Little Drummer Girl

No doubt about it. Riley has got the beat.

I can hear it when my 2-year old niece visits, pounding away at her toy drums.

I can see it when I play the piano and her eyes grow wide, right before she starts bouncing herself along to the rhythm.

We’ve even noticed it during an otherwise unremarkable Nickelodeon children’s program. When a band of puppets jumped into a song, Riley did the same, banging two toys together, right on the beat.

Did Gene Krupa start out like this?

I know, every uncle thinks their nephew or niece is a genius. (Well – except for the ones who grow up to produce campaign ads. But I mustn’t poke at tragedies.) Still, something special and wonderful does seem to happen when Riley and music are in a room together. It’s delightful to watch, thrilling to contemplate.

Especially when I start to wonder: Did I have anything to do with this?

As some of you might remember, I first met Riley when she was about two hours old. My wife Heather had been in the room when she was born and called me in as soon as the family was ready for visitors.

I’m not sure why I did it. But that first moment I held my niece, I softly sang to her. It was the first time anyone had sung to her outside the womb.


Like a baby when it is sleeping,

In its loving mother’s arms,

What a newborn baby dreams is a mystery …


That set a pattern. It was a rare time we ever came together when I didn’t sing, often to help lull her to sleep.


Train whistle blowing,

Makes a sleepy noise,

Underneath their blankets,

Roll all the girls and boys … .


I was hardly the only one, of course. And soon, Riley had music of her own, whether it was her own efforts of “Old MacDonald” (“Ya, ya, yo!”), or half-remembered scraps of the theme song from the cartoon Caillou. Like the lady with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, it seems that she shall have music wherever she goes.

And like a hiker in the Rockies, I still ask myself “Did I start that snowball? Or would the avalanche have come anyway?”

Maybe the answer’s a bit of both. Maybe a talent or a passion waits inside all of us, but we need each other to find the key.

I started reading at age 2 1/2. No small feat. But for the 30 months prior to that (and many years afterward), I was surrounded by books and family members who loved to read them, both to me and for their own pleasure.

The fuel was there, waiting for a spark.

Many lives can tell similar stories. Albert Einstein had his childhood curiosity triggered at age four or five by the movement of a compass his father showed him. A stuttering James Earl Jones had a teacher who insisted he read a poem out loud every day. Whether early or late, through an incidental gift or a dedicated stubbornness, someone provided the lightning strike.

The firestorm then took care of itself.

It makes me curious to see what paths it’ll light up for Riley. Maybe music will be a passion, or a hobby, or just a pleasant diversion on the road to her real interest. That’s fine. But it’s nice to think that, as she starts to march to her own drummer, it might be with drumsticks I helped shape.

It’s a pleasure that just can’t be beat.

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