A version of this post first appeared on Lulu and Phoebe's Open Salon blog.
We come from a long line of classically trained, yet fickle musicians. We play instruments, compose, and some have even (briefly) attended Juilliard. Careers as virtuosos don't happen in our family, but it is almost mandatory that an instrument be handed to a child at a young age, nonetheless. Careful not to anger the musical spirits of the ancestors, we enrolled the 4-year-old in a Suzuki string methods class.
The child attended philharmonic concerts from the age of 3, sitting with us in our steeply student-discounted seats. Fidget free, she seemed taken with string instruments. When asked which her favorite string instrument was, she eagerly pointed a chubby finger at the violin section. Or so we thought.
On her first day of class she talked nonstop about getting her new violin -- just like the philharmonic musicians. She skipped into class, dragging us by the hand. The teacher proudly presented the child with her first violin: a brand-new 6-inch cigar box wrapped in wood-grain contact paper with a ruler sticking out of the end for the neck. The bow? A skinny little stick.
The child's face was pinching into the look that happens right before she melts into tears. She squinted at us like we had offered her worms sautéed with peas for dinner. Oblivious, the teacher sealed the meltdown by giving her a cardboard circle with two feet drawn in marker – a diagram for her to stand on to get into the correct form for playing the violin.
We weren’t even worthy of her pitiful look anymore. Stifling a hiccup/sigh, she turned away and merely stared at the ground. Little tears fell on the floor. Did our health insurance cover therapy for victims of well-meaning, but really stupid parents?
Her homework was to practice holding the pretend violin correctly using all the props. The girl was beside herself with misery, but she diligently practiced.
Her younger sister borrowed the violin daily for special projects, like smashing spiders. She broke it so often we finally ran out of duct tape. We also went through three containers of pick-up sticks as substitute bows before we realized that the deviously clever little sister was using them as lock picks. Obviously, her career would clearly not be in music.
Finally, the 4-year-old graduated to her first ¼-size violin.
Have you heard the catchy tune "Mississippi Hot Dog"? It goes like this; mis-sis-sip-pi-hot-dog. Repeat, a lot. If you’ve not had the pleasure of listening to a pint-size violinist play it (badly) 400 times in a row, consider yourself lucky. It is hard to screw up the tune since it involves one solitary note. But given how many ways there are to bow a string on a violin, chaos will ensue; as in, your ears will bleed.
Eventually, she was fiddling reasonably well and liked to practice with the door closed because she was shy. Each day it seemed like the sound got more muffled. That should have been a clue.
Imagine my surprise when I opened the door to find her in the closet sitting on pint-size chair. The little violin was now playing the role of cello. That’s right. Apparently she didn't have the heart to tell us that we'd been mistaken. She wasn't pointing to the violins at the philharmonic. She was pointing beyond the violins and the violas to the cellos.
We made a deal. She could play cello right after she finished the classes we had already purchased. "Mississippi Hot Dog"? Sounds exactly the same on the cello as it does on the violin.
Perhaps she had the right idea with that closet. Juilliard would not be calling.
The other thing the wayward young musician and her lock-picking sister had to look forward to on Suzuki concert days was Uncle Jake's dessert. He came to most of the concerts and always brought dessert. Knowing that fudgy cake was waiting for us at home made 30 kids sawing away in unison (sort of) at "Mississippi Hot Dog" tolerable. Almost.
The cake uses ingredients that are usually in the cupboard. Serve warm with a favorite ice cream, whipped cream or fresh berries. Or all of the above.
Jake's Fudgy Pudding Cake
1 cup flour or gluten-free flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons butter melted
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon Godiva liqueur (optional)
1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 ½ cups boiling water
- Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8-by-8 pan. Mix together flour, baking powder, salt, white sugar, cocoa. Add in milk, butter, liqueur and vanilla. Stir. Pat evenly into prepared pan. Mix together cocoa and brown sugar, making sure no lumps remain. Sprinkle on top of batter. Pour 1 cup plus a scant half-cup of boiling water over the top. Place in oven and bake for about 35 minutes.
- Cool for about 5-10 minutes and scoop and serve. Best served slightly warm. It will be gooey. Serves 9-12.