Author: Poling, Chuck

Teach Your Children

I come from large family – six kids in all –and we all were into music. Neither of my parents had any musical training or had ever played an instrument, but they both loved music and encouraged their brood to play what they wanted.

And play we did. From the first plywood guitar that found its way to our home to the variety of band instruments dragged from school, Casa Poling was a cacophony of just about everything we could pluck, blow, strum, bow, beat, or otherwise play. My poor parents had to listen to their children progress through the torturous early phase of learning clarinets, trumpets, guitars, violins, organs, oh it goes on and on.

My oldest brother was a particularly serious offender. He loved bass clef horns. Trombones, tubas, sousaphones, baritone horns – he loved ‘em all. The baritone sax was perhaps the most terrifying of the bunch – it would make the windows rattle like there was an earthquake.

My sister played string bass in junior high, which required my dad to frequently shuttle her and the beastly bass back and forth between school and home. Another brother’s adventures with an oboe tested the limits of fraternal loyalty. I can’t imagine anyone was too crazy about my attempts to be the next Eric Clapton, but my parents were loopy enough to buy me an electric guitar and amp for my 14th birthday.

Through the din, my folks happily purchased instruments, paid for lessons, and let us follow our own muses. Certainly, they enjoyed my brother playing guitar in a swing band, or my sister’s flamenco dancing more than my Dylanesque guitar and harmonica routine, but they let me do my thing.

So I figured that payback meant giving my kids the same leeway and encouragement to do music, however they wanted to do it. Well, payback is…well…a challenge. Both Reuben and Isabel are really, really into heavy metal. Loud, fast, and brutal. It’s not, to say the least, my cup of tea, but I’m glad that they’re passionate about music. They’re both extremely knowledgeable about the various sub-genres, be it black, sludge, death, thrash, folk (yes, folk metal!), grindcore, or the ever-popular traditional metal of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest that I remember blaring down the hall in my college dorm.

But wait, it gets worse. As our son entered middle school, we enthusiastically talked up joining band or orchestra. Whatever he wanted to play, we’d back him up 100 percent. Gear, lessons, you name it.

He didn’t want to play anything but drums. My parents were ecstatic. Revenge, sweet revenge.
So we bought him a drum kit and set it up in the garage. And guess where the garage band rehearses? In the drummer’s garage, of course. Before long, we had four or five teenagers downstairs making ungodly noises. It sounded like they were playing with chainsaws. But they soon had a paying gig.

Seems the owner of the building across the street was planning to show an apartment to some prospective tenants one afternoon. He realized that having a very loud teenage garage band nearby was not a good selling point. So he offered the merry metal heads $20 if they would stop playing for a half-hour while he showed the rental. Twenty bucks! The boys eagerly snatched up the money and made haste to the corner store to stock up on soda and junk food so essential to growing bodies.

We paid for private lessons and after a few months we definitely heard an improvement. The other guys started getting better too and they actually made some kind of music – cookie monster vocals and all. But when Reuben went off to college, the drums stayed behind. He eventually sold them before he moved to Seattle.

I don’t miss the racket downstairs, but I am sorry that he doesn’t have his drums anymore. Last year we visited him during Wintergrass and left a guitar behind with him. Don’t know if he’s playing it much, but the guitar is there if he decides to.

I am very fortunate to have parents that let me go after the music I loved. When I look around at CBA campouts, festivals, and other events, I’m happy to see so many families who are supportive of their kids’ musical endeavors. It doesn’t hurt to have a wonderful program like Kids on Bluegrass that not only provides instruction, but also gives the kids a place where they’re among their peers.

Music has an amazing power to move people’s hearts and change the way they think – this is no less true for children than for adults. What kids need is someone to give them the space to learn, to explore, and to express themselves through the music they love. The bluegrass community gives that to young people and has seen many of them grow into stellar musicians.

But even if they never work in Nashville or tour with an A-list band, these kids get to be around a whole lot of people who support, encourage, and enable them to play great, traditional American music. It’s a great confidence-building experience for them and the best way of keeping bluegrass music alive for future generations.
Posted:  2/27/2012

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