Fade Music Down

Earlier this week, I was dropping L off at school, which at times can be an exercise in restraint. While the Dutch approach to child-rearing is generally gentle and very much less demanding and competitive than the North American approach, the tradition of accompanying your child (up til the age of 10 or so) into the classroom each day, greeting the teacher and scrutinizing what work has and will be done seems counter to all that - really, the only time an element of helicopter parenting comes on display. And then there's leaving the classroom. Imagine a school built for 400 small people. Then add at least one parent per child, some with baby carriages in tow, trying to squeeze in and out of one very narrow door, all at the same time. (This is the exercise in restraint.)

So imagine my delight when, while in that line of parents, gritting my teeth and desperately wanting to be outside, I heard a few notes of music drifting from the schoolyard into the narrow hallway we were all crushed into.

My knowledge of music leaves a great deal to be deisired, so I don't know what piece it was, but it was classical, graceful, with a quick step. Flowing up and down the keyboard in 3/4 time... a waltz. That much I do know.

And when I finally got outside, I saw the mother of one of L's classmates at a piano that had been set by the main door (presumably to be brought into the school later that day). There was no stool, but she's a concert pianist and was standing, hovered over the keyboard, intensely playing, almost banging out the notes obsessively, while other parents stood in a semi-circle and watched. Her movements didn't match the music - she was leaping from one foot to the other to reach the notes she neede to, her long coat swinging at her feet, the notes floating through the air and embracing us fully.

When she was done, applause broke out, but she didn't acknowledge the crowd. She simply walked firmly away, the tails of her coat flipping up above her knee-high boots with each step. And I loved that.

I loved that she couldn't walk past that piano without playing it. I loved that you can walk out of a school where a North American trend is taking over and experience something entirely European. And I loved the way she walked away. It felt necessary, a kind of metaphor for the cuts to arts funding in Holland (including to professional musicians and orchestras), which she would have found essential.

True enough, she's moving to Vienna soon, where arts funding remains intact. And I hope there were people in that crowd - parents who are also politicians, civil servants, businessfolk - who got that, or who were at least affected enough by her spontaneous performance to consider that the fading resonance of the notes she'd just played might wind up being all we'll hear in the future.