When Brendan was 12 months old we took him to a developmental specialist because he hadn’t shown any inclination to walk or crawl. After a few weeks of testing it was determined that he had issues in other areas as well, including speech. Looking back now it should have been obvious to us that he had speech issues. He was probably the quietest baby in existence. He very rarely used his voice at that stage of his life. We spent the next 6 months working with a physical therapist to get him moving and grooving. Under her guidance it really didn’t take him too long to get the hang of things.
Once we were certain that his physical therapy was under control we switched over to speech therapy. At 18 months old Brendan had still not made any major leaps forward in the talking front. He spoke no words and was generally non-responsive when you spoke with him. We were so concerned that we had his hearing tested a few times just to make certain that he wasn’t actually deaf. It’s been so long now that I don’t remember all that they did to stimulate Brendan’s speech, but the main thing I do remember was the efforts they put in to teach him sign language.
The logic was that if he wouldn’t use his voice to speak, maybe he could convey his needs through signing. We were taught a few basic signs and when we spoke to him we were to integrate the signs while we talked so he would associate the motion with the words we used. We were taught things like please, thank you, more, music, food, drink, mom, dad, etc. And we did our best to be consistent with using the signs. It got to the point where I couldn’t use the word more in a sentence with anyone without also signing it.
Despite our best efforts Brendan really never picked up the whole sign language thing. He would occasionally use sign language to get his point across, but only rarely was it unprompted. It was mainly repeating what we had just signed to him. Except for one thing. Music. Whenever we played music during his speech therapy sessions he would eagerly sign “more music.”
It was around that time too that Brendan began having trouble sleeping. We were in the midst of moving to a new house and had moved into my parents spare bedroom for a few weeks. Whether it was just the age, or if it was the unfamiliar surroundings I’ll never know. But whatever the reason Brendan became inconsolable at bedtime unless we put him to bed with music playing. After a few weeks of trial and error we quickly learned that he was a light sleeper and learned to put the music on repeat all night long or we’d be in his room comforting him around 1:00 in the morning.
For a while it seemed music was the only thing that made him happy. But like every kid it was a passing phase. Soon after we moved into our new house Brendan learned how to talk. He went from 0-50 words in just under a week. After that we stopped keeping count, but his vocabulary grew by leaps and bounds every single day. Being able to ask for what he wanted combined with the fact that he was now an energetic two year old meant that music wasn’t in the forefront of his thoughts any longer. He discovered that he had toys, and they were cool.
Again, looking back, I should have noticed that he definitely gravitated more toward toys that made noise and played music. But since it felt like all toddler toys made some sort of irritating sound I didn’t really pick up on that at the time. Only hindsight and two additional children has shown me how different Brendan was.
Music stayed in the background until Brendan started 4th grade. In our school 4th graders have the option to take up a strings instrument. Brendan expressed an interest in joining the orchestra, and while we had a few concerns about his ability to play an instrument (the low dexterity in his fingers made us fear he wouldn’t be able to use his fingers on the strings properly) we encouraged his interest and signed him up to play the cello.
He took to the instrument instantly. We were warned by the orchestra teacher to expect some squeaks and squaks the first few months as the children learned their new instruments. But Brendan never squeaked. He seemed to have good control over the instrument from the get go and as time went on he only improved. He loved playing his cello so much that every opportunity he had to play outside of school he took. One of those opportunities was to have a private lesson at the high school with one of the students there. Brendan enjoyed his lesson so much that we contacted the high school student he worked with and set up weekly private lessons for Brendan.
He enjoyed orchestra so much that it was no surprise in 5th grade that he wanted to join the band. Again his dexterity came into question as the keys on the instruments are a little more difficult to push down than the strings on a cello, but we figured there was no harm in letting him try. Saxophone didn’t come to him naturally as cello had, and we had to deal with a great many months of squeaks coming from his bedroom. Annoying as that was, we were determined to let Brendan stick with it as long as he wanted to.
Truthfully he wanted to quit within 2 weeks of picking up the instrument. But our deal with him (with both instruments) was that he had to stick it out for at least 30 days. Everything is hard when it is new and you have to give yourself a chance to get beyond the steep learning curve to see if you will enjoy it. Brendan agreed to stick it out and even though he wasn’t enjoying it fully by 30 days, he had learned enough that he was unwilling at that point to drop out. He wanted to try and stick it out until his first concert which was in December.
As the weeks turned into months he remained somewhat frustrated with the instrument, but his playing improved immensely. By the time his concert rolled around he sounded almost as good on his saxophone as he did on his cello. Not only that but he began to translate songs between the two instruments. His cello is in the bass clef and his saxophone in the treble clef. Despite the different clefs he can take almost any piece of music written for either instrument and play it easily on the other. Somewhere in the midst of all of this he began to write music for himself as well.
In between his homework and other activities he practices his two instruments diligently. He practices, between the two, almost 3 hours every week. We warned him when school began that if he really wanted to stick with both instruments that it was going to be a lot of work on his part and that it would cut into his time to play toys and video games a great deal. Every once in a while he will complain about the lack of play time he has, but for the most part he does his practice without any griping.
If that weren’t enough, second semester also brought the beginning of choir. Brendan hesitated a little more in joining choir than he did starting the instruments, but in the end he decided that was something he wanted to do as well. So now he goes to school 45 minutes early on Tuesday’s and practices with the choir. And on top of all of that he was chosen for a special youth orchestra group. He’s decided to give up 2 hours of his time every single Saturday for the next two months to practice with that orchestra group.
When we realized that this specialty group plus his private lesson would cover all of his needed practice time during the week we told him he wouldn’t need to practice outside of those groups. At first he was excited to free up some additional playing time during the week, but he soon decided that he would keep his regular practice schedule because otherwise he didn’t feel like he would be prepared for his school orchestra.
I’m so proud of my little man, and his dedication to his music. We’ve been very clear with him that he should only continue with these activities until they aren’t fun for him any more. I hope he stays with at least the cello because he has a lot of talent, but if he doesn’t at least he found something that makes him super happy for right now.