My husband and I met in an office but fell in love in a recording studio. We played in a band together and the first time we rehearsed, his guitar literally shocked me each time I came close. “What the hell’s going on?” I asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe a short?”
A short indeed. After a night of electric shocks in a recording studio, our future was pretty much written. We moved west together and kept playing music. The band eventually broke up, but from that first night on, music has played a starring role in our romance, as well as in the lives of our children. Our daughter sings up a storm, there are no less than twenty different instruments in our house (that original shocking guitar included, as well as the electric bass I used to play), and, finally, our son, who due to his blindness or not, has his own auditory channel to beat the band: guitar, drums, harmonica. It’s all part of his repertoire.
Evan’s caregiver Gloria is wont to impress upon me the possible significance of music in his future. “Jose Feliciano had no trouble getting women,” she will say. “And do you know why? Because he could sing, and play the guitar.”
My son loves listening to every instrument we own — from the obvious bongos, ukelele, and guitar, to the more obscure zither, melodica, zaphoon and shakuhachi flute. If a bad mood strikes him, my husband or daughter will pick up an instrument to keep Evan entertained. When necessary, my daughter can even perform on the nose flute, an instrument I never knew existed before she brought it home from a trip to Hawaii. I have four harmonicas in my car right now, and always have one handy when we’re out in public. In the morning, my son’s first stop after getting out of bed is the toy piano in his bedroom, where he will plink out notes, then sound off with heavier chords.
But the all-time favorite instrument chez Special Needs Mama is, hands down, the baby grand in our living room, an item we nearly did not come to own, but one that now feels more or less fated to be part of our lives. When I was a teenager, my grandmother, a church organist who also gave piano lessons, called my mother to tell her she had her eyes on a used piano for sale. The tone was nice and the instrument was in good shape. Did my mother want her to buy it and have it shipped to us? While none of us played, my grandmother clearly felt that a living room was otherwise scandalously empty without a piano standing sentinel somewhere near the entrance. My mother accepted, the piano arrived, and my siblings and I became half-baked pianists, able to play, laboriously, a few simple arias and a handful of Christmas carols. None of us ever took lessons, but even so the piano became very much a part of our lives, as our grandmother would have wished.
Over the years, my parents moved several times and that same Kranich & Bach went with them until their last house, which proved too small. I happened to be living in a large pre-war apartment at the time. “Send it to me,” I said. “And I promise you that whichever grandchild of yours proves talented, musical, and interested, I will give it to that person when the time is right.”
There are seven of those grandchildren now, aged eleven to three. In my mind, when I listen to Evan pick out a tune on the piano each morning, I have decided that he is the proper heir.
Even before my son was born, music was always part of our lives. But having Evan, a blind child whose communication opportunities are limited, has brought music into our lives with even more intensity than the night my husband shocked me with his guitar. Although he cannot talk, Evan can sing at least four songs, on key and straight through to the end. If I begin one of those songs, “Jingle Bells,” for instance, he will pick up where I left off, then finish it up for me. His riffs on the harmonica have made him into a favorite among his kindergarten friends at school. And the piano playing is beyond compare. He’ll stand at the keyboard for half an hour at a time; every session includes a clearly recognizable composition of his own making, one that becomes more involved with each passing day. He practices distinct sections of the composition, one at a time, and then goes on to play the piece whole. If a friend overhears him while I am on the phone, the friend will nearly always say, “Wow, that kid knows what he’s doing.”
There are still many mysteries to my son’s future, and yet when I hear him at the piano, I stop worrying. Instead, I listen to the intensity of his self-expression in a mode over which he has utter mastery — notes and chords — and let go of the other stuff, the “Will he ever talk? Read? Have a job?” litanies that plague my life. I let myself dream of a blind man, sidling up to a Steinway, onstage at Carnegie Hall even, and a girl in a ball gown waiting for him in the wings. That’s the beautiful ending to a night of music — shocks and all — that began so many years ago.