging piano concerto, but I can't even begin to understand it. That doesn't seem to be a problem for Westley. He just loves it.

Before Westley's musical preoccupation emerged, my familiarity with interesting piano music was limited, I'm sorry to say, to Tori Amos (who Westley thinks is only okay, incidentally). About conducting? There's a podium and a baton and a downbeat and...yeah. And my knowledge of drumming comes almost exclusively from playing Rock Band--which, come to think of it, Rob and I played a lot of when Westley was a newborn, because it's not hard to sing with a baby in your arms. Now I find myself racking my brain--or is it Rach-ing, in this case?--for ways to nurture this interest beyond just singing and playing a lot of different kinds of music around the house.

If I find a child-sized guitar or an old drum kit at resale, there's no question: I'm buying it for him. I wish we had room in our apartment for a piano, because I see those at the Goodwill all the time. But I feel like I need to brush up on my own education on the subject. Is it lame that I'm thinking of taking a Music Appreciation class for the benefit of my toddler? (Don't answer that. I know it's completely lame.)

Unfortunately, I'm having trouble finding musical outlets for toddlers in Seattle. It's all classes for kids six-and-up. I'll definitely encourage him to choose an instrument once he gets to elementary school, if he's still interested by then. For now, though, I'm going to drum and conduct and play desk-piano along with Westley, and hope that I start to "get it." Maybe I'll even dig my old clarinet out of the garage.