Music Education

Things must indeed be calming down a bit because our neighbors are having friends over again with their awful music playing (speakers aimed directly over our garden wall, of course), and the plumber never showed up, which tells me he has enough work now to keep him busy. Or else there’s a fiesta (Saturday night?) and that took priority. But the fact of a fiesta is a positive sign; for several weeks it has been dead as a doornail ‘round these parts.

Meanwhile it was a gorgeous day and the pool guy came so once again it was sparkling. These are the luxuries I try not to take for granted – but there they are. So I went outside and got in the water and enjoyed the brief respite from the blaring radios and racket that usually emanates from the evento place up on the highway most weekends. I had to myself the sound of the birds and the horses clopping by outside our garden walls on the street, Saturday afternoon being – since most people quit work at 2 p.m. – when the local horse folk take their steeds out for a walk or for charro training or whatever. That includes a lot of expats who have horses too, but most of them are retired and you can see them out pretty much any old time during the week.

Part of our now-weekly weekend ritual is that José, my mother’s full time and wonderful caregiver – along with his wife Sandra – stops by to give us a report on how she’s doing, and get whatever he needs from us for the week, the most important part of which is a new supply of opera DVDs to watch. José loves opera and since he quickly figured out that Arnold was not only possessed of tremendous expertise but an enormous collection, they now get together every week for their opera conversation. Since my mother is now – horribly – blind and bedridden, can no longer really talk, and sleeps most of the time, both José and Sandra have time on their hands between changing her diapers, giving her meds, turning her, and feeding her.

So José comes back with last week’s plastic bag full of opera DVDs and with a list of questions for Arnold – what is the significance of this or that in this or that opera, why are the sets and costumes so weird (this requires a long essay answer about current trends in opera production) or what was the composer trying to do here? We both enthusiastically try to answer his questions. Then the watched DVDs are returned and Arnold carefully selects this week’s crop – some old, some new, perhaps a French one, perhaps a Russian one, an early Verdi, one with something new and challenging for José, like a countertenor; maybe a vintage recording with a long-gone singer Arnold thinks was terrific. Inevitably José picks out the singer in question and when he comes back the following week for the Opera Exchange he says “Wow, that Madam So-and-So, she really had an incredible voice!” And Arnold beams as his protégé has nailed it. José has a great ear for voices, tremendous curiosity about the performing arts, and in another life, with a couple of degrees in music history or musicology, he might have been a helluva critic. He would have probably loved the experience I had, in my twenties, of working for a time for a major opera company and seeing firsthand how it all goes together magically on performance nights, with hundreds of people scurrying around that gigantic stage in the darkness, as they say, “up close and personal”.

But that of course is part of the tragedy of Mexico – so many wonderful people could have been so many different things. Our gardener, Carlos, whom we do tease about being the bearer, for good or ill, of whatever the news is in town, is actually really curious about the economy and how things work in the world. I have asked him innumerable times “Why, oh why, didn’t you stay in school? You would have been a great journalist or economist – you’re always commenting on this or that story that you’ve read in the news or heard on TV…”  To which he always replies with a sigh, “Señora, half my friends did finish their educations and none of them could find the jobs they had trained for. They also all ended up as gardeners or construction people or laborers. So I figured, I might as well get started early if I was destined to be a gardener anyway, so I could get more clients”.  (And sadly, one thing he is definitely NOT curious about is horticulture.)  When he says that, I’m never sure if that’s just his fatalistic Mexican nature and whether, if he had actually made an effort, things might have turned out differently for him. But my point of view is so terribly American, it is completely marinated in that Horatio Alger stuff that is part of my cultural legacy.  And I totally lucked out: I was also born into a family that valued education and expected me to become some sort of professional. As part of the deal, they willingly paid for my college education, as well as music, art and dance lessons throughout my childhood.

I’m aware, of course, that the America of today is also full of unemployed young lawyers and liberal arts majors staggering under six-figure student loan debt and waiting tables. But for Mexicans, who have been beaten down again and again by corruption, invading armies, ruthless dictators enslaving and robbing them in the name of “democracy” or “revolution”, it’s a whole different ballgame. So maybe all we can do is hope that the next generation makes some progress and that things are better for them as more and more are born into Mexico’s relatively new and aspiring middle class. We found out about a music education program for kids here in town, specializing in teaching them stringed instruments (easier to carry, no one has pianos anyway, and they tend to love violin because of the mariachi tradition). They have a little orchestra and we thought maybe we’d see if Baby Carlos (as opposed to Gardener Carlos) might like to try out violin lessons. I called them and they said, yes, of course, four is the perfect age to start on the violin – which I knew because that’s when my mother had started her violin studies back in the 1920’s.

So we are going to take Baby Carlos over to the auditorium on Monday and see if he likes the idea. His mother thinks he will, because he loves the little toy xylophone we got him a couple of years ago, and he has some kiddie drums he likes to play. Maybe he will grow up to be the Mexican Joshua Bell. Yeah, maybe it’ll be the NEXT generation. Meanwhile, José has a spate of new operas to listen to and we’ll just keep on lending him operas until he’s gone though Arnold’s entire collection. Each week he learns more and by the time he is ready to begin listening to them all again, starting from the beginning, he will be hearing them all with a much more finely tuned ear. If we can manage to find someone to cover for him one Saturday at my mother’s house, perhaps when the Met live telecasts start up again in the fall, we will be able to take him into the city to see one.

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