When I first heard about the guitar class for grown-ups being
offered at Hootenanny, a funky spot in Brooklyn where my kids took Music
Together classes, I was intrigued. Also? I was hesitant. I hadn’t picked up a
guitar since high school. With 2-year-old twins, the thought of making
time to practice an instrument seemed, if not insane, then at least highly
But when I pulled the Yamaha acoustic out from under my bed,
Swiffering three inches of dust off the case, I was happy to find she was well-preserved in all her glory. With a shiny white lacquer, a dark mahogany neck
and electric pick-ups to accommodate my inevitable appearance on MTV Unplugged,
it was indeed a shame that no notes had sounded from her in decades.
Now, I knew
why I’d never had the heart to sell her – I was going to play again.
On the night of the first guitar class, I hastily fed and bathed
the kids prior to my husband’s arrival home. As he took his seat on the couch
and started our nightly ritual of story-reading, I threw on a denim jacket,
swiped on a bit of lipstick, fluffed my hair to rock 'n’ roll volume and picked
up my trusty ax before heading out the door.
A brief pang of guilt was quickly replaced by a feeling of sheer
coolness as I strode through my neighborhood. I caught glimpses of myself in
store windows. The woman reflected back at me was not a tired mommy with drool
on her T-shirt, she was a rock star! As passersby glanced in my direction, I
channeled my inner Nancy Wilson and realized that they probably thought I was
on my way to a gig, having no clue I was actually going to learn kiddie songs
in a carpeted room that required me to play in my socks.
When I arrived, the other local parents and I attempted
to tune our instruments as we made chit-chat. We were blissfully free of our
parental duties for the night, but almost as if against our will, the conversation
quickly turned to toddler beds and night weaning.
weren’t we here to rock?
Then one of our classmates unzipped a backpack and placed a
six-pack in the center of the room. With the first crack and fizzle of a popped
bottle cap, the tension and apprehension seemed to lift.
Our teacher, Pete, needed no introduction since most of us had
taken his classes with our little ones. With a mess of graying hair and
gray skinny jeans, he played gigs on the Lower East Side by night as his alter
ego, Pete Sinjin. A parent himself, he knew how limited our time was, but
suggested that we try to practice guitar in increments of five minutes. Basically, whenever we could find a spare moment. Pete told us he had read
entire books that way, while riding elevators to deliver packages as a bike
messenger in San Francisco.
One by one, we each introduced ourselves, and immediately it was
clear that we were a ragtag bunch. Just how bad were we? As we plucked our
first strings, Pete picked up one student’s guitar, turned it in the other
direction and handed it back to her with the stellar advice not to copy the
I felt like a bit of a ringer, having played in a band as a
teenager. OK, not an actual garage band, but an after-school activity – rock
ensemble. The head of our school’s music department, Mr. Walden, who sported a
Rick Springfield-style mullet and a bolero tie, led us through Faith No More’s "Epic" and encouraged me, the only girl in the band, to turn my amp up to 11.
After playing our first school dance, we felt like Def Leppard coming off the
stage at Giants Stadium.
Back in Brooklyn, Pete told us that children’s songs were a
great place for us to start, not just because we could play them for our kids,
but because they were generally simple, using no more than three familiar
Jamming on 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' and 'I’ve Been Working on The Railroad,' I was able to remember who I was before my life became focused on measuring out milk into sippy cups.
As we strummed enthusiastically, our teacher walked around the
room. He moved wayward fingers onto the correct strings. Soon enough, we were
all playing a C-chord in unison. “Yeah!” Pete said, clearly pleased with the
We spent the next six weeks drinking beer and making music. It
all came back to me, how to read tablature, how to play “bar” chords and even
how to tune my own instrument. There was now an app for that for the iPhone, but
I remembered how to do it the old school way.
One night, when I returned home later than expected, I tried
to explain to my hubs why suddenly this class had become so important to me.
Even though we were playing kid songs, I wasn’t thinking about the kids.
Jamming on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and "I’ve Been Working on The
Railroad," I was able to remember who I was before my life had become
focused on measuring out milk into sippy cups. In a strange way, this class was
saving me — or at least a part of myself I’d thought was lost.
The week before our final class, Pete asked us to come up with
any rock songs we wanted to learn. During the last class, he passed out a sheet
with the chords for my choice: a song by Oasis. Pete demonstrated the chord
progression, showing us how cool it was that a single note rang through the
So on a recent Saturday night, after my husband and the twins
were asleep, I cracked open the case, pulled out my guitar and began to
practice. I was careful not to strum too loudly. “Cause maybe/You’re gonna be
the one that saves me,” I sang in whisper, surprised that my fingers were
finding the right frets.
I no longer had those teenage fantasies of playing
sold-out stadiums. But here I was, making music, even if it was just five
minutes at a time.