The Story of a Cello and a Djembe

Posted by Amy Pak on

Do you have children that are so different from their siblings, you wonder how they ended up in the same family? I came across this article that I wrote on our two youngest sons several years ago…  It’s as relevant today as it was then. I’d like to share it with you…


"The Story of a Cello and a Djembe"

 Of my four children, my two youngest were boys and were a constant practice in patience for me. One is like oil and the other like vinegar. Their personalities are so different; it’s amazing they came from the same gene pool. The older one is very creative — leans toward the right brain — is a bit distractible, and does not fit the normal academic model. When he was young, in order to get information to stick we relied on gimmicks, such as songs and games. In his teen years, Older Son took to the cello, and it has been like an extension of him. He is much like that cello — it has no frets. It relies on the ear. He embraced classical music and played it constantly. The depth and soul when he plays comes from the heart. You can tell when someone plays it from their head versus their heart. In fact, Older Son played so much from his heart that he had to take music theory so he could understand it better in his head… where, combined with his heart, it could make sense.

My younger son is more disciplined in nature. He is a perfectionist — a bit more left brained. He is also a bit more obsessive when confronted with problems —making sure he understands and can correct the issue, or he ends up upset with himself. For example, all of our children took piano when they were young. If Younger Son made a mistake, it was CLEAR back to the beginning of the piece to start all over again. He had to play it flawlessly or he wasn’t happy. When schooling, he learned best when we drilled the information, such as through flashcards or continual questions. When Younger Son took on an instrument in his teen years, he learned the djembe and congas. His teacher was a man who had lived in Haiti and Ghana, and shared the different beats of both cultures. It was almost mathematical — there were shifts in pattern, timing, and syncopation. His teacher could show him a pattern one time, and he could mimic it… and remember it. It amazed me, with the varied styles and complicated rhythms, how he could not only remember it, but carry it consistently while playing with others in a Calypso band. He would learn it and drill it, until it was like second nature. Once it was down in his head, he could loosen up, and feel it from his heart… now it could make sense.

Teaching these kids together was an experience in multi-tasking. I had to find ways to reach them both and provide balance. Thank the Lord for the flexibility of homeschooling! One of the very blessings of this gift we give our children in home education is that we can teach to their individual styles, find what speaks to them, and approach learning in their modality.  Individual learning was obviously one-on-one, but as I have spoken of several times before, character and well-roundedness are just as important as academics. How do you bring a classical cello together with the beats of a djembe?

The scriptures talk about diversity within the body. First Corinthians 12:4-7 says,

 "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…” Verses 14 and 16-19 continue, “For in fact the body is not one member but many…And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?"

 So it is within the families we are given as well, and doesn’t THAT make life interesting! Especially as the parent who has to teach these diverse people! Another scripture describes our children, "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth." (Psalm 127:4) We’ve taken on this job of educating our children, but for what? I believe it is to raise them up to be the best that God has put in them to be and to celebrate those strengths and differences! Of course, we still train them in their weaknesses as well. It’s in attempting to master that which does not come as easy to us that builds strength of character and discipline. This may take more effort from us, their teacher and mentor, as we might just have a child that thinks and learns very differently than we are used to, and we may have to sacrifice what is comfortable to us to reach him — no one said our job would be easy! Here is the thing… the world is big and round. When we stand, we launch out these “arrows” into it, and they very well may go in absolutely different directions. Our job is to ultimately prepare them as best we can, take a direction, pull that string, and launch them out.

So, back to the cello and the djembe… You know what is positively cool about that whole thing? As the eye is different from the ear, which is different from the nose, so is the cello from the djembe… yet in all their differences, they also CAN make beautiful music together! Who am I to determine that this should be an unnatural pairing of instruments? Just because it has not been common? I stumbled across a band that is composed of three cellos and a djembe, and their music is somewhat classical with a contemporary edge; quite a combination, but a sound I have grown to really enjoy! …Not to mention, oil and vinegar has been a classic salad dressing for years!

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