I am realizing now that last week, I should never have picked up the guitar that belongs to the drum teacher at School of Rock. She says it’s not a great guitar. Something in the $100 range that was erroneously made with a solid top and sounds fantastic. I was talking to her about it yesterday and she said, “If you like that one, you should try this one.” It had a smaller body — a parlor guitar — and about $900 more expensive. But man, oh, man, what a difference from my own instrument. It practically played itself. It made me realize how hard I have to work to get any sound out of the shoebox I’m playing now. I played “Blackbird” with no mistakes, not because I’ve suddenly gotten fabulous, but because it was easy.
I was thinking about this today when I was teaching at Studio 2. My 8-year-old student just sized up and so has a new instrument, which is light years better than his last one. That’s the way it goes with rentals. They’re unpredictable. We’re lucky in having a rental shop that makes a lot of its own instruments, so they are better than most but as I told the boy’s mother today, instruments are like people. They have different personalities, different strengths and weaknesses. And while there are certainly some things you want to look for (no cracks, properly sized bridge, pegs that turn easily and don’t constantly slip, etc.), there are plenty of things that are completely unpredictable. “How do you know when you have a good instrument?” I get asked a lot. Really, it’s all about if you like the sound and it’s easy to play and tune.
And now the Spy family is trying out a new instrument. Jeanne has sent us a trombone. It is for AJ, who will be playing it in band next year. But of course we all want to try it. And so this afternoon, Spy headquarters sounds as if it has been invaded by a heard of marauding elk. Mr. Spy aspires to play the trombone parts in Chicago songs. I aspire to play the sad trombone (aka a “descending chromatic wah” — I just learned that term today) and also the John Philip Sousa’s LIberty Bell march (aka the Monty Python theme song). AJ just wants everyone else to keep their paws off his instrument. His new word for the day is “embouchure”. He was showing us how the band director showed him to blow into the mouthpiece. Pretty soon the three of us were standing in the kitchen blowing raspberries at each other. Classy.
Other news at Spy headquarters is sadder. It appears that Mrs. Stein has suffered a stroke or something like it. She can no longer clean herself — I spent a good 20 minutes washing food off her face and whiskers this morning. And she walks like she’s drunk. She lies around a lot, but can’t seem to get comfortable. I carried her out on the back deck this afternoon to lie in the sun. But no matter how tired she looked and how hard it looked for her to move, she would not leave my side. If I walked three feet, she would get up and follow me. She used to weigh 12 pounds. Now she’s barely 5, literally less than half the cat she used to be. We are making yet another visit to the vet tomorrow. So far all her tests have been coming back fine, but clearly something is very wrong. Mrs. Stein is 19. Every time I take her to the vet these days, I wonder if she will be coming back.