Bittersweet Moscow II: Music school
Marco North continues his four-part series this month on coping with life as a single father in search of quality and happiness for his daughter in Moscow.
Every parent without blue bags stretched across the soles of their boots are given stern warnings. Moscow is a filthy city and dirt accumulates in seconds no matter how many old ladies there are with wet cloths at the end of makeshift mops. A thin layer of grime is spread across the linoleum floors every hour, in every building in the city.
In Russia, everything is slightly different for absolutely no reason. As a boy, I learned my first musical scale as do, re, mi, fa,so la, ti, do. This is Western music’s simplest description of a major scale, sight-singing, or solfeggio.
Of course in Russia the same scale goes do, re, mi, fa, so, la...si...do. It is another moment when the familiar becomes foreign. This confusion of split languages, this nuance of a few letters is part an expat’s daily routine. I am reminded once again about the myth of Babylon, the curse that caused all people to speak different languages, forever struggling to understand one another. The punishment still stings, and I teach my daughter both si and ti, the same as she learns both Russian and English.
At first, I felt this was a sort of boot camp for children, a way to get four-year-olds to snap in line and work like musical machines. There is no laughter in this class. It is dead serious.
I knew a warmer, more kind and positive music school when I was five. We played plastic recorders as a group and individually. We could pocket them and practice anywhere: on the school bus, walking on the street.
In Russia, it’s all about having a piano. And for some reason it must be a real piano, not an electronic keyboard. Forget the fact that it is hard to get a used piano into your tiny apartment. Forget that they are freakishly expensive, and ask yourself, why so dogmatic? I asked the teacher and the other parents. They can only say, “Because.”
This is the dilemma of parenting in a foreign country. I also seem to tie my daughter’s scarf incorrectly, as every old lady in the street needs to shout at me, gesturing wildly at my healthy little girl. Square pegs in these Soviet kickback round holes, we never seem to fit in.
Yes, we find a way to practice scales in this free-for-all. But most important she knows the joy of music, the sheer pleasure of taking breath deep into your lungs and singing your heart out.
Marco North is an expat New Yorker living in Moscow with his daughter. He is a professional filmmaker, published writer and musician, known for the singular nature of his work. Read more about North's life in Moscow via his blog, Impressions of an expat.
Photos by Marco North.
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