528. Adult Talent

One of my neighbors, Luke, who is five years old, just got a new harmonica. He was about to show me the sounds he can already make with it when another neighbor (an adult), who was visiting Luke’s father, asked if he could try it. The man played a few tunes, and impressed us all with his skill. What was supposed to be a five-year-old’s toy became an official musical instrument, capable of emitting recognizable melodies that were fun to listen to.
In my opinion, the man’s timing could not have been worse. Luke had just been about to show me what he could do with the harmonica, and had looked eager and excited. But after the man’s little concert, Luke didn’t feel like showing me what he could do. He couldn’t play any recognizable tunes yet; he could just get the harmonica to make sounds. A few different sounds, but nothing that would sell tickets or win Grammies.
I tried to tactfully tell Mr. Virtuoso that he ought to stop doing what he was doing, but he couldn’t hear me. According to his explanation, Luke needed to know how a harmonica COULD sound – have something to aspire to. But I don’t think this man was really thinking about Luke. I think he just wanted to play the harmonica. I don’t know the man; I don’t know to what degree he wanted to impress us, nor to what degree he just wanted to play the harmonica. But if he wanted to inspire Luke, he was way off base. Luke looked quite discouraged.
When the man left, Luke’s father and I did what we could to help Luke recover his enthusiasm for his new toy. At first, he wouldn’t make a sound with the harmonica. We begged. But he wouldn’t follow the act he’d just witnessed. So I asked him if I could try the harmonica. You should know, at this point, that I have been known to play tunes on harmonicas. Not as well as most harmonica-players I know. Not as well as the man who had just left. But I’m not bad.
I thought about Luke, and what he could probably do on the harmonica. Probably, I thought, he could make sounds with it. Probably not much more. Keeping in mind the act he’d just refused to follow, I decided to give him one he’d be more willing to follow. I blew on the harmonica in a way that I knew would not produce any sound. Putting a frustrated look on my face, I tried again. Still no sound. I handed it back to Luke, saying, “Either the harmonica doesn’t work any more, or I need help playing it.”
Back in the saddle again, Luke blew on the harmonica. A sound came out. I did a double-take, and told him I was impressed. After he’d played on it for a minute, I asked him to show me how to get the harmonica to make a sound. Now the expert, Luke explained that I was supposed to blow on the holes, not on top of the harmonica. He was very patient with me; he knew that some people need a little extra help.
Maybe Mr. Virtuoso will come by again. But at least Luke knows that there are several levels of skill. And if I don’t give up trying to be as good as Luke, why should he be discouraged by Mr. Virtuoso?

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