Music in His Fingers
Evan was a bit small for his age, slighter than his hockey-playing brothers, but he’d been adopted. He stumbled sometimes, his gait uneven. Nine years old now, dark hair, teardrop-shaped eyes. Golden skin. His face rather flat. Given up by his biological parents, unable to accept their Down’s syndrome child.
His grandfather and I filled our home with music: classical, easy-listening, big band and spa music, we loved it all. Evan hummed occasionally, when a familiar tune caught his attention. He wasn’t especially focussed on music of any kind – except for the theme song from the movie Titanic. Then, he stopped drawing, playing crokinole or cards with his grandpa, making cookies or toast in my kitchen. His hands went up, his eyes shone, his smile enveloped his entire face, he swayed as the notes soared, dismay descended as the song ended. He asked for more, and we complied once, twice, three times then distracted him with some other activity.
Their grandfather had given me an electronic keyboard for a birthday or Christmas, and I signed on for weekly lessons – a refresher for the piano lessons I’d taken for a couple of years, then abandoned when my adolescent interest went elsewhere. Neither Evan and his brothers, or their parents, played piano or guitar, flute or even mouth organs.
The boys stood beside me at the keyboard one rainy afternoon as I stumbled through a few simple pieces I thought they might know – they didn’t, but they’d worked their way through all the other entertainments we had to offer, four days into their annual summer visit.
“How does it work, Grandma, how do you make a song?” They’d already asked about the funny-looking squiggles on sheets propped up on the music stand. I showed them middle C on the keyboard, and its notation on the page, then a few more notes. “Can I try?” asked the younger boy – just what I’d been hoping. He played a few notes, as did his older brother, and within minutes they’d mastered a simple piece – maybe ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’ or some such repetitive and readily-repeatable tune. Evan watched but showed no desire to touch the keys. One more tune, and the older boys were off to find some other interest.
“I think there’s a song you might like in this book, Evan.” I checked the Table of Contents, held the music book open with one hand, and plucked out the melody of Evan’s favourite song. “Would you like to try?”
He pulled up a chair, held out his hands, looked at me expectantly. “I’ll show you first, then you’ll play, is that okay?” He nodded. I played the first four bars. “Let’s start with this note first, then this one.” His fingers touched the right key, missed the next one. “That’s okay, we’ll do it again.” We repeated the first key, the second key. Again. And again. Ten minutes or so, and we had the first bar down pat. “Do you want to stop for a minute?” He shook his head. We moved on to the second bar: “See this note on the page, it’s this key here, use your middle finger on it, then your ring finger for the next one”. He tried, his fingers a bit stiff, not always moving in the direction he wanted them to. “You’ve almost got it, let’s try one more time” and he did. Again. And again.
We put two bars together, once, twice, again. Then the third bar, the fourth, and fifth. Finally, the sixth, the last bar, the melody Evan knew so well. Four notes in two bars, three notes in three bars, one bar with two notes, the last bar only a middle C. Together, we found the right keys. Again, and again. He pressed the keys alone, by himself. In sequence. Every note right, twenty notes altogether. His melody.
His little hand came up off the keyboard, his eyes re-directed from the keys to my face.
On Evan’s own face – utter, exquisite joy. Eyes wide. His smile covered his entire face. Eyebrows up. Surprise. Pure happiness. Astonishment. Wonder.
For me, a few minutes’ expenditure, a forever reward.
Jean Crozier’s perspective has been molded and remolded by several decades of life experience. She has watched as society’s treatment of those with an additional chromosome has evolved, and she has experienced the exquisite joy achieved by a grandson living that reality. Jean turned to creative writing after a successful career in librarianship and information management. She writes non-fiction, teaches creative writing, and has developed an immense tree of her Crozier family. She has published numerous articles and essays, a memoir of her mother’s family (No Corner Boys Here) and is preparing to write the story of her Irish father’s family.