Composer. Pianist. Budding adult

Growing up is seriously overrated, in my opinion, but The-Oldest took on some serious adulting this weekend – He had his first college/university audition.

For 3 hours, he would take a series of tests, do performances and be grilled about his skills, weaknesses and musical knowledge. Honestly, I don’t know who was more nervous. Him? Me or his mom, AKA The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World?

I mean, this was some important sh*t. Failure would mean they wouldn’t accept his application and he’d have to try out for another school.  Not that there weren’t other schools, but this one was close to us so he wouldn’t have to spend Ghana’s national budget on room and board, and he already knew some of the professors there. In other words, it was his first choice.

Heck, even making that choice was part of the whole nasty ‘adulting’ thing. The choices can be overwhelming. All have different versions of the same programs, but they all seem to specialize a bit more in one or the other. For example, one may not have any technology classes that would teach you how to be a music producer, but they have extensive classes on musical theory.

Then there’s the school’s reputation. If I was 17, again, I would probably over-research this and drive myself insane, but The-Oldest and his mom were more practical, reading up on reputations, but not being driven by them. It made no sense to go to some place that was iffy, but who’s to say what was really the best?

And, lastly, there was the whole how-far-will-his-money-go thing? Post-secondary education is massively expensive, far more so than when I went to school. Colleges offer a nifty alternative to the outrageous fees. Take 2 years of college for a lesser cost, then transfer to the more prestigious universities.

So that’s what he chose.

Because we didn’t want to overwhelm him with parental company, I stayed home while The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World took him to the college. I waited, chewing my nails off and wishing I could drink (but it was 11am),

He had the talent and the drive, for sure, but nerves are a funny thing and if they got the best of him, it would be a disaster. Professor: “So, tell me what you like about the piano?”

Him: “Liszt wore wigs.”

“Right. Yes. I’m sure he did. About the piano.”

“Oh, no, I didn’t mean to talk about wigs, oh boy, no, not that there’s anything wrong with wigs, I mean, you there, you could use one being bald and all, but not that there’s anything wrong with being bald, I think I’ll be bald sometime, but I don’t think I’ll wear a wig.”

But then I got the news. He had passed and passed with flying colors!

I actually bounced up and down with joy and relief.

They were so impressed with his ability, his talent and his attitude. They said he was at a 3rd year university level and could probably get into any school he wanted! His technique on piano could be worked on if he took more piano courses, but his ear and his ability to understand music on a very high level were outstanding.

When he told them what interested him the most, composition and music production, they thought that was an amazing choice for him with the skill-set and talent that he had demonstrated. When they found out he’d only being doing this for 4 years, they were flabbergasted. No, wait, gobsmacked. Yes, gobsmacked, and praised what was clearly a gift.

He came home a completely different person – happy, chatty, and full of hope. But the most important thing he said to us was that he felt comfortable there. “They are my people! No one talked to each other, they all looked massively awkward and all they want to do is play music. I’m going to fit right in!”

And so he will.

Growing up is hard to do

He had said that grade 12 would be his best year ever, but I believe that his couple of years in college and university will be even more amazing. Imagine being able to learn about what you love, do what you love, chat about what you love with people that are equally nerdy and awkward? It would be like me going to D&D school.

I know he’ll love it and I know he’ll do amazing. He was born for this.

I am so very proud of the man he’s becoming and the adulting that he’s doing.

Play Us a Song, You're the Piano Man

Musical Monday.

There are moments you just know will stick with you forever. Often they’re bad but when they’re good, they’re very good. While in Whistler, I had both. But first, the good one.

We all had ideas of what we wanted to do in Whistler. Zip-lining. Jet-boating. And, of course, playing the piano.

To be fair, only one of us wanted the later, but The-Oldest very much wanted to find a piano in the open and play it. He’d found one is Osoyoos. It was placed out on the sidewalk with an invitation for anyone to play it.

Being brave, he played it, and much to his surprise got tipped nearly $20.

So, while in Whistler, he was determined to find another piano and entertain everyone, (and, you know, maybe collect some cash, too.)

We found one outside of the Arts Whistler Community Center. Painted brightly, it was a simple stand-up piano with a simple bench.

He sat down on the bench, hunched over the keys and began to play while we settled on comfortable benches to watch. Being slightly out of the way, there weren’t a lot of people coming by, but one family stopped and their little girl wanted to help The-Oldest out. She was enthralled with his playing and looked up in awe at The-Oldest like he was a god or like how I look at a donut.

It was cute. Super cute.

But then came along another girl who was in her, well, let’s say her early twenties. She stopped to listen, shaking her head at what The-Oldest pounded out on the keys.

“Is he your son?” she asked.

“He is,” The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World beamed. “He’s 14.”

“He’s amazing,” she said. “How long has he been playing?”

“18 months,” I said. “One day, he just sat down at the piano and began to play. His mom showed him the basics, but he soon zoomed past her and began to tackle Liszt and Greig and Rachmaninoff.”

“That’s incredible,” the girl said, listening to The-Oldest play. “I play the piano, too. And the guitar. And I compose.”

“That’s so cool,” I said. “He’s just begun composing. He works on it day and night.”

