Improvisation – A minor


Little Lyre was my first baby. She was selfish, envious and too tightly tuned. This may have been my lack of experience, but I think Lyre was just born that way. Each baby is born the way they are, and nurture might enhance or temper that little creature, but it is itself, separate from mom, be it human or otherwise.  Little Lyre had a thin and demanding voice, eventually mellowing into a sliding, wheedling light and bluesy sound – she did well on the jazz circuit and you may know her by a different name.

What you learn about babies and music is that each time is different, each time is a surprise. Each time is temporary. Babies and music are ephemeral – put your hand on this instrument, this child, and by the time you’ve taken two breaths – they are gone.

My second baby, Major Seventh, was challenging also. He had militaristic tendencies and it was only with difficulty that I convinced him to switch from the drums to the violin, which is precise and rule-bound in a way that I thought would help him control his aggression. And it did. He’s a nice man, formal and complete, and he rarely gives in to the pounding rages that characterized his relationship with the drum. With the violin, he learned to listen, and to finesse.

Baby Shakade was an international child – a singer, a shaker, a mover – and changed religions so fast that I never knew exactly who I was talking to. I say that, but with Shakade, listening took up far more of the conversation than talking. She is still singing, on the road. She is a smiler, young Shakade.

Zither Cheerios was my transitional child. What was I doing with my life? More music, more babies, more education, more traveling? I just couldn’t decide. Zither stuck with me through rich times and poor and the sound Zither makes, in her sleep, is even now the dearest music I’ve ever heard.

 My next child was named Viola Bassoon and her sister, Fecund Felicity, was a happy but unexpected twin. These two have opened a school together, and they teach music, both traditional and experimental, to children and adults in an open field in a farm somewhere other than here.

Eventually I had an entire orchestra of children and they were loud and tragic and funny and rude. They were expensive and soft and red-headed and bald. They were boys and girls and then men and women. They were talented and lazy and resentful and joyous. They were all the things an orchestra tends to be. They made harmonious and dissonant sounds, they played together and solo. They had scandals and tragedies. They had opportunities and disappointments. They had sheet music and improvisations. They had epiphanies and crescendos. They had codas, repeat and fade. My only regret is that I never got around to having Kazoo and Tambourine, a funny and affectionate duo that I thought would like to travel with me in a pop-up van when I am old and ready to travel around the country, singing and writing and making music to go with the western skies, the great gulf coast, and the northern stars. But who knows, they may still be on their way.

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