The family spent Easter weekend in Atlanta seeing sights and eating good Asian food. After we got home and unpacked and FongChong had changed into her pajamas, she came down to my studio while I was getting my hands back around my guitar after the break. And lately, at last, she’s taken a bit of an interest in my folkie world, so I opened up my old notebook of hand-transcribed tunes and started singing perhaps the sweetest song in the whole thing, “When The Roses Bloom In Dixieland.” Nobody murders anybody, which is a relief. A guy sets off for the North to make some quick money and begs his girl back in Tennessee to wait for him so he can marry her and "buy a little cabin home for two." And the hook line, "when the roses bloom in Dixieland, I'll be coming home to you," is easy to sing. So FongChong made a good stab at singing it with me. She actually stuck with it for a while and let me guide her through the key line over and over while she struggled with the rapid flow of words. I really pushed her on diction. She has a hard time finishing words, so ‘roses’ becomes ‘rose’ and ‘bloom’ becomes ‘bloo’. ‘Dixieland’ is hard for her because our X sound just isn’t in Chinese, but we actually figured out a way for her to say the X sound, thanks to the song. This was the dreamed of master plan all along.
Anyway, we had a good time singing together, and I think that session kind of warmed her up, because a bit later we were upstairs winding down for the day, and I said hey let’s do a little piano practice before bed. The reflexive reply: “Nooooo. I’m tired…” But I laid my trap, which is now to just start playing her pieces at the piano. That almost always gets her to come in and try to shove me off the piano stool. So she did just that and sat down and started working on the right hand part of her trickiest two-hand piece yet. Not bad. Not good. Plenty of clunkers and rhythmic problems. But she hasn’t played in a few days, so no worries. Then I said okay it’s my turn. And I played through “Hesitation Blues” on guitar, and here’s where it got truly remarkable.
While I was singing, FongChong picked up her music and started reading it quietly to herself, with her hand playing air keyboard in space. It took me a minute to grasp what she was doing and I kind of didn’t believe it. Until I finished and she put her music up on the piano and played it through and 99% nailed it. Just one brief hesitation. Holy smoke. She’d mentally mapped her part, which is kind of an advanced technique for practicing, yet nobody had told her a thing. She did it on her own. Then, she surprised me again. Our keyboard has a simple record function, and unbeknownst to me, FongChong had turned it on before playing through the piece. So when she hit ‘play’ and her recital came back at us, it was a ghostly surprise. AND she listened to what she’d done and followed it note by note on the score. Again, wow. Then she played it again and recorded it again. And she repeated the process once more. I just sat there sort of slack jawed.
Now that she’s broken through to a place of security and trust, we can expect to see other parts of her development, long suspended and in limbo, start to skip forward. Perhaps the most important and profound is her ability and willingness to be self-aware during the learning process. Had she been ours from birth, I’d like to think that by 12, she’d be comfortable engaging with the unfamiliar and trying to remember or assimilate it. FongChong is not quite there. She’s standing at the door though.