the bartlett musicians

Justin turns 8 next month and this past Wednesday he had his first official piano lesson, making him almost exactly the same age as I was in I had my first piano lesson in December 1970. I haven’t ever given the kids formal piano lessons, my feeling is if they want to learn they need to have a teacher they respect. Other than teaching Chloe how to play the beginning of “Chopsticks” a few years ago, they’d never seemed that interested, but lately Justin had expressed an interest in giving it a try, he has more the temperment (i.e. attention span) for it than his sister, so we’ll see how it goes.

Meanwhile, this past year Chloe has been playing the violin at school. When she started fourth grade last fall, she had the opportunity to pick an instrument to play in either band or orchestra, or she could continue to be in the chorus (you can’t do both because they meet at the same time). She was definitely interested in trying something, although she still liked the chorus too. I counselled her that this was the one time in her life she could start learning an instrument, and if it didn’t work out she could go back to the chorus, since there’s not much cumulative effect from learning to sing at that age. I was trying to steer her towards flute or clarinet, because I said if she gets really good I’m only out a grand or so for a topnotch instrument, whereas if she chooses violin and excels at that, a pro version will cost as much as a car. So of course she picked violin, we did a rental for the first year with the stipulation that she had to stick with it at least that long before deciding whether to continue. Her friend up the street started on flute and lasted about six weeks, but otherwise this year’s fourth grade turned out for band and orchestra in record numbers.

As it turns out, Chloe exhibited some aptitude for it, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering her parentage and that she’s always been singing along with the tv or CD’s since she could talk, memorizing the tunes and words effortlessly. She’s not a prodigy or anything, but she seemed to get the hang of it relatively quickly, to the point that she could kind of coast between group lessons sometimes because at school they could only go as fast as the slowest kid. I’ve said about other instruments, how difficult can they be, you only play one note at a time? But I had the opportunity to consult on her violin homework, since even though I don’t play the violin I know how to read music (fortunately she didn’t pick an instrument in a different clef), so that gave her a leg up, too. As the school year wound down, she was somewhat apathetic about whether to continue or not, but we expect that, if she’s not kicking and screaming against it, then you have to consider it a positive reaction. The original violin we rented was a 3/4 size, but now she’s taller than Nina, who I’m sure has a full size violin, so Beth got another rental for the next year, and since the only full size violin they had to rent looked like it had been played by Pete Townshend, they reluctantly agreed to let her rent a new one (the first one was new also, and she took very good care of it, so she had that in her favor also).

They don’t offer cello in the fourth grade in Marlboro, but I’ve selfishly thought that’s the instrument Justin should really go for, and then we can have a piano trio in the house. I just bought volume 2 of the Beethoven trios from a couple of months ago when they were having a big sale on Henle editions (since I have about all the solo piano music I need for now), but I can only play along with the stereo for the time being. I told Chloe there’s lots of good violin music out there with piano, once she gets past “twinkle twinkle”. Something like violin suits her better since she’s much more of a social butterfly and likes being in a big group, where Justin fits more the loner, brooding musician that is more your typical pianist. I’ve been anticipating this age when they take up an instrument since they were born, it will be interesting to see where it all ends up.