Elena, I caught you making music

Dear Elena,

I don’t know how long you’ve been taking drum lessons – maybe six months? You’ve tried a lot of things as a kid – softball, soccer, karate… the usual kinds of things that kids try. And none of them ever really caught on. But when asked about musical pursuits, you kept saying you wanted to play drums. And that was a recurring theme.

So we coordinated with your parents, and started taking you to weekly drum lessons. They’re in this weird building in a weird part of Oakland, at a place called the Oakland Drum School. But it really looks like a warehouse that’s been turned into a warren of small offices and shops, where noises (e.g. drumming) won’t bother people.

Of course, this is unimportant to you, as it should be – it is simply the place where you go to learn drums.

And boy, do you learn drums! I’ve gotten to go to many of your lessons, while your mom and Ana have been to some too. And we all agree – you’re good at drums. You and your friend Emmett Schultz both study at the Oakland Drum School, and they were going to have a recital in May. Then sadly, your drum teacher got sick and they had to cancel the recital. So your mom and Emmett’s mom decided they’d have a mini-recital for you two, at your house. Here’s what happened:

You got in there, overcame your nervousness about playing in front of people, and crushed Seven Nation Army. Everybody cheered.

And you’ve just stuck with it and continued to grow. You found a couple of tunes by Imagine Dragons: Alone and Thunder. You brought those to your teacher, he worked out the drum patterns in them, and you’ve been working on those two songs with them.

Which brings me to today, June 14th, 2023. It was the second half of your 45-minute lesson, and you and Travis were working on Thunder. He was on one kit, and you were on the other, both of you playing along with the recording. I had my eyes down and I was just listening to you both rocking along.

Then I looked up and at you, and my heart about exploded.

You weren’t looking at your teacher, Travis. You weren’t looking at me. You weren’t really looking anywhere.

No, Elena, you were in that place that musicians go when they’re just making music. What you were seeing was the music itself – a vibrant ephemeral thing, and you were part of it. I know what it’s like to be in that place, and when you’re there, you don’t want to leave. And in that moment, I wished that Alone by Imagine Dragons would never end, so you could stay in that magical bubble with the music.

It ended, of course – it always does. Musicians, they’re always looking for ways to get back to that place. Jimmy Buffett, the person who wrote the song Chansons pour les petits Enfants, has another song called Something so Feminine About a Mandolin. I sing it for you sometimes when it’s bed-time on sleepover Fridays. One of the lines is:

When I get older, and I have a daughter
I’ll teach her to sing, and play her my songs.
And I’ll tell her some stories I can barely remember
And hope that she will sing along.

And maybe one day she’ll take a fancy to picking…
‘Cause when that bug bites you, you live with the sting…

He’s telling his future daughter that if she ever learns to play an instrument, she’ll be “stuck” doing it her whole life.

Now, Elena, I saw you in that magic bubble with the music. You’re one of us now – the ones that think it sure would be fine to be back in that bubble one more time.

As we were leaving the lesson today, you said, to nobody in particular, “That was fun.” It’s not my place to say what you meant by that, but in my world, you meant, “That little while – when it was just me and the music all together – that was fun.”

The music is calling to you, Elena – I can tell that you hear it calling. You go on now, and follow.