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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

I am happy the world is not flying and I am happy it is back to great

The room is big and white, unlike the cramped shoeboxes we usually study in. A grand piano sits on a small platform. Adults are scattered across rows of fancy chairs. I am the only father. E stands in the back row, her arms locked behind her, rocking from side to side as the boys jump as far as they can, landing on their knees and sliding across the slick floorboards. The mothers are chirping back and forth with the teacher, a round woman with short hair and big glasses. She stinks.

I wrote an article about this music school a year ago, about how I did not like the approach so much but approved of the results. A conservatory for children as young as four, all about memorization, about training and testing, about pushing and pushing, and competition. Every time I saw E learning, I felt it was a good test for her, maybe a preview of what real school will be like in this upside-down world. As parents are required to sit in the class and follow along in order to train the children at home, I knew she would not be alone in this harsh and unforgiving classroom. I asked her again and again if she liked it. She said yes a lot of the time, mostly because it was something we did together, something we shared. I would whisper to her in English during lessons, translating vis mushkie into eighth note. I know the teacher resents us. She dismisses my questions with the back of her hand as she struts out of the room. There are no men here, only nannies and mothers. They are respectful and do not ask questions except "what is the homework." 

That article won a little award. The summer came, with no lessons and then we started the year by adding individual guitar classes. The teacher they found us is a man. Not young, not old. Serious. A bit like William Shatner in his zippered boots, his fitted trousers, checking his hair in the mirror. He is strict, but kind. He pushes her, and she rises to the challenges. He laughs with her. She loves his class.


Sitting in the big white room, a sadness turns in my stomach. I see E given a solo. She sings quietly but correctly. The children are acting wild, shoving and laughing as their mothers smile blandly and say nothing. The solo is given to a little boy instead. He sings very loud, but off key. They say E sings so beautifully, and will sing in the next song. She stares at me, mouth sewn shut as the room turns into a playground. 

The next song comes, and she sings barely louder but still on key. The fat teacher scolds her, saying louder, louder. E does not rise to the challenge. She surrenders. She retreats, as a tiny girl steals her part, fiercely out of tune. Everyone coos, smiles at her pigtails, her mouth wide open. E's face turns red. She is going to cry in a minute. Now she is invisible, as she often is in this class, even when she answers correctly. This is the petty machine of Russia, the piece of shit we stepped in today. Everything is reduced to nothing so a handful of simple minds can prevail, take a picture and pretend they have done oh so well. 

I have always thought that conservatory education is a bit brutal, but the idea of dumping a child in the deep end to get them to swim is a way to get them past their fears. In E's case, it is a good way to make her fold up like a wet newspaper. I push her all the time, but never past this point. 

Everyone is singing, and she is lost. She stares at me. I open my mouth, mime to her that maybe she could sing along with them. Her lips pursed, she stares at me with those big eyes. The months of humiliation have added up to this moment. Every time she did well and the teacher ignored her. Every time the four year old boy in her group got the answer right and the teacher sang his praises, asking and re-asking how old he was then staring at the rest of the children with a raised eyebrow, going "hmph". The months of mothers asking me in broken English what certain things were taught that day, all saying "but you are a musician", and that is why E is so good. Once, I shook my head and told them when I was E's age, I studied music alone in school, with a very different kind of teacher. My entire family is practically tone deaf, so there was no one to teach me. You don't need a musician in your family to learn music. 

You just need to enjoy it.

We are outside, her tears hot on her cheeks. I take her for an eclair. I sip an espresso. We talk it though. We will stop this group class for now, and concentrate on guitar. We will sing at home, do lessons from the workbook at home. She stares up me, and says thanks, Poppa

A few days later, she improvises a song in the street. I record it as soon as we get home.


Comments

liv said…
She cleanses the world with her innocence. That was perfectly in key all the way - at least to my ear. And to my heart, it was balm.

I'm glad you made the decision to teach her at home. She doesn't need one more stressful situation in her life.

Please tell her that I enjoyed her song very much and that she is a very good songwriter and I hope she will write many more. Brava, Eva !
SHAR said…
My friend HOT should be here soon......she's working on it
Helen O'Toole said…
This is one very special little girl, and so beautiful. Those soulful eyes tell a story all of their own. I take my hat off to you. You sound like one special kind of Dad.
KgH said…
mmhmm, mmhmmhmm, mmhmm, mhmhmhm...and then, and then.. you were smiling..! I'll have it in my head all night. Beautiful song! Good job. And to Papa, too.
Annie said…
Well...having observed, the difference in the US is that all the mean and hurtful things are done when the parents are not there, and at the "program" the teachers are oh-so-nice and apparently supportive of "all" the children (even the ones who, because they are in the back behind someone taller, and have no special part, are clearly substandard).

My office, at the moment, is next to the stage, and music class.

But I guess that is how children grow.....love from parents, less from the outside.

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