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Music to our ears . . .

Tom’s birthday in 2004 brought him the guitar that he had been badgering us about for months. Here it is, with admirers.

Music is one of those rare activities that both the parents and the children in our whirlwind of energy get into.

The parents came first, of course. I inflicted what they now call classic rock on everybody in the household, beginning with the Eagles even before Marie-Hélène and I got together and continuing with the Beatles in 1995-6. That was when the latter released “Anthology,” their moving history from the early Liverpool days to the recording of “Abbey Road,” as a weekly series on the BBC. Grandma recorded the shows for us in Marlow, because of course French TV did not carry them.

Alex with his violin and a cute grin on his face, in September 2004. He was six, and had already been playing for a year or so,

Marie-Hélène and I would watch her tapes together downstairs in the chilly TV room at La Bellanderie, all wrapped up against the cold. I would translate for her here and there, although a part of the Beatles’ appeal was that you didn’t need to understand their spoken words to appreciate them. It was in music and their obvious almost slapstick humor. We watched them by ourselves after the children were asleep: it’s funny, the memories that you retain, the moments which at the time were almost banal but never leave.

Our creepy moving company eventually stole those videotapes, or at least never delivered them to us in the US. I now have “Anthology” on six DVDs, and watch them all in series every year.

Settled in California, along came Happy Valley School to enrich our musical lives. For several years while we were parents there, the school had a rather special extracurricular arts program. One of the parents, Lisa Barca-Hall, supported this program by teaching violin to the pupils using the Suzuki method, both through the school’s arts program and privately.

Alex on stage with Lisa and fellow Suzuki method students. Parent heaven!

Marie-Hélène enthusiastically enrolled Alex, and he went along with it! In fact, he more than went along with it. I’m no connoisseur, but after a while he seemed to develop a feel for the notes, for what was going on under the melody. I know, I know, this is not objective, coming from a parent, but still! It felt to me as if he was expressing intricate feelings through his playing. At eight or nine years old.

The hard part was keeping him going. Over time, his teacher Lisa’s classes with the school included fewer and fewer boys. There were the same number of girls, but the imbalance made the boys feel as if there were more girls. The male role can be a terrible thing, as enforced by young boys on each other.

It was encouraging to see Tom take every aspect of the guitar as seriously as playing it. I don’t know what he was doing here, maybe restringing, maybe adjusting the fret, but you can tell that he means it.

Then Lisa herself moved on to something new, and with one thing or another Alex’s violin lessons were dropped. First he changed teacher, and then the new teacher fell ill and somehow, finally, Alex dropped learning to play the violin. He was getting too old to force if his heart wasn’t in it.

We were seriously bummed. But, he had still benefited from four plus years of violin, training his ear at an early age, for perhaps half his young life when he stopped. I like to think that his trained ear is just waiting to be reawakened, perhaps for another instrument at another time.

Tom was our first musician of his own volition. He asked for a guitar when he was 14, but the request was the next in a long line of requests for expensive toys whose life was short-lived. The iPaq comes to mind: several hundred dollars, and with a life in terms of his interest of a few months. So I did not want to rush into this next pressing need, in case it was another adolescent foible.

No need to worry. His first guitar finally arrived as his 15th birthday present, a Yamaha complete with picks, tuner and extra strings, a package deal from Costco. Nothing fancy, but all that he needed was included, and of presentable quality.

Taken by a friend playing a party in a bar in Paris, 2008.

It became evident pretty soon that the guitar was here to stay. I was delighted. He was inseparable from that first Yamaha guitar, and continued over the years to remain inseparable from its successors. He was given a fairly nice electric guitar, complete with an amplifier (a bit makeshift, the amp., but he shouldn’t get it all up front without effort. That gives an adolescent very much the wrong message!) He played and he played and he played.

He had been playing for three years and three months when he abruptly moved back to his mom’s place in Paris in December 2007, taking a new and better quality acoustic guitar with him. Again, this had been a birthday present, this time his 18th.

We tried to encourage Alex back into playing music with this Squire junior electric guitar. He enjoyed it for a while, but it didn't stick.

We tried to encourage Alex back into playing music with this Squire junior electric guitar. He enjoyed it for a while, but it didn’t stick.

The only way that we saw him play in Paris for years was indirectly, initially through photos posted to his MySpace page, when that was the teens’ preferred site, and then through photos put up on his FaceBook page. He soon started performing regularly in Paris, in bars and jazz clubs, sometimes even getting paid. I finally saw one of those gigs with Karim during the summer of 2010: now that’s a feeling for a dad!

Charlie too expressed interest in playing an instrument, but in a more tentative manner. We gave him the drum set that he asked for and installed it for him in the garage, but he only played it episodically. We hung on to it, hoping that would change, before finally selling it during the summer of 2013 so that Charlie could use the proceeds to host a good-sized party for his high school friends: there’s not a lot that you can do about teenage priorities!

Tom's Harbor High School friend Daniel took this one during his visit to the Bay Area during the summer of 2009., We're looking out from the Marin headlands across the Bay to the San Francisco skyline, with the evening fog rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge, just off to the right of the frame.

Tom’s Harbor High School friend Daniel took this one during his visit to the Bay Area during the summer of 2009., We’re looking out from the Marin headlands across the Bay to the San Francisco skyline, with the evening fog rolling in over the Golden Gate Bridge, just off to the right of the frame.