From where I sit to do my writing, I see Clare’s piano across the room. Clare did dabble on the keys for five minutes the last time she visited, but otherwise it’s gone unplayed for months. Sitting on the floor alongside the piano are her saxophone and her two violins. There also is a Chinese erhu somewhere in the house, but I don’t know where it is. Clare claims that her current studio apartment is too dry to house her musical instruments, but she wants at least her violins and sax (plus my guitar) once she has a place that is neither too damp nor too dry to store them. I’ve told her that I’ve never lived in a place where I felt like I had much control over the humidity, but I’ve been in her apartment and it is very dry.
As I look at Clare’s collection of musical instruments, I cannot help but recall one of the mysteries of marriage to a first generation Taiwanese American woman. It was Manyu’s obsession with Clare’s musical education. In general, the concept of the tiger mother is exaggeration bordering on racism, but there may be some truth to the stereotype when it comes to music.
I have over a dozen friends who are Taiwanese American or Chinese American moms, and every one of them made their kids immerse themselves in music during their elementary and high school years. All of the kids took private lessons. All of them gave solo senior recitals on at least one, sometimes two instruments. Until my inclusion into the Chinese American community, I did not even know that there was such a thing as a senior recital – yet among the Chinese/Taiwanese Americans I know, it is practically a rite of passage. When asked Manyu why music was so important to Chinese and Taiwanese parents, her internal Zen was awakened, and she said, “There is no why. Just accept it.”
And so I do. Had Clare not had Manyu for a mom, she might not have been introduced to music at all. She definitely wouldn’t have been a star in high school (i.e., first chair in orchestra, drum major in band). Still her instruments sit idle in my living room, which I suppose is normal for most young adults as they find their way in the world. Perhaps music for Clare will be like fishing has been for me. As a young kid, I did not play a musical instrument, but I fished whenever I could. In my teens, my interests shifted from nature pursuits to sports and girls. After high school, I was a sojourner for twenty years and did not even own my own fishing pole. Finally, at age thirty-nine, I moved from Taiwan (with my Taiwanese wife of five months) back to my home state of Wisconsin. My first purchase was a car, my second was a fishing pole. Clare says she’ll return to her music, and I believe her.