5 Chords: The Summers' Set to Music




Scott sprawls under the piano's whorled belly on a Winnie the Pooh blanket with Alex burbling at his side. He knows his mom's fingers are hopping over the piano keys, white-tipped and small-knuckled, moving so fast that he couldn't hope to match it no matter how much he practiced.

"What's this one?" she asks, playing a set of notes.

"Ummm. C major?"

"Very good! What about this?"

"F flat?"

"Right again! You've got a fantastic ear, Scotty. Promise me you'll stick to your lessons even when you're old and more interested in girls than dumb old pianos."

"Yes, Mommy."

He sings along because the melodies burst out from inside, dancing, trilling, full of joy. Two years from now, there will be an accident. A driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.121 will cross the median. Scott will be thrown from the car, his brother trapped in his booster chair, and his mom crushed so badly that the paramedics will not be able to retrieve her before the car explodes. But for now his parents are not fighting, his dad isn't overseas and his mom isn't crying as she makes waffles.

Scott is eight and cannot imagine being interested in anything but stories, cake and making music with his mom.

Extended Harmony
Remy chicken-pecks at the ivory keys. They fart something that may have been musical once upon a time. He tries again, this time pressing down on two keys at a time. Old Dan plays the piano in the club around. His mama liked to hang around Old Dan's club. Decent johns hung out there. They didn't smell none and usually gave Remy money to buy candy with while Mama did her business.

He presses a different pair of notes. Then another. Then another.

"Chopsticks," says Scott.

Remy knows his supposed older brother is a nerd so he pays no mind.

"Do you know how to play?" Scott persists. He has put down his homework, shoulders straightening in interest.

"Not piano. Guitar's better. You can take it with you everywhere."

Scott nods. "We can get a guitar if you like."

Shrugging, Remy slips off the piano seat. He doesn't know how to play the guitar either.

The guitar comes on his next birthday and by that time, he's charmed the music teacher into giving him lessons during class. He shows off his skill to his properly awed brothers.

He is eleven and for the first time, he has a captive audience.

Consonance and Dissonance
Alex hangs out in other people's houses. He plays with other boys' Nintendo consoles and eats other mothers' cooking. It is unsurprising that he first picks up a guitar in someone else's room.

"So can you actually play this or do you just show it off?" he asks, holding the instrument up by its neck.

His buddy grins, grabs the Gibson and plugs it into an amp. Thirty seconds into Cliffs of Dover, Alex is already itching to try. His brothers play -- Scott occasionally bangs out classical music and classical rock on their old stand-up piano while Remy bends his head over an acoustic guitar so beautiful it must be stolen.

Within months, one of those brothers will live in New York, the other will all but live with San Diego's seediest gangsters and the last... well, Alex doesn't really want to think about Adam.

Alex is fourteen. He perfects guitar playing like he perfects everything else, hoping that perfection means someone will care.

Missing Fundamental
Adam remembers music. He hums snatches of melodies without knowing song titles. The upright piano remains under its cover. Two empty guitar stands collect dust in two empty rooms.

He is fifteen. No one teaches him to play.

Perfect Fourth
Xavier's has a music room but no formal music classes. The professor encourages everyone to use the instruments. There is a grand piano, three acoustic guitar, two electric guitars, a cello, two violins, a drum set, a saxophone, a flute, several recorders and a variety of hand-held percussion instruments-- maracas, tambourines, triangles, castanets.

Scott wanders in first. He trails his hand down the lid, wiping off dust, wiping off sweat. He is midway through a ragged version of Bach's Prelude No. 1 when Adam enters. His youngest brother first stands just behind him and to the right. Scott sits straighter. His fingers curve-- Pretend you've got a tennis ball stuck in your hand; that's right, honey! Perfect. Now your wrists won't hurt-- the notes come easier.

Alex wanders in next. "You would play snoozefests," he says. "You know, you're twenty-nine not ninety-nine."

"Unlike you, I'm not under the impression that louder means better." Scott finishes with a flourish of grace notes then immediately segues into Coldplay's Clocks.

Alex rolls his eyes but picks up the closest electric guitar. He has it plugged in and is playing along with Scott by the time Remy joins them. He smacks the back of Alex's head on the way to the guitar rack. His acoustic guitar adds a Spanish flare that works for the song, strangely enough. He and Alex fight for the lead through the rest of "Clocks" and, yea gods, even through the entirety of "November Rain" Alex finally backs down when Scott launches into "Great Balls of Fire" but only because he sings. Sort of. Scott snorts and takes over. His tenor is rusty with disuse.

Adam sprawls under the piano, eyes closed. He thinks of taking up the drums.

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