Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
We’re With The Band

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My husband and I met in an office but fell in love in a recording studio. We played in a band together and the first time we rehearsed, his guitar literally shocked me each time I came close. "What the hell's going on?" I asked him. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe a short?"

A short indeed. After a night of electric shocks in a recording studio, our future was pretty much written. We moved west together and kept playing music. The band eventually broke up, but from that first night on, music has played a starring role in our romance, as well as in the lives of our children. Our daughter sings up a storm, there are no less than twenty different instruments in our house (that original shocking guitar included, as well as the electric bass I used to play), and, finally, our son, who due to his blindness or not, has his own auditory channel to beat the band: guitar, drums, harmonica. It's all part of his repertoire.

Evan's caregiver Gloria is wont to impress upon me the possible significance of music in his future. "Jose Feliciano had no trouble getting women," she will say. "And do you know why? Because he could sing, and play the guitar."

~

My son loves listening to every instrument we own -- from the obvious bongos, ukelele, and guitar, to the more obscure zither, melodica, zaphoon and shakuhachi flute. If a bad mood strikes him, my husband or daughter will pick up an instrument to keep Evan entertained. When necessary, my daughter can even perform on the nose flute, an instrument I never knew existed before she brought it home from a trip to Hawaii. I have four harmonicas in my car right now, and always have one handy when we're out in public. In the morning, my son's first stop after getting out of bed is the toy piano in his bedroom, where he will plink out notes, then sound off with heavier chords.

But the all-time favorite instrument chez Special Needs Mama is, hands down, the baby grand in our living room, an item we nearly did not come to own, but one that now feels more or less fated to be part of our lives. When I was a teenager, my grandmother, a church organist who also gave piano lessons, called my mother to tell her she had her eyes on a used piano for sale. The tone was nice and the instrument was in good shape. Did my mother want her to buy it and have it shipped to us? While none of us played, my grandmother clearly felt that a living room was otherwise scandalously empty without a piano standing sentinel somewhere near the entrance. My mother accepted, the piano arrived, and my siblings and I became half-baked pianists, able to play, laboriously, a few simple arias and a handful of Christmas carols. None of us ever took lessons, but even so the piano became very much a part of our lives, as our grandmother would have wished.

Over the years, my parents moved several times and that same Kranich & Bach went with them until their last house, which proved too small. I happened to be living in a large pre-war apartment at the time. "Send it to me," I said. "And I promise you that whichever grandchild of yours proves talented, musical, and interested, I will give it to that person when the time is right."

There are seven of those grandchildren now, aged eleven to three. In my mind, when I listen to Evan pick out a tune on the piano each morning, I have decided that he is the proper heir.

~

Even before my son was born, music was always part of our lives. But having Evan, a blind child whose communication opportunities are limited, has brought music into our lives with even more intensity than the night my husband shocked me with his guitar. Although he cannot talk, Evan can sing at least four songs, on key and straight through to the end. If I begin one of those songs, "Jingle Bells," for instance, he will pick up where I left off, then finish it up for me. His riffs on the harmonica have made him into a favorite among his kindergarten friends at school. And the piano playing is beyond compare. He'll stand at the keyboard for half an hour at a time; every session includes a clearly recognizable composition of his own making, one that becomes more involved with each passing day. He practices distinct sections of the composition, one at a time, and then goes on to play the piece whole. If a friend overhears him while I am on the phone, the friend will nearly always say, "Wow, that kid knows what he's doing."

There are still many mysteries to my son's future, and yet when I hear him at the piano, I stop worrying. Instead, I listen to the intensity of his self-expression in a mode over which he has utter mastery -- notes and chords -- and let go of the other stuff, the "Will he ever talk? Read? Have a job?" litanies that plague my life. I let myself dream of a blind man, sidling up to a Steinway, onstage at Carnegie Hall even, and a girl in a ball gown waiting for him in the wings. That's the beautiful ending to a night of music -- shocks and all -- that began so many years ago.


Vicki Forman is the author of This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood and
teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart and has appeared in Philosophical Mother, The Santa Monica Review, Writer to Writer and Faultline. She lives in Southern California with her husband and child.


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Vicki, that's one beautiful essay you've laid out here for us. and i think it is clear that Evan is the rightful heir to that piano, such promise as it brings out in him.
Oh, Vicki, this absolutely made me smile and weep. Music is such an extraordinary, transcendant thing and such a gift to be shared. I think, absolutely, Evan is the right receipient of that piano! One of the things I am enjoying with Nik right now is his rapidly increasing ability to pick up tunes he has heard only a handful of times. And while he has no words yet (even to sing), we definitely associate certain activities with songs so that when I hear him hum/sing a certain one I know, for example, it's time to change his diaper or that he is hungry and wants a snack. And the look of sheer delight on his face when I sing to him...beats any applause I could ever get from a packed house anywhere! "If music is the food of love, play on!"
Gotta love that Gloria! This is beautiful. I've been thinking a lot about the drive that we as humans have to communicate, no matter our abilities, about artists who create amazing paintings even though they can't use their hands, about my nonverbal daughter who draws pictures when I don't understand her signs, and now I will think about Evan, communicating via music. Thank you.
Beautiful. This was a lovely glimpse into your lives.
Beautiful yet again. Evan seems like such an amazing young man...too bad we are opposite coasts, I would love to meet him. Thankfully your writing is so touching and personal that I feel like I can catch a glimpse of your amazing guy every time I read. Thanks for all the hope and peace you bring to my life.
Love the ending Vicki--and this coming from a woman with no musical talents of her own but who is always in awe of those who can play.
A beautiful ending, indeed. Thanks for this wonderful essay.
Thought-provoking and beautifully written as always.
Wow! That is a very moving account of your son's relationship to music.
beautiful, my friend. we too have the family piano legacy (quite similar as well). grandma played in the catskills. we kids played basically nothing. Sam also enjoys the hand-me-down 1930 fischer baby in our living room. listen to: "Joy Inside My Tears" - Songs in the Key of Life, S. Wonder.
I LOVE this column! Music seems to play such a huge role in the loves of so many special needs kiddos! From the beginning Brooklyn has LOVED music and you know her little Wiggles piano is the only toy that she will play with EVEY day; even on her "off" days when she can't seem to get her hands to do anything else. We love that silly little thing! I agree, Evan sees the perfect owner for that piano. Keep us posted on his musical career.....I hope to see him playing on stage someday. Thanks again for your always inspiring words! Kelly
I echo the previous comments! Another eloquent invitation to a paradigm shift, from the exclusive (the developmental and medical issues) to the inclusive (the family music history). Thank you again! ciao, Lisa
Wow, Vicki! I had no idea that music ran so strongly in your family. What a gift that Evan finds joy in musical expression. And the short in the guitar? Priceless.
Vicki, this is so lovely and a testament to our need as humans to communicate, whether through language or music or movement. Thank you.
Vicki, I love this essay and can't wait to share it with Dan. It's fun knowing about your (shocking) rock band past and a gift to know about Evan's passion for music. Thank you!
how beautiful! i cannot tell you how joyful i feel reading about Evan and his musical connection and abilities. i wish i could be a fly on the way as he stands and plays and composes at that baby grand of yours. in fact, that's what he is, yes? your baby grand. only clearly not a baby anymore.
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