Katherine had a retreat with the youth symphony this weekend. I dropped her off, which was harder for me than I had anticipated. I knew intellectually that Kate was the youngest kid in the symphony, but I hadn't really thought about how BIG her fellow musicians would be. As we stood in line to check in, high school kids, all strangers, swirled around us shouting and mingling. Next to them, my 6th grader looked very, very small. I was anxious and protective and trying hard not to do something embarrassing like holler "Watch out for my baby!" But Kate was fine. She was watching it all with interest and eager to find a spot to store her violin so that she could join in. As we walked to the auditorium where rehearsals would be, she must have noticed my contained panic because she turned to me and said, "Mom, remember I know lots of people here." She rattled off the names of older kids we knew and pointed out that her violin teacher was one of the adults in charge. A few minutes later, she looked me in the eye and gently said, "Mom, you can go now. I'm okay." I left.
Steve picked her up that night. She was all smiles as she climbed in the car. As soon as the doors were closed she sighed, "That was so looooong!" The hours long rehearsals had worn her out and her arms were tired from the effort of holding instrument and bow. But she had had a great time.
Back at home, I listened to her observations of the older kids and her excitement at being a part of this group. I asked her what it had been like to play with kids older and better musicians than she was. After all, until today she had only played with her fifth grade orchestra as they squawked their way through Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. "They're good," she replied. "And they play SO fast!" She thought for a moment and then said, "There's me and about five others who are here," she gestured. "And then there is everyone else here," she moved her other hand far to the side. She continued, "There's one song where I can read the first line and after that, I just fake it." She gave me a knowing look and grinned.
The next morning, Katherine couldn't wait to go back for more games and hours more rehearsal. The older kids had been nothing but kind and encouraging to her and she was ready to spend more time with them. Steve and I came up at the end of the day for a parent meeting and a mini concert. There are 66 kids in the symphony. Katherine is the youngest and one of the very smallest. Of the 19 violinists, she is the only one who does not yet play a full sized instrument. When she is seated on stage, we couldn't even see her. But none of that mattered because she was just one of the group. And she was there to play music. I was immensely proud of her.
As we drove home, Kate talked more about her weekend and her new role as a musician. "I'm playing second violin, " she said. "And that's okay. That's really good. I'm not ready for anything harder!" She spoke about the pieces she'd played for us. "That last one? It was really fast, but it was fun. It was my favorite." She giggled. "I only had to fake it for 8 measures."
This morning, on the way to church, Steve asked Katherine about the differences between the two orchestras she is now a part of. "Well, the symphony is different because they have band instruments, too. It sounds different, better, when you have trumpets and drums and stuff." She thought again and said, "At school, I'm a better player than anyone else. It's kind of boring and I have to show other kids what to do. In the youth symphony I'm not very good, but there's a lot I can learn. I like seeing what I can do, not just showing off."
I am so glad that Katherine has this opportunity to be a part of something bigger than she is. I am grateful that she can use her gifts to play beautiful music. And I am amazed at her insight. She's only 11, but she has figured out some of life's biggest truths. Sometimes you have to play second fiddle. Sometimes it's better to be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond. It's always good to push yourself to learn more. And sometimes you learn to just fake it.