Tuesday, April 17, 2007

banjo boy

This blog title brought to you courtesy of Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband -- that's the title of Jacob's favorite song by them, Banjo Boy. He's insiting that he IS the "banjo boy" and proved it by creating his own banjo out of zoobs and a plastic golf club (see left).

As I've mentioned elseswhere on this blog, I've been taking Jacob to music classes since, well, forever. I think we started with the Kindermusik program when he was about 8 months old, because I love music and I wanted it to be a part of his life too, and in my heart I just knew he was going to love it. When he started having massive sensory problems with being in the class (which was pretty much right off the bat), I chalked it up to fussiness and kept on taking him, even though it was an hour away and rarely did we make it through an entire class without having to leave due to incessant screaming. Many times we never even made it into the building. Half the time when we did make it in, we couldn't get him into the classroom. And then half the time we actually got him into the classroom, we had to leave as soon as the first transition occured (which he couldn't handle at all). Yet I still shelled out the $$$ (oh, to have that back to use in more constructive ways now!) for tuition, and attended as much of the classes that I could actually get in the door for.

Then we found out about Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder, and had an answer as to why Jacob couldn't handle music classes.

Soon thereafter I discovered a family music program that I liked much better than Kindermusik. It was Music Together, and several months before Jacob's official Autism diagnosis, we switched from Kindermusik to Music Together. It not only was a better fit for our family (because Zoo Boy could participate too, on his own 6 month old level), but also because Jacob never got upset while he was there, at least not to the point where we actually had to leave the building. The reason for the difference? I have NO idea, to this day. Honestly, I just think the "vibe" was better in that classroom. He instantly fell in love with the instructor (so did I, she totally rocks!) and the more laid back atmosphere. He wanted to go sit under a chair for the entire class? Cool! He wanted to hang onto the bells long after they were "supposed" to be put away? Why not! He wanted to sing out of turn? Awesome! He wanted to dance during lullabye time? Go for it!! The openly accepting attitude towards ANY display of musical interest was bolstering both for him and for me.

He's now in a newly-launched (just this past school year) "big kids" program for Music Together for 5-6 yr olds, which also includes parents. The kids are learning about music theory, tones, notes, scales, and all sorts of other things I have very little hope of ever comprehending, even though I follow along in class and try my best not to embarass my kid. But not a problem for Jacob -- he's soaking it all up like a sponge. He quizzes me daily on the material covered in class. I consistantly fail. He'll pick up song lyrics, sing the song, then convert it (properly) to the do-re-mi s and the do-da-de s and the hand motions and everything else his beloved instructor spits out in class. Then he'll play it on his xylophone. Then on his ocarina. Then on his steel drum. All of which he taught himself to play just from the instruction booklets that came with them.

For a lot of years, Jacob wouldn't let me sing. As it turns out, he probably was just being a good critic. His music teachers have long suspected that Jacob has perfect pitch, which means that my not-so-perfect pitch was probably greatly disturbing to him. I'm no slouch in the singing department, by the way, I did sing semi-professionally throughout highschool and college. But I'm no where near perfect, and I'm more than happy to admit it. He lets me sing now (thank goodness for RDI and his growing acceptance of less-than-perfection), but he won't sing melody WITH me -- he insists on singing harmony to my melody (which probably bothers his ear less than his perfect tone overlaying my imperfect one on the same line of music). And it's seemless -- he hears me sing a song even once, and he's got the harmony all prepared for the next verse. (Yet, if I ask him what song he's singing, he'll fluidly sing the melody line instead.) It's downright disturbing.

I spoke with his music teacher before class this past week. I was curious about how his musical educational development measured up to his peers, as it just seemed a little, well, astounding to me. She just shook her head at me, and told me that she's long known how musically abled he is. She said that she only knows of one other child his age with the same level of musical mastery (I resisted asking if it was a child on the spectrum....). She also said that there are several by-audition children's choruses in the area who would die for the opportunity to audition him, but she's been hesitant to say anything to me, not knowing how I would respond.

I stared blankly at her for a little while. Two overwhelming thoughts kept running through my mind.

The first was that Jacob is extremely compliant and willing to do just about anything I ask of him. If I asked him if he wanted to go down this road, he would enthusiastically agree and off we'd go on a possibly never-ending cycle of auditions, rehersals, performances. But it would be MY decison, not his. I don't think he's yet capable of making that sort of decision for himself -- if I gave him a choice of music, dance, baseball, soccer, karate, theater, basketball, gymnastics, he'd say yes to them all. And, from what I've seen, he's pretty good at them all. Same way he's good at reading, math, and other things that require memorization, persistance, and concentration -- the strengths of his Autism. I could probably pick any one of those things for him to perseverate on, and he would shine, come out at the top of the class, be considered some sort of prodigy. But it would be MY choice, not his. Do I have the right to ASSIGN his passion to him? How would I ever know if this is the path that he would take on his own?

The other thought was that I could possibly be holding my son back from something he's meant to do, something that I would be absolutely THRILLED for him to want to do. I mean, that's why I started him in music classes to begin with, right? Because I love music and wanted to share that love with him? And here he is, with every drop of the talent I'd always longed for myself. Do I have the right to withold that opportunity from him?

And then I thought about the poor, sad, overwhelmed little boy that sometimes made it into music class, sometimes not. Did I really have the right to subject him to that experience, which was obviously more than he could handle right then, just because I knew in my heart that he would grow to love it some day?

I smiled at his instructor and thanked her for the reccommendation. I told her that when Jacob comes to the decision that he's ready to audition for a group like that, I will most certainly make arrangements for him to pursue his passion -- whether it be in music or any other opportunity he wished to follow. If there's truly talent there, I don't see how waiting a few years is going to matter. Because it's not just talent that matters, it's passion. And I won't begin to pretend I could guess correctly at what his passion(s) in life will be. That will be up to him. In his own time.


At 9:22 PM, Blogger Bart said...

Hey- this is Bart with Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand. We think it is great that your son built his own banjo at such an early age. Craig, our banjo player (who might feel threatened that there is another 'Banjo Boy' out there) didn't build his own banjo until just a few years ago.
Anyway, we like your blog- see you down the road, and keep playin' that banjo!

At 6:03 AM, Blogger The Glasers said...

I see in various venues in my small town (solo, trio, choir, etc.) and have sung all of my adult life. I did not start being recognized for my singing until college! While instruments need cultivating at a younger age than voice, raw talent is raw talent. A few years of waiting will not hurt Banjo Boy!

At 7:31 AM, Blogger Christine said...

I love this post because it really shows how far you and Jacob have traveled together. And you are amazing for your unwavering belief that your boy could/can accomplish any thing in life that he chooses!

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Harvest Mom said...

Bart, Jacob will be over the moon to hear from a member of his favorite band, thanks so much for writing, you are just too cool!

At 7:48 AM, Anonymous kyra said...

i agree with christine. it's so inspiring to see how far jacob has come, how much MORE of jacob is out there for us all to see and hear about. your dedication, creativity, and passion is evident in all your writing about him and your journey. i have no doubts that jacob will tune into and follow his own passions with gusto!


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