Sapphire has been playing viola since she was eight, an instrument she chose herself.
I'm not sure why: Love Chunks grew up learning the trumpet and the guitar and now plays the piano and I.... well, I struggled with piano for two years as a child and loathed it.
In year three, her class was the lucky one chosen by the SA Education Department to each receive a violin, viola or cello for the year along with lessons. Even their teacher was included and the couple of concerts they gave during year were pretty inspiring. After the project ended the kids wanted to continue, so every parent in the class chipped in to pay for a music teacher and rented or bought the instruments.
Sapphire was the only one who chose the viola and when we moved to Melbourne she remained the only kid in school with an overgrown violin. It's a tough one to learn because it is kinda sorta in harmony or backs up the main tune and can make for challenging listening when it is played on its own.
Signs have been emerging lately that the viola perhaps isn't the Be All and End All of eleven year old Sapphire's waking hours. There is a new 'to do' item on my list called 'Remind Sapphire to do her viola practice' and this request is inevitably answered with a sigh or an eye roll (or both, if it's been one of those days) and a tired, "Oh Mum, can I do it later?" refrain.
Do I blame her - no. She's already lasted a year longer than I did and could do in a couple of weeks what I was unable to do in twenty four months - read music. This she's inherited from Love Chunks. Both can somehow naturally summon the mysterious magic of being able to see black dots with sticks growing out of them on thin lines, work out in their heads what note they are; convert that into a command to send to their fingers and play that note on the string (Sapph) or key (LC).
Despite all the Every Good Boy Deserves Fruit, FACE and Good Boys Deserve Fruit Always learning techniques, I could not read music. My stubborn brain just did not get it. Being unable to convert the black marks on paper to the inside of my brain and back out to my fingers and onto the keys was about as achievable as not whispering during Silent Reading. Instead, I would practice the piece over and over until it sounded right and was learned off by heart. The actual sheets of music might as well have wrapped up the kitchen scraps for the good they did sitting on the little flipdown stand above the yellowing ivory.
By age ten, I finally plucked up the courage to say to my mum that I didn't want to play the piano any more.
She was disappointed and said a sentence that is as fresh and as true as the day it was uttered thirty three years ago: "When you're older, you'll regret not being able to play a musical instrument." How right she was, but in 1978, I had a much more immediate stressor: telling Mrs Matthews.
Mrs Matthews was an old widow who lived several blocks away from us and attended the same church. Her kids were all grown up and left home but married well, had been 'good students' taught by my father (he taught pretty well half the town) and visited their mother often. I'd have my lesson there every Wednesday morning before school using the old but neat music book that my own mother had learned from three decades earlier.
Wearing her preferred outfit of floral dress, homy peds and a warm cardigan, Mrs Matthews was unfailingly patient and kind, so there are no horrible stories of rapped knuckles, being scolded or having to perform at humiliating recitals. She selected a piece of music - always something achievable and, more importantly, something that sounded pretty decent to me - and taught me how to play it.
But if I was going to quit, Mum insisted that I had to be the one to tell her. Wednesday morning came around far too soon. I didn't dare drag my feet or I'd be late for school and being told off for anything by the teacher would have been a fate worse than telling Mrs Matthews that I was quitting piano. My cheeks would go all red and blotchy and stay that way for hours as my insides shrivelled with embarrassment and shame. Being late would not do.
She opened the door. "Good Morning Katherine! Are you ready for your lesson today? How did you find the Moonlit Sonata?"
I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was mumbled out clearly enough for her to understand, pat my arm, say that she'd enjoyed teaching me and that I was welcome to start again any time. I never did of course and as I continued walking to school she didn't suddenly rush and and try chasing me along the gravel path to beg me to stick at it: clearly the world was not going to become a darker and gloomier place for the lack of my musical contribution.
It also didn't occur to me that Mrs Matthews supplemented her pension by teaching and perhaps having to be up and dressed ready for a reluctant and not-exactly-talented ten year old on a wintry Wednesday morning might not have been the life she'd dreamed of either. I'm so sorry, Mrs Matthews, and hope that another pupil or three turned up to replace me and stayed the distance.
Still, as I hear Sapphire scraping her strings in her bedroom up the passage I hope that she does stick at it. She has an 'ear' for music and can tell you what note is being played - surely that should be nurtured? It might not be the viola that she ends up with but I hope music features in her life for a longer while to come.
Not the piano though - too bloody heavy to carry on the bus or around a campfire.