Post Clemmenstern

So I think it’s pretty clear about when Cameron’s musical education went awry – somewhere around ages 5.5-7. This was the period when I would visit my own house twice weekly, dressed as a large Austrian woman called Mrs. Clemmenstern. Until then, I had attempted to teach him piano as boring old me, Mom, but he paid me no attention. But when I donned the Clemmenstern suit, he sat upright with “tennis ball hands”, always at the ready, always aiming to please. It was a crazy glimpse of the Cameron only outsiders knew – teachers and coaches and, well, not us parents.

Over the years, Mrs. Clemmenstern developed an entire backstory – she was married to Clem Clemmenstern, a Danish/Austrian violin teacher/repairman who travelled Europe 3 months of every year teaching children the violin. She joined him from time to time, almost always when our family was on vacation too – funny how that worked out.

I liked it. A lot. Two years worth of like. I miss her. She’s still in my cell phone – I used it to threaten Cameron that I’d call her up to tell her this and that about his painful practices. I can’t delete it.

Eventually of course, she went the way all magical Austrians and their children go…he grew out of her, and one day I just told him I wouldn’t be needing her anymore as long as he kept up the good work. Thanks to her and her dutiful tutilage, he was playing left and right hand simultaneously, he’d learned to read music and had moved from preschool primer level to Level II beginner in the Bastian Series piano method, the same one I had learned when I was little (another coincidence!).

It wasn’t long after that he quit piano altogether – school, sports and Germany caught up with us and I let it lag. Then, about 6 months ago he took up guitar with Paul. We got him an electric number for his 9th birthday and Paul has a nice acoustic. He signed them both up for a simultaneous lesson weekly with Mr. Jim (NOT Paul.). Sadly again, guitar – once he found out it was actually work to learn it – failed to ignite any further musical fire in Cameron and it goes like so many kid/parent/musical instrument stories now – the cycle: parental nag, student practice half-heartedly, lesson and repeat. Paul and Cameron fight through each practice It’s ugly. So…now again I’ve stepped in to save my own sanity, sans costume this time (though I’ll admit that a hippy costume would be a great guitar teacher getup, wouldn’t it?).

My challenge this time is to make this kid “friends with his music”, but I’m not sure how. I want it to be more than work – I want him to learn the art of “tinkering around” and give him the power to figure out a song on his own – that’s powerful stuff! I want him to befriend his guitar, to name her, to learn what it can do for him (no – he’s not old enough for THAT yet). I want him to be that guy on the airplane who packs no clothes for the trip but would never forget his beloved companian – his guitar. But how do I do it?

I’m trying clever things like putting words to his boring practice songs and/or making up piano accompaniment. It helps with rhythm and timing a lot when I do that. I make sure that each practice session includes “goof around time” – time just sitting there picking at the strings. I suggest, or bet him a dollar that he can’t figure out how to play the choruses to his favorite pop songs. He tries, at least.
I praise him and I praise him – that can’t hurt. He just gets so down on it, it’s frustrating. He still wants to quit frequently.

But then I heard the following during a guitar practice the other day and my heart nearly burst – he actually picked out, on the piano, what he was playing on the guitar and was alternating back and forth. He called me up and he was so proud. It’s not much, but could it be a flicker of something other than pain and misery? Maybe.

In related news, when Cameron returns to school this Fall, I plan to take advantage of the time to reconnect with an old Austrian friend of mine, this time for Griffin. I’ve got to order some hair over the internet and dig out my old sunhat. It will be nice to see her again.

~ by mstngsal22 on August 4, 2010.

2 Responses to “Post Clemmenstern”

  1. seriously, sally. adopt me. i wanted you as a mother! even if he eventually bags guitar? by the time he’s a teenager and realizes girls dig musicians? he’ll already be ahead of the game…

    • I can’t adopt you – I can only fit two carseats in the Saturn. But you’re right – my job is to break ground and he can build whatever he wants to – a storage shed or a skyscraper.

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