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Sour Notes

by Lois Wickstrom


Remember the orchestral version of Peter and the Wolf?

Remember the bird?  (flute sound file)

That was a flute.

I heard that when I was 9 and I wanted to play the flute.

This was in the days when public schools gave free music lessons and practicing an instrument was part of regular homework. So every day when I came home from school, I pulled out my flute case, assembled the parts and tried to sound like a bird.

First, I had to open the flute case and take out the pieces. The mouthpiece had to sit against my lower lip without pressure, like when you blow on a soda bottle. Then the long body piece had to be positioned so my left hand could reach the keys nearest the mouth piece and the end piece had to be positioned so my right hand could press the keys at the far end. All the while I had to carefully balance the barrel so as not to bend any of the delicate parts.

The angle of the mouthpiece was particularly important because when you play notes on a flute, the fingering is like a chord on a piano. You have to press many keys at once. And to change octaves, you have to control your breath. Itís also important for your mouth to be comfortably moist Ė not too dry and not too wet .

My younger sister and her friend Christina told me I sounded awful. Told me I should stop squawking and play Barbies with them. My sister loved dressing up her doll, her self, if weíd had a pet, Iím sure it would have been the object of her costuming. I tried to ignore them as they chanted Barbie! Barbie! Barbie!

I hate Barbies. Barbie dolls are always getting dress to go to parties or get married or go places, but they never had a party, or a marriage or went anywhere. I couldnít understand all the getting ready and wearing the right outfit and then never doing anything. If Iím going to get out of my PJís in the morning, Iíd better be going somewhere.

One day when I was doing my math homework, my sister and Christina came laughing into my room, holding slices of lemons. I could tell they were up to no good. But I didnít see how they could hurt me with lemon slices.

Then my sister said, amidst giggles, "We want to hear you play your flute."

I couldnít believe it. They were giggling. They were holding those lemon slices like weapons. I was wary, but lemons didnít look very menacing. I got out my flute case and assembled the parts. My mouth started watering thinking about those juicy sour lemon slices.

I put the flute to my lips. My sister and Christina put the lemons to theirs. Juice ran down their chins. They puckered up with sour faces. I blew into my flute. Saliva came out of my mouth. The flute barely squeaked.

My sister and Christina ran out of my room laughing merrily. Barbie! Barbie! Barbie! I took my flute apart and cleaned the pieces.

I didnít know it then, but my sister was doing me a favor. A sisterís job is to keep it real. Itís easier to learn to persevere when your family teases and torments you. Their shenanigans prepare you for the outside world. And itís only by taking you down a peg in your own home, that your family earns the right to bask in your limelight when you do succeed. Your success is because of Ė not in spite of their criticisms.

The next time I played my flute for my family, I didnít look at my sister. I didnít want to know if she was sucking a lemon. I didnít look until after I was done playing. Sure enough, my sisterís face was sour. But not from lemons. She was jealous that I had been getting attention.

She got up from the couch and annouced.

"Youíre done now. Itís my turn. You have to watch me play Barbies."

And playing my part, I said, " I donít want to. Barbies are yucky."


13 second flute sound file

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