What is it about kids that causes them to act up precisely when you need them to behave?
A local choir is performing a Broadway hits show this upcoming Saturday, and I’ve been asked to accompany the Merry Widow Waltz on violin. The director called me to set up a rehearsal time. “How’s Friday at 11:30?”
“Any chance we could meet earlier? My son is at nursery school till 11:30.”
“No, the singer can’t come earlier. Don’t worry about your kids; just bring them along. I used to take all three of mine to church when I practiced the organ.”
I reluctantly agreed. There was a tiny voice inside my head, saying, “Don’t do it,” but I chose to risk it.
We arrived late. The director, the singer, and the pianist – all middle-aged ladies – were already there. I set up some toys for the toddler and left the baby in his car seat. I got out my violin and tuned it. The baby started to fuss. I got him out of the car seat and laid him on the floor beside his brother. He began crying. We started playing anyways. The baby started screaming.
I finished the section, stopped playing, apologized to the women, and put him back in the car seat. I then asked the toddler to rock the seat, which quickly became so aggressive I was afraid the baby would get whiplash. I lugged the seat over to my music stand and rocked it with my toe while playing. He continued to scream, but without getting any stronger.
The director joined in to sing a particularly fiery section. There must have been something in her tone that startled the toddler, for he started to roar. With his fists clenched, pounding the air, feet stomping the ground, face scrunched into an angry glare, he bellowed “Arrgghh, arrgghhh” at the top of his lungs – a most unwelcome accompaniment to the love song we were trying to perfect.
He stopped roaring whenever we stopped playing, but as soon as the music began, he’d start up again. To make matters worse, the roaring was so loud that it scared the baby and caused him to scream more angrily than ever, to the point where his normally pink cheeks turned purple with rage.
When their duet of screams reached the peak of its crescendo, I could feel hysterical laughter and tears simultaneously rising in my throat. How embarrassing yet utterly hilarious — but one glance at the other ladies, and I could tell they didn’t think it was funny at all. That only made it more embarrassing.
I couldn’t even play properly. For the first three notes, I played an ascending scale in third position, when I was really supposed to play a descending scale. The pianist stopped outright. The director coughed. “Which notes of the chords would you like to play, Katherine?” she asked. I realized my mistake then, and quickly assured them I’d play the bottom ones. We started again. I couldn’t count properly. I couldn’t read the music fast enough. I felt like a musical failure.
Finally, the soprano, who had attempted jiggling the purple-faced baby on her hip while singing, said she was a bit distracted and couldn’t hit some of the highest notes. “I don’t have to sing,” she said, and graciously –self-sacrificially — offered to take my kids out to play while I rehearsed with the pianist. The director didn’t quite know what to say to that (a choir rehearsal without the soprano soloist?!), but there was no other choice.
I left the practice, figurative tail between my legs, burning with shame at the appalling behaviour of my children. We’re meeting again to rehearse on Monday night. The kids will be asleep in bed. I have one chance to redeem myself as a musician and prove that they didn’t make a terrible choice in asking me to play.