You know you’re in the rhythm of motherhood when you’re sitting at the symphony listening to the plucking of violin strings, and you start picturing a sequence from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. My husband and I were still breathless when the first piece started, “The Warriors” by Percy Grainger. We had gobbled down a drive-thru dinner, whisked our rambunctious kids over to the grandparents’ house, and waltzed up to the box seats our friends had waiting for us...just in time.
As soon as the first chair violinist pulled his horse-hair bow across perfectly tuned strings, my mind began to untangle. I fit right in with the stringed instruments and their legato lilt. But my kids are boisterous timpani stampeding around the house, either hammering out loud requests or bowling me over with joyful noise.
I heard us all in that odd piece at the symphony, the contemplative violin playing in the forefront while distant horns joined with back row drums in a discordant version of a parade tune. It was like walking into an amusement park and hearing songs from neighboring rides and stores and exhibits all at once collide in your ears. It rang out like a bit of a mess, even if an entertaining one.
But then something happened—the conductor lifted his arms in a circle above his head and threw his fists down hard and fast, coming just short of pummeling the music stand. A whole section of violinists followed his lead. They lifted their bows high and brought them down strong, beating their strings like the surface of a drum. They went on this way for several measures, letting loose, playing like crazy. Coat-tails flapped. Chairs scooted out of place.
I looked back toward the opposite corner at unbuttoned pianos with golden ribs showing. Dueling players lifted their fingers from the keys and stood tall. Each reached for a mallet. Each hunched over the music stand, stretched the arm into the open piano and struck the string called for in the music. In a series of precise hits, they tinked out accent notes, joining in the musical hoopla.
There they were, the violinists and pianists lifting their arms to try the way of the drums, pounding strings in unison, bringing the sound of percussion out from the back row.
At times the music would go disjointed again, but in that measure of time all played as one, some joyfully working out of their weakness because the music called for it.
The violinist was still a violinist. The pianist was still a pianist. But here, the skill-set expanded. Each player became familiar with a different approach, and was a more versatile musician for it.
The music invited me, too, to more often lay aside my mild manner and try the way of my wild ones. Too soon, we will inch away from these measures of unison and the natural rambunctiousness of childhood. The practice of playfulness is a priority now, while it is written in the score.
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