A few weeks ago, Mikey performed at a music festival for school bands and orchestras. When you hear the word festival, it sounds like rides and cotton candy. Perhaps even farm animals, like Mikey was going to play his clarinet in the booth between the hog weighing contest and the fried Snickers counter. Instead, kids–middle school through high school–perform as soloists or ensembles before an adjudicator. This judge rates their performance: poor, good, excellent, or superior. A rank of superior allows you to qualify for the regional festival. It’s a competition, but you’re competing against yourself.
Music people specialize in notes, not words, because this association and festival counted duets as soloists. So although Mikey was in a duet, he was considered a soloist. His partner, also a clarinet player, is a girl in his 5th grade class. They were the only two students from our school to perform, and the youngest musicians at the festival.
We went into this nervous. Mikey outgrew his clarinet at the beginning of the year, and since then I’ve been procrastinating finding him a new one. By the time of the competition he was squeaking almost every octave. He sounded like a dying duck, but I was positive on the outside. On inside, I imagined an auditorium of parents clutching their heads as blood spurted from their ears. It didn’t help when I asked Mikey’s partner about the squeaks the day before the festival.
“I’m stressing out! My dad is going to record this for my mom, and she better be able to hear me play over his squeaking!”
That night I went and bought him harder reeds and gave his $75 used clarinet a pep talk.
You can do it, cheap plastic thing!
We showed up with their music teacher an hour before their performance for the scheduled warm up. I had no idea you had to warm up for 60 minutes before a 3 minute performance, but you learn something new every day. Regardless, I’m glad we did because that allowed me to become accustomed to the fact that the majority of the boys there were (a) in high school and (b) wearing tuxedos. Mikey was rocking the Kohl’s spring 2015 collection. I accidentally bought him shoes a size too big, so he was wearing extra-thick red socks with monster faces to keep them from slipping off.
“It’s like your Cinderfella!” I said at home when he walked out of his right shoe. He was not amused.
After the warm up, we headed to the classroom where they were to perform. Of course the adjudicators were running behind. Mikey and his partner waited 45 minutes for their turn, which was hell on everyone’s nerves. Mikey later said that he was so scared, he didn’t think he could play.
Mikey’s adjudicator was every music teacher stereotype rolled into one. Ol’ man Withers walked in hunched over and grumpy, waving his arms like he was the conductor and the world his orchestra.
“I just got up! I didn’t even know this thing was today!”
Then he sat down, or rather eased himself into his thrown, and said, as Mikey and his partner prepared themselves, “Give me a minute! Where’s the original score? What are you playing? What page is this thing on?”
I jumped up and said, “Page 1!” because of course I knew exactly what page you could find the score. I walked (quickly, maybe jumped) over to point out the score, but Mikey’s teacher beat me to it. I sat back down. The five steps I took weren’t enough to burn off my nervous energy.
“Do you think,” the Mister said to me with a combined look of horror and humor, “that Mikey’s music teacher, the one with the master’s degree in music, can handle things here? I think he’s got this covered.”
“I was closer,” I whispered.
“You are insane,” he whispered back.
I rolled my eyes and fiddled with my zoom lens.
Mikey only squeaked once. The gamble I took buying him new reeds paid off, but I didn’t have time to marvel at my brilliance because after they finished, Ol’ man Withers started in with the questions. I figured there would be questions, and I figured the first one would be how long they had been playing. I told myself the night before to remind Mikey that he had only been playing for about a year–he started the summer before 4th grade. I was supposed to remind him of this because I knew Mikey would say he had been playing for 2 years. To a 5th grader, that sounds more impressive.
So when Ol’ man Withers asked Mikey how long he had been playing, he puffed out his chest and said, “Two years.”
And I said, “No, that’s not right.”
Then Mikey turned and looked at me and I looked at him, and then my mouth opened and out poured an appellate argument detailing why it was one year and not two. And the words, they kept coming. I tried to stop talking, but my mouth was under someone else’s control, and out of the corner of my eye I could see the Mister staring at me like he wished his eyes could vaporize me into a different dimension, or an alternate universe, or even LA county–just any location on earth that was not next to him.
But I did stop. I stopped when Ol’ man Withers held up a wide, flat, gnarled hand and bellowed, “STOP! Are you Michael? Because my question was directed to someone named Michael.”
“Sorry!” I squeaked.
Minutes later, as we walked out of the room to get the rankings, Mikey’s music teacher turned to me and said, “You had a total Mom Moment in there.”
I kept walking, staring straight ahead. The Mister laughed until he cried. Everyone laughed until they cried.
“I was only trying to clarify!” I said as I fanned my flaming cheeks.
Over the weekend, the Mister would suddenly burst into hysterics and reenact what I now refer to as “the incident”.
A week later, I received a text from Mikey’s music teacher.
They received a Superior rating and qualified for regionals, by the way.