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Columnists

The right instrument

Sarah Dean

According to the book Choosing a Musical Instrument for Your Child, the child most suited to learning the classical guitar is one who 'enjoys maths and problem solving... A quiet child, who is an enthusiastic reader and happiest in their own company.' My Mum got this book from the library two years after her chatty, sociable nine-year-old with a fear of multiplication - me - started guitar lessons.

I remember feeling thrown when I read this. I was an enthusiastic reader, reading anything left lying round the house including parental library books. I liked playing the guitar, although I wasn't too crazy about doing my scales. My teacher seemed to think I was doing okay, but clearly I had this all wrong. If I wanted to be a guitar virtuoso, then I would need to modify my behaviour to fit this profile.

Developing an enjoyment for maths seemed more of a stretch, but I had got a scientific calculator for Christmas. Perhaps I could evolve into the next John Williams? And what a life that guy had! Plinking on his guitar one minute and writing music for ET and ewoks the next. (It took me until my twenties to realise that not all John Williams' are the same John Williams.)

Becoming a quiet child was the biggest challenge. Then as now, I was never short of something to say and enjoyed a natter. Unsurprisingly my new Trappist-style regime faltered almost immediately. 'Speak up! Why are you whispering?' said my Mum. I had decided that turning the volume down on my continual prattle was probably the best I was going to manage in terms of being quiet.

I don't remember what Choosing an Instrument recommended for loud kids but given the book's hippy vibe, it probably suggested my parents should buy me an organ or enroll me in a steel band. Neither were options in rural Essex in the early 1980s. The reason my parents chose the guitar were geography and money - the teacher lived up the road and guitars are cheaper than clarinets.

Fortunately my nine-year-old angst and attempt to redefine my personality was short lived. My doubt faded as soon as my teacher taught me to play an arpeggio driven version of the theme tune from Neighbours. Bonza!

What I didn't know then was that this was the first of many existential crises relating to the accident of my birth. How many of us didn't wrestle with 'Am I Christian because I live in the west?' Because my parents took me to church? Because I was in a Nativity play rather than a school version of the Mahabharata?

I have undertaken several more unrealistic attempts to modify my behaviour in order to fit the profile of a follower of Christ. Fortunately in my 20s I realised that I was actually trying to fit the profile of the average western churchgoer and allowed myself to give up.

For many of us our faith begins for reasons of where we were born and what we can access. The challenge is to not only ensure that we are not complacent, regularly check our western privilege, and be grateful for our freedom of religion, but to then make a daily decision to choose this faith, to believe and to make the effort to 'practice our scales' by acting on Christ's teachings every day.