The music for “What Shall We Do with a Drunken Sailor?” is playing in the background of my mind. I’m not sure why that pirate shanty comes to the forefront when I consider this topic, but it may give you some insight into the confusing maze of ideas through which any of my thoughts must wrest themselves in order to make their way to the computer screen. I was watching my fourth son (our fifth child) as he sang in our church’s children’s choir last night, and I wondered how to reach that tone-deaf child through music. Jedidiah actually dislikes singing in public because he knows that he can’t carry a tune. In fact, he admitted to me that he doesn’t really sing when the choir presents their Patch the Pirate songs for the church. “I just mouth the words and do the motions, Mom, because I don’t want to mess up the other kids around me.” Yes, tiny pieces of my heart broke off and clattered to the ground when I heard his admission.
So, what do you do with a non-musical child? Wait…does tone-deaf mean “non-musical”? No! It just means he can’t carry a tune for anything. He can still be musical, and Jed is, in fact, quite musical. He just doesn’t realize it. He loves plinking around on the piano, and has been asking his ten-year-old sister to help him learn some of the songs she is learning in piano lessons. He can’t wait to start lessons of his own. (We need some extra cash to hire a teacher, or I need to figure out how to live on four hours of sleep so I can fit in piano lessons with him, and still accomplish all of life’s other duties.)
Jed can decode or decipher lyrics in songs with incredible ease, and has become our lyric-memorizer beyond compare. I am astonished at how easily he seems to figure out the words to songs, when I’m just trying to hear them in the midst of all the music. If there is ever a question about the wording of a certain verse in a song, Jed is often the young man to whom my other children will turn for the correct lyric. (Granted, there have been a few funny misinterpretations to lyrics, but overall, Jed “gets” them.)
Jed also has a sensitivity to the use of music and the emotions it can generate that makes me realize that I don’t pay attention as much as I should to how music is being used in films, television, commercials, and even church. Music is powerful. Jed understands that power to a greater depth than I do, and I’m nearly seven times his age!
While Jed may be tonally challenged and may be self-conscious about singing aloud, he is anything but non-musical. I need to continue developing a love of and appreciation for music in him. I need to encourage him to use whatever musical talents he does have. And I must never deter him from being involved in music—in whatever manner he is willing to participate. What shall we do with a tone-deaf sailor? Let him mouth the words to Patch the Pirate shanties, and continue learning what music is—to God’s glory and honor, that’s what we do!