Mom meets musician

Rani Arbo (right) recently talked mothering and music with writer Lynn Trimble. Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem are headed to the MIM in Phoenix. (Photo: Mary Beth Meehan)

When I chatted recently with mom and musician Rani Arbo, who’ll be performing this week at the MIM, we talked first about her eight-year-old son. Arbo performs with Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, a foursome that includes her husband Scott Kessel, so I expected to hear that their only child spent most days holed up in his room making music. Not so, says Arbo.

“We’ve been stage parents his whole life,” she shared. Seems their son had already seen thirty states by the time he was two years old. “Doing live music meant we were on stage, unavailable to him.” Though their home contains “a whole pile of percussion instruments” plus everything from ukelele to accordian, Arbo says their son has been “slow to come around to music on his own terms.”

I get it. After enjoying all sorts of live performance art with my daughter for nearly two decades, I had to step back once Lizabeth started studying theater. Her artistic journey is her own, and my “Stage Mom” musings should never interfere with that. Still, it’s lovely when children develop interests that give family members a little something in common besides their neuroses.

Nowadays, 8-year-old Quinn is playing “a bunch of piano.” Most recently, he’s been playing a Harry Potter piece by ear. Lizabeth once played the same piece, which was plenty challenging even with the help of sheet music. Seems Arbo’s son is fond of the sustain pedal and playing at top volume at around 7:30am in the morning. And, like most kids, he’s not a big fan of being told what to do. Hence adventures in Kindermusik and such didn’t quite stick.

Arbo notes that Quinn showed more early aptitude for rhythm than for singing in tune, so early Suzuki lessons in something like violin didn’t feel like a good fit — proof that she’s mastered a prime principle of good parenting. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Arbo describes Quinn as a late bloomer who was more ready for music lessons by age eight or so. Another pearl — timing is everything.

Arbo grew up playing cello and singing with a local chorus. The first she did alone, the latter with people — something that informed her belief that “music needs to be social for kids.” Quinn’s got that one covered after forming a Beatles cover band with two friends. Quinn plays drums while fellow musicians, blond twins, do their guitar thing. Arbo tells me one rocks the E string, while the other rocks the A string.

When I asked Arbo about music education, she quickly broadened the topic to include all the arts. “Art and music is for everybody,” says Arbo. “Kids blossom and flower in all forms of art.” She’s grateful for the hour of music Quinn gets each week in public school, but knows it’s challenging to make music with more than two dozen kids to a class. Hence the importance of experiences, like their concert at the MIM, that expose kids to additional arts offerings.

In an age that’s seeing kids increasingly isolated by “social” media, Arbo considers music “a different way for kids to interact socially.” Sure, says Arbo, music helps logic and math. But music does something more. “Music is beyond thinking,” says Arbo. “There’s not that much in schools that does that.”

“Kids need to be human,” says Arbo, “and music challenges them to do that.” The feeling of doing something together, even if it’s singing along to a recorded track, is important. Making music with others is about being “part of something bigger than you are.”

Schools tyically judge students on individual performance, observes Arbo. So “students don’t often get the joyful experience of disappearing into a hole bigger than you.” Through music, she says, kids learn to listen for things — and listen to each other. Though not from a religious family, Arbo says that “sacred space is often held by music.” It’s what they work to create in each show — a fun, uplifting and safe space for folks to think, search and feel. “Like church,” says Arbo, “but not church.”

Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem perform two concerts at the MIM this week –“American roots with a suitcase drum” at 7pm on Fri, May 4 and “family-friendly folk music” at 2:30pm on Sat, May 5. Click here to enjoy a taste of their tunes, and here for ticket information.

— Lynn

Note: The Phoenix Children’s Chorus holds auditions May 4 & 5 in Phoenix and May 17 in the East Valley. They’re open to all students currently in grades one to 11, and all auditioners get a free ticket to the group’s May 19 concert at Mesa Arts Center. Click here for details. If you have an audition or event for the magazine’s online calendar, please send info to calendar@raisingarizonakids.com.

Coming up: Museum meets mental health, A “Topia” tale, Playwriting for social justice, The road to “Red”

Update: Rani just shared this great article she wrote when Quinn was just 2 1/2 years old — http://wondertime.go.com/parent-to-parent/article/music-class.html. It’s a fun read! Also note that my blog has been corrected to reflect the fact that Quinn is now 8 (he’s actually 8 1/2) rather than 9, and visited 30 states before he was two. 5/3/12

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