“He’s found his passion,” The-Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World said. “We have to drag him away to eat.”

The girl listened to The-Oldest longer. “He plays so beautifully,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “That he’s found his passion so young in life, is… so beautiful.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

His music, his story, had moved her.

Immediately, the Prettiest-Girl-in-the-World began to tear up as well. She comes from a teary people.

“He’s just incredible,” the girl said, wiping away her tears, then apologized for crying, but really, there was nothing to apologize for.

The-Oldest had moved his first fan to tears. Usually, I have to step on someone’s foot to do that or eat a bad burrito and expel noxious gas afterward, but he’d done it with the way he played. Fearlessly. Passionately. Beautifully.

That moment will stick with me forever.

(Below are vids of him playing)


A Prelude to a Prelude – Musical Monday

Well, a new thing. Music Monday.

Being about as musically inclined as a block of concrete, I struggle to understand what The-Oldest is creating.  Like anyone who really doesn’t know much about music, I simply can say, yeah, that sounds great or I love that quiet bit or pass me the donuts, so today, we’re going to start a series on music.

To help me learn and to showcase his awesomeness.

Each week I’ll post something The-Oldest has created, though I would encourage everyone to follow him on that YouTubie thing and get updates directly from him.

First up, his first prelude.

Now, a prelude, according to me is… is a car.

According to him, “It’s a quick piece that, maybe uhm, averages about 2-3 minutes that is, supposed to come before a large piece.” He hasn’t seen a concert where a prelude has been played before the concert, but it used to happen a lot in the old days., (which could be like 1970), “or in operas.”

“For example every single time there is an opera, there is an overture which ack gets you ready for the opera. Like Wagner has preludes (like the wedding march) to every one of his operas. The prelude sets up a mood.”

His prelude sets the mood for an epic piece. “It feels like we’re going somewhere later, like a start to something grand, or like the cutting of a ribbon for a store opening, but going in the store is the cool part.”

He says he changed keys in a rising fashion quite a bit which created a sense of rising tension. He changed it up, though, he added, by suddenly going down in the keys to kill the tension and slow down. Why? Because he wanted to mess with people and try out a new chord.

“The ending is the basic technique of how to make a finale, but it’s a fake one because it’s just the beginning. (the technique is going from a tonic chord to augmented chord). When I reached the very top, I went all the way back down with 6-1 chord combo and finished it with a quick bum-boom.”


For my musical friends, look at the trilling of the middle fingers. OMG, how does he do that? My fingers just cramp up thinking about it. (FYI, the program he’s using is synthesia)

For everyone else, any thoughts?

Piano Man

youtubeYou know, I wonder if we’ll look back and say this was the start of something big.

But yesterday, The-Oldest created his first YouTube account and posted his first video. It wasn’t about minecraft or Smash or his latest movies.

It was about music.

He posted a top 100 list of his favourite pieces of music, (spoiler alert, it’s mostly classical), and then he posted a video of himself playing the piano. Or at least a video of his fingers playing the piano.

It’s been so impressive to watch him start, just three months ago, and to see how far he’s come. In 3 months, I might have learned to plunk out a few notes with 2 fingers, but he’s progressed very far beyond that. So very far.

It’s something he loves. He comes home and goes directly to the piano. He gets ready for bed quickly, he uses the excess time to practice. Give him a whole day at home, and he’s on that thing for 8-10 hours.

Now he’s making his own music, learning about major and minor chords, tweaking Mozart to make it better, and trying to conquer something called the Hungarian Rhapsody.

How cool is that?

So, below, I’ve posted a link to his new YouTube page. If you get a chance, check it out, give him some love and follow him as he begins this journey.



Another First – A Concert

To quote The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world, last Saturday, we’d be ‘getting our culture on.”

The great pin-up of all time? But not the model I'm talking about.
The great pin-up of all time? But not the model I’m talking about.

See, The-Oldest has fallen in love. Not with a girl. No. Not yet, thank God.

Nope, he’s fallen in love with music. Like most kids fall in love with a girl or a sport.  Like I fell in love with models (and not the cool ones like Farrah Fawcett, no, tank models and plane models and ship models.)

And it’s not hip-hop or rap or alternative rock or whatever the hell Justin Bieber is doing these days. No, he’s fallen in love with classical music – and is busy learning to play it on our piano at home.

You know Bach. Chopin. Mozart. Those guys.

So we felt great joy when we found that the Vancouver symphony Orchestra offered up an evening of Mozart, Beethoven, some guy named Schnittke (which I thought was a totally made-up name) and someone called Valentyn Silvestrov (Who? What?)

Now, when I say ‘great joy’, I mean we were super excited to share this experience with The-Oldest. Honestly, I’m not sure any of us would have gone if it hadn’t been for him. For us, it would be like a colonoscopy only with more music.

Not that we hate classical music. It’s more like we just don’t get it on any deep level – and to truly love classical, I think you gotz to understandz it. On the surface, though, composers like Mozart or Beethoven are pretty likable for us noobies.

