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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Canons and Fastballs

I have taken the past week off from my life while my 12 year old nephew visits me from Chicago. He comes every summer and it is wonderful to see how he is growing up. He will always tell me something that absolutely cracks me up--although he is being completely earnest. When I first asked him at the airport how he was doing he answered, “Being 12 years old isn’t half-bad.” Having a 12 year old kid around isn’t half-bad either.

Having a kid around is a good excuse for a pseudo-intellectual like me to catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Had I seen the film with another adult I’m sure I wouldn’t have been the least bit amused. Watching the film with my nephew helped me to see the humor for the audience it was intended to reach. We both laughed uproariously at the juvenile sight gags.

I live across the street from the Seattle Center which is a sort of a low-rent Disneyland. As the Eiffel Tower has its Ferris wheel, so does the Space Needle. Along with the carousel and the Ferris wheel, there is a video game house. This place looks and sounds exactly like a casino for kids and my nephew has a video game addiction worse than any Las Vegas burn-out. He can stretch out a couple of bucks longer than the most frugal grandmother playing nickel slots.

Like all good parents do, I left him to his devices as I sat outside finishing my book, A Piano Shop on the Left Bank, by Thad Carhart. Piano Shop is the story of a guy who discovers an old piano store in his Paris neighborhood and then rediscovers his love of the instrument. Some people are self-taught on the piano but most of us mere mortals need teachers. Being a parent and being a teacher seem to be similar vocations.

I have a piano in the middle of my apartment so naturally my nephew has taken to it. He plays the viola but has never really been introduced to the keyboard. I have been teaching him to play Pachelbel’s Canon in D major. This piece wasn’t originally written for the keyboard so you are able to play it at any level of difficulty as long as you remain in D major. This piece can also be played by two people, which is pretty fun. I had never played piano for four hands.

I am surprised that he hasn’t been taught this piece; it is a staple of music education. Perhaps his music instructor is simply sick of teaching it year after year. One of my piano instructors told me that if she had to teach Für Elise one more time she would quit. I’m not much of a pianist myself so it was nice that I was able to teach him something new.

From the rudiments of Pachelbel’s Canon my nephew has learned to improvise in that key. Pretty simple stuff but something I never knew at his age. A little bit of instruction goes a long way on the piano. He takes to the piano instantly. He will sit and pluck away at the keyboard until I find some other means to occupy his time.

As I was at his age, my nephew is fairly obsessed with baseball. He gave me a stack of Seattle Mariners baseball cards as a gift the last time he visited. I use them for book markers. I rarely play baseball myself but I remain fairly obsessed with the game. I got him an instructional baseball that has markings to help you throw a fastball, a curve, and a slider. I haven’t thrown a ball around much lately and I was afraid my arm would fall off, but it felt pretty good. It felt really good. I felt like a kid.

We threw the ball back and forth for at least two hours, trying out our fastballs and curves. These days I doubt if my fastball would strike out many 12 year olds. I would probably have a harder time hitting my nephew’s pitches than the other way around. I would never tell him that because I wouldn’t want to diminish his unrealistically high opinion of his uncle.

I never played organized baseball growing up. We had enough kids in our neighborhood so that we could always get a pick-up game going in no time flat. No adults needed, none welcomed. We never really learned how to play the game very well, although I think we gained a lot by simply improvising in the right key. It certainly doesn’t hurt kids to learn things from their elders. In this case I think that we both learned more from an instructional baseball.

I’m not used to having a child in the house. I’m not used to providing a constant source of entertainment to a child. I probably had more fun throwing the ball around and playing piano four hands than my nephew. Tonight I’m taking him to see the Seattle Mariners play the Detroit Tigers. I hope the Mariners win. It will make the kid happy.

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