Saturday, October 19, 2013

Close-up Listening with a Four-year-old

Yesterday I had the pleasure of improvising together with a four-year-old, in my home for the first time, together with a lovely little xylophone, a little bell on a handle, his mother, and his uncle.

The boy and I were alone in the music room, the grownups in the adjacent space.  We were going to try to do the whole thing without talking and, for the most part, we succeeded.

It started with him trying out all my percussion array, which he clearly rejected, at least temporarily, in favor of his own instrument.  As he started to play, very quietly, running the mallet up and down the keys gently, without specific pitch, I joined him, imitating his touch and sound on the piano.  Then I began to punctuate the movement with short sounds which he imitated, and the conversation began, very intently, with occasional beaming smiles from him when something struck him--who knows how!

I eventually joined him on the floor with a mallet of my own, enlarging the field of available sounds to include a drum, bells dangling from a nearby music stand, a triangle, and a thumb piano (which sounds great struck with a mallet, by the way--first time I had ever tried that).

After I had sung into the piano with the pedal down, which he liked a lot, though he wouldn't try it himself or allow his mother to, he did what he had declined to do at first: he sat under the piano.  I played some light sounds with full pedal, letting them ring.  When I went down into the bass register he got scared and ran away.  I think that, like other children I have seen, he was surprised that ugly or frightening sounds are as real as the other kind.  He would hardly look at me.

Then we devised a game of rolling ringing metal balls around the room in a foursome including his mother and uncle.  This sounded great and he made sure it was totally within his control.

A beautiful time together.  Nothing trivial about it.  Unlikely, perhaps.