April 02, 2005 | Ronda Jambe

Junkies are the scum of the earth (1)

A harmless reminiscence, with a sad sting in the tail.
Playing the melodies of those forgotten dreams
Learning to play a musical instrument was never something I particularly aspired to. Intermittent years of dance training, as a child, an adolescent and later as an adult were my main active connection with music.
When my older child had piano lessons, I was always just the ogre in the background, cajoling him to put in the time, rather than taking a real interest in what and how he was learning. He changed teachers a few times and when he went to live with his dad at 12 his lessons ended.
So when my daughter turned 7, and I trotted her off to a local piano teacher, it was just a whim that I would try to follow her simple lessons. The book was big print, with jolly coloured drawings and not too many notes to a page.
At that level, the code was transparent. Start with the Queen of the Keyboard, Her Majesty the Middle of C, and be introduced to her court. The little tunes were so satisfying to hear, completing some deep neural circuit connecting my hands, eyes and intellect. Left side and right side reconciled.
Listening patiently each week during my child’s lesson, I derived vicarious benefit from her patient advice. If she was doing a piece correctly, then I could copy that approach.
At first I was confident that my mature mental discipline could overcome the rigidity of age. I had hopes of keeping up with my flighty child, who could hardly sit still for five minutes and was so easily discouraged. But it soon became apparent that her natural ability, lack of inhibition and simple agility would leave me far behind.
Melodies rooted themselves in her memory. Tunes played well, but with a numbing allegrettissimo, made me feel a sluggard, struggling to gain just a fraction of her ease.
All of which has been good for her ego and doesn’t bother mine much, since every new song I learn is a private joy, worth all the effort.
Maybe a nine-year-old doesn’t need more evidence that her mother is past it. Maybe I should be embarrassed that my fingers find it so difficult to play different notes on each hand at different rhythms. These hands, after all, can deal competently with a computer keyboard (but not knitting needles).
Long ago, in my naive youth, my imagined future was never one of great wealth, but rather one in which leisure for reading and listening over and over to opera libretti was taken for granted. Of course I would come to know other operas in the way I’d studied Traviata. Whatever would stop me?
But life and the work-a-day world intervened, and music became a more passive pleasure. The discipline of dance became too hard to combine with parenting and earning a living. Now, along with my daughter, I am reclaiming a humble participation with a part of my heritage that is lodged deep inside.
It seems that as a species, humans are defined by our extremes: we have within each of us the germ of a Mozart or a Michelangelo, and equally the potential of a child murderer or a Serbian rapist.
For a few fleeting moments recently, my children took over the grand piano at Canberra’s Hyatt lounge. In this gracious setting, the younger one, normally fearless, had me ask permission. Soon the teenager worked up the courage to play a bit of blues. And they didn’t fight, although the older one commented sadly that his sister ‘doesn’t know any duets’.
That little interlude gave me hope. Maybe children that love music will grow into people that won’t bring harm to the world. Sometimes when it is time for the evening news, I find I prefer to linger at the piano instead. Patiently affirming my humanity at the keyboard, learning to play a sonatina passibly, can’t be a bad thing all up.
Coda: That piece was published about 13 years ago in the Canberra Times. As I re-read the faded clipping, the ache I have learned to ignore stirred with a familiar physical tightness in my chest. My son must have been about 15 then. He became a junkie about 3 years later, after many difficult years of behavioural and school problems.
Reflecting on the woman who wrote those words, I can see she was clutching at straws of hope for his redemption, even then. In hindsight, she appears perhaps mistakenly idealistic, a dreamer, but thoughtful and concerned with their development. I grant myself that much. After more than 10 years, the last four in and out of jail and still no end in sight, I no longer hold out hopes for his redemption. His sister is a jazz musician, and now carries all my hopes.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 3:07 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

1 Comment

  1. Your not alone. Though not having your experience I am aware through the honest disclosure of friends of the path that you have and continue to tread. To be honest I’m aware that it is share luck that I don’t tread the same path.

    Comment by Valerie — April 5, 2005 @ 8:31 pm

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