My two young adult sons are very different. Callum is outgoing, noisy, charming… and a singer. Duncan is quieter, likes his own company, is unusually hard working… and he definitely isn’t a singer.
A few years ago, Felicity and Imogen wanted to have singing lessons and we heard that Louisa was looking for a couple of students. Louisa was a 90-year-old teacher who’d retired and then discovered she was bored. She missed her students and decided she’d like to give just a few lessons every week. And so our girls became the fortunate recipient of Louisa’s many years of experience.
Every week Louisa would bump her way up our long driveway in her little car. A walking stick would appear out of the driver’s door, followed a short while later by a frail old lady. And every week, I would hold my breath as I watched our singing teacher hobble along the path and up our very wobbly back steps. Once inside our house, she’d disappear into our music room/study with Felicity and Imogen and I’d relax for an hour knowing that Louisa and the girls would enjoy every minute of the lesson.
One week I spoke to Louisa as she was leaving. “Felicity will be away overseas for the next 4 weeks. Perhaps we can resume lessons when she returns?”
“I think I’ll teach the boys while Felicity is away,” announced Louisa. She’d noticed my two sons who always greeted her politely before disappearing back into their bedroom. I thought about Louisa’s plan. I felt Callum would like the lessons. But Duncan? I was about to explain about our non-singer, but the teacher was already wobbling her way back down the steps on her way to the car. Oh well, perhaps the singing lessons would be good for Duncan.
To my surprise, it was Callum who seemed reluctant. “I no longer want singing lessons. I’m not interested in learning. Anyway, I can’t sing anymore, Mum. I just can’t do it.” This surprised me. Callum loved singing. I could remember him as a little boy, sitting on the garden wall, singing Christmas carol after Christmas carol… whatever the month of the year. His desire to sing had only increased as the years passed. So why didn’t Callum want to sing anymore?
“Louisa’s expecting to teach you next week, Callum. Couldn’t you give it a go just for one lesson?”
Duncan didn’t really want singing lessons either but he is sensitive to my feelings. He’s always willing to try something if I ask him.
The next week the boys’ new singing teacher arrived: the walking stick appeared; Louisa appeared; she made it safely up the wobbly steps and into the house.
“The boys are a bit unsure about the lessons, Louisa. Duncan’s not a singer and Callum seems to have lost interest. He thinks he can’t sing anymore.”
“Don’t worry about that. I’ll sort them out,” reassured Louisa. She wasn’t about to let the boys off the hook. They followed obediently in her wake as she headed towards the piano.
For a whole hour, I paced the lounge wondering how Louisa was getting on with the boys. Or rather, how were they getting on with her? Then…
“Well, you were right: Duncan’s not a singer. And I found out what’s wrong with Callum. He was a tadpole and now he’s a frog!”
A frog? His voice had broken! We hadn’t even noticed. Callum had been trying to sing his old alto range instead of his new lower range.
“Callum will soon get used to his new voice. He’s going to be a bass, I think. He’s going to have a beautiful voice once he gets control of it.”
Callum had a big grin on his face. “I think I might rejoin the choir, Mum.” Yes, now that he didn’t have to sit with the women altos but could join the ranks of the men, he was eager to add his voice to the choir.
Duncan just looked relieved. He’d tried singing because I’d wanted him to but really he had no desire to sing. He was quite happy muddling through the hymns at Sunday Mass in his own unique way.
Our children were only able to benefit from Louisa’s talents for a short time. Soon she reluctantly had to face the fact she was physically unable to continue teaching. It wasn’t just because she couldn’t face our wobbly back steps any longer. She just didn’t have the necessary energy to give to each of her students. We were sad when the last lesson came to an end, but we were grateful we’d had the opportunity to know this extraordinary woman.
My daughters received a thorough grounding in the basics of singing technique, but they weren’t the only ones to learn something very valuable. I learnt something I have never forgotten.
I learnt that when a child suddenly says he no longer wants to do something he was really enjoying, there could be a reason, not apparently obvious, for the change of heart. It could be worth probing about a bit to find out the cause.
I also learnt that all children are different. What interests one might not appeal to another. And this is quite OK. But more importantly, sometimes I think I know what’s best for my child to learn. I probably just want to provide as many opportunities as possible for that child. But sometimes children have better ideas of their own about what they’d like to do. I have learnt we don’t all have to learn the same things.
Callum did develop that beautiful bass voice Louisa predicted. Eventually, he found another teacher who prepared him for several classical singing exams. At the moment, because he is studying at university and also working, he doesn’t have much time to pursue his passion. But every Sunday his voice can be heard booming through the church as he thoroughly enjoys singing all those wonderful old hymns.
Enjoyment: that’s what it’s all about.