I was asked by a school the other day to provide a recommendation about a year eight boy who was enrolled in a music elective.
He has Cerebral Palsy (hemiplegia), and although he operates with the characteristic enthusiasm and optimism of most 14 year-olds, playing the guitar as a member of an ensemble is an issue. He was getting stroppy and asking to be excused from music.
He’s a real bush kid, interested in Rugby League, riding his quad bike and chilling out with his (many) friends at school. The school is what is called a “high school top” in this part of the world, meaning that it’s a bush primary school with a small secondary department attached. Consequently, the teacher taking music is not a “music” teacher as such, but a general teacher who is teaching music as an elective.
I arranged to talk with him one-on-one to establish two things - what he could actually manage with the guitar, and whether the disability was being used as an excuse to escape a less-preferred activity. This kind of thing happens, and it’s always in the mind of a mean and suspicious old codger like yours truly. I also had a view that he may not be at all interested in music.
How wrong I was! He produced a good quality guitar (which he’s owned for a few years) with a fancy strap, which he handled with something approaching reverence. He showed me the two different ways he’d experimented with holding and playing it. He could play it OK, but whichever job he gave to the hemi hand (strumming or keying) it had trouble keeping up with the good hand. When playing solo, this was not a problem, but the class was doing ensemble work, and anyway, the teacher simply had to have him practicing/playing with the others to make the class manageable.
He also gave me a ten-minute lecture on up and coming bush bands. Some of this was vaguely familiar. My youngest daughter is interested in the same stuff. I was wrong about his interest in music. He had it in spades.
So he wasn’t put off by playing the guitar, but he was embarrassed because he was always half a beat behind the others. I explained this to the teacher, but apart from suggesting that he be put on a keyboard to provide a bass for the ensemble (advice from my music teacher sister) I wasn’t very helpful. I thought this might allow her to keep him included.
At least, as an objective outsider, I was able to confirm that he wasn’t simply being obstinate.
I phoned the school yesterday, because I’d thought some more and had come up with a few other ideas. I ended up talking to the deputy. “It’s OK“, she said, “we’ve come up with a solution“.
This lad and his teacher had worked out that he could use the school’s only electric guitar as a bass guitar. They’d developed the keyboard idea and improved on it. The advantage of this was that everyone else had to keep to his tempo.
The group sounds great, and he’s become the vital ingredient in the little band they’re building. There’s talk of making a CD.
There’s a metaphor in this somewhere.
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