And the location, the Orpheum, was a beautiful venue. Not Vienna-Opera-House-beautiful, but elegant and kind of old-worldie.

ode to joy. At the Orpheum to watch the VSO
Ode to Joy. At the Orpheum to watch the VSO

After we arrived, we went pee, then sat down. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s get the boys peed. Especially The-Youngest. He was going to have a tough enough time not getting an attack of the wigglies for the 62 hours this concert would last.

Then the concert began.

I completely disliked the whole shnik–schittka-schnittke (whatever) Moz-art thing. Yuck. It was a mix of Hayden and Mozart and seemed to have managed to get the worst aspects of both. As my brother later said, “it’s an acquired taste” which basically means it’s terrible, but some people like it for some reason. Like cherry coke.

Was it the music or the girl?
Was it the music or the woman, Joyce Yang?

But then the pianist, Joyce Yang, came on and boy, did she put on a show. I loved listening to how she still played with passion, even though she must have played that ‘like a billion times’ (to quote The-Oldest.)

But for The-Oldest… he was in heaven. He sat there listening with a look of rapture, the kind of look I know I had for a cute girl in the 7th grade who sat beside me. One desk up.

Now it could have been her. She was lovely, but honestly, I think it was the music for him.

At times The-Oldest closed his eyes, just listening, absorbing it, letting the music fill him. The closest I can come to that look is sitting in a hot tub after a hard work out. Or on the couch after a good turkey dinner.

He loved hearing Mozart, but being 13, he thought, “Mozart had a little too much repetition in his first movement.” Ha! Oh, the joy of being young and knowing it all (or at least being the eternal critic.)

Beethoven, he loved more. It was a complex piece. It started out all depressing, which I loved, but then moved on to be less somber and finally quite joyful. It was remarkable. The-Oldest tried his hardest to explain it to me, but this is all I heard.

Beethoven, burgers, with cheese, fries, shake, scales, something about tempo, chocolates, mastery of something, transition thingee, blahbeebooba.

It’s not like I don’t want to hear what he has to say. But I am a bear with a very little brain and all this new stuff hurts my head. Plus, by the time I was done, I was starving and some of the words got translated in my brain into food.

But it was a huge success. The-Oldest loved it. The-Youngest didn’t drive everyone around him nuts with a case of ants-in-the-pants and I, well, I didn’t fall asleep at any point.

And, you know what, that’s the coolest thing about being a new Stepdad. I get to do all sorts of things that I wouldn’t otherwise do.

This time, I even got my culture on.

Piano Man

A Delicate Little Flower

delicate flowerNow the last thing The-Oldest would want me comparing him to is a delicate flower, but that’s how I feel about his latest and most amazing endeavour. Learning to play the piano.

First of all, much to my horror, like most kids, the more you try to push him into something, the more he resists. As evidence, I point to jujitsu. To his credit, he stuck with it to the end of the session and tried his hardest while there, but he wanted to do it about as much as I would want to take dancing lessons (which, FYI, I’ll have to do for the wedding since I dance like a elephant with its feet in cement.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, pushing kids.

In my dream world before kids, I thought, hey, if you’re just encouraging enough, positive enough, made it seem like fun, kids would want to do it. Simply put, they’d want to do it cuz I said so.

Seems me saying it’s cool or fun does not, in any way, make it cool or fun.

Who knew?

pianoSo, when The-Oldest became interested in the piano, we had to tread carefully. Like keeping a delicate plant alive, we had to water it just enough to keep it alive and not too much so it would die and wither and exude a sulfurous stench.

We had to be interested, but not overly interested. We had to be excited, but not too excited (like new Avengers movie excited, not new Star Wars movie excited.) We had to be there to help him and not there to show him how to do it.

The last part would be the hardest to balance. Not that I play the piano in any way, shape or form. I would be better off simply banging my forehead on the keyboard for all the talent I have, but The-prettiest-girl-in-the-world has some skill and has done her best to guide him and show him proper fingering.

It’s not easy, especially since (if I continue with the plant metaphor), we have pretty much killed every plant in our house. So, yeah, we have to be REALLY careful here.

But so far he’s continued to be interested and he’s done remarkably well. Better than well.

His fingers are blazingly fast. He can pound out the first part of the moonlight sonata like a pro. He’s learning to play funeral dirges cuz, you know, he’s a teenager. He plays the cello suite #1 with feeling and rhythm.

And he seems to love learning to play!

He comes home from school, does his homework and then sits in front of the piano. Not in front of a TV. Not in front of a computer screen or his phone. In front of the piano.

How cool is that?

I can’t tell you how impressed I am at his commitment. At his skill. At his natural talent.

But now we have to find a way to get him lessons. Without them, he’ll never really be able to play. His fingering will be so off that he wouldn’t be able to use both hands. He won’t be able to progress farther in many of the concertos he wants to play.

I know he knows there’s a limit he can do without assistance. But it’s like me knowing I shouldn’t eat a whole bag of yummy caramilk chocolates – knowing is not everything. Knowing does not overcome fear or a deep love of chocolate.

So how do we shift him towards that? How do we add more fertilizer so he will continue to grow? How can we make him a part of this decision-making process? How do we do that without him hating the piano?


To be continued.

In the meantime, Moonlight Sonata.