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A Father-Son Clarinet Duet

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ONE of my sublime pleasures is to steal a half-hour or so to play my clarinet. Especially on these bitter winter nights, when even the furnace doesn't seem quite enough to warm the walls. Music warms me to the threshold of comfort.

My nine-year-old son shares in the allure. For a year now he has been in the habit of sitting cross-legged at my feet while I play, rocking to the music, and then, without warning, bursting into song. At first I was startled by this, but I have long since learned to maintain my composure in the face of his assault. There is a certain sense of loss, of course, because Mozart for solo clarinet is sweet. But, when accompanied by a nine-year-old boy howling nonsense lyrics, the leap from classical to cacophony is almost too much to bear.

I've never tried to discourage Alyosha from accompanying me, because although the effect is enough to drive the cows from home, the idea has irresistible appeal: rondo for clarinet and voice performed by father and son.

All this led me to wonder what kind of musical aptitude Alyosha might have. No sooner had this thought occurred to me than a calling card crossed my path. A new violin teacher had moved to the area. From Russia yet. The real thing. He was looking for students.

I approached Alyosha and asked if he'd like to take music lessons. He nodded eagerly. But when I suggested strings he only frowned. ``Clarinet,'' was his reply.

The problem is, the clarinet is a notoriously difficult instrument for a young child to learn. It therefore baffles me that clarinets, more than any other instrument perhaps, are thrust into the hands of aspiring grammar school musicians, who are commanded to play like angels. I still don't understand how their music teachers are able to survive the squeaks and squawks and quacks of a legion of clarinets in beginners' hands.

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