Parents: Give Your Gay Sons Bassoon Lessons

Dear Parents of Young Gay Boys,

It’s been genuinely heartwarming to read the stories I see on the Huffington Post from time to time in which you share the experience of embracing and supporting your gay sons. It’s been absolutely mind blowing to read that some of your sons have been able to comfortably identify as gay and share that with you at ages like 8 or 10 or 12. You’ve clearly created a home that is so plainly welcoming and accepting in the eyes of your gay son that he feels no risk or threat in coming out to you. It’s not like that in many, many families.

As an adult gay man who has started into his fifties, I’ve had a chance to look back and see experiences that prepared me to function in the world of gay men. Some of them would doubtless greatly surprise you. They certainly surprised me when I thought about it.

As parents of young gay sons, you have an opportunity to take the next bold step in the development of someone who will be a gay man one day. You can help prepare him by giving him the chance to learn and develop skills he will need as an adult. As surely as you would teach a straight son how to prepare for heterosexual adulthood by talking about things like birth control or STDs, you must surely want to teach your gay son how to prepare for his adulthood.

Presumably, most of you are straight yourselves. It’s quite understandable that you may not have any idea what a gay son needs to know or how you might teach such things. In this, I can offer at least a little help. I can share with you something from my childhood that turned out to be immensely useful in my adult life. Something I learned that was wholly benign and seemingly unrelated to how I might be a better gay man for it.

And best of all for you, this is something no son would expect to learn from his parents. You don’t have to be the teacher. Just pay for the lessons. If there’s one thing you do for your young gay son that he will certainly thank you for later in life, no matter how much he might complain about it as a child, I know what it is. What you should make sure to add to his education.

Bassoon lessons.

That’s right. I said “bassoon lessons.” If you’ve ever in your life played bassoon, then no doubt you are rapidly cluing into the benefit they might provide. But if not, let me elaborate a little bit.

If you have no idea what a bassoon is, it’s a musical instrument of the woodwind family. Its most familiar kin would be the clarinet. The bassoon makes sound through a very long tube, so long in fact that it doubles back on itself to produce very deep bass notes. Because of all that tubing, the thing’s a real pill to wrangle. And the keys are spread out all over the place, requiring some very awkward hand and finger movements. I studied bassoon for a year while in junior high school. I compare the act of playing the instrument to touch typing on a bazooka.

If your gay son has musical aspirations, mastering bassoon is almost certainly not among them. The bassoon is not cool. You can’t march with one in marching band. You’re not likely to be asked to join an up and coming performing group if you play one. But make him take the lessons anyway, at least for a year.

What could possibly make bassoon playing, with all the baggage it entails, so valuable that you should inflict lessons on your gay son?

Let me put it this way.

One thing that separates the bassoon from most woodwind instruments is the reed. The clarinet, for instance, is a single-reed woodwind instrument. It makes sound by attaching a single, thin reed to a mouthpiece. The reed vibrates, contributing to the sound. Because the reed is so thin and vibrates, it wears out. In fact, if not played with good technique, a player can split or crack a reed. A split or cracked reed is useless and must be replaced.

The bassoon is a double-reed woodwind instrument. Rather than attaching a single reed to a mouthpiece, a bassoon reed is made with two slivers of reed that are fastened back to back then attached by putting this assembly onto a metal neck. A bassoon reed is more complicated than a clarinet reed, often assembled by hand. They are doubly delicate, easier to split or crack. And they are more expensive to replace. A kid learns to be careful with the bassoon reeds.

As an eight-grade student taking up the instrument in order to join the school orchestra (and because the teacher prevailed upon me since they had no bassoon player), one of the very first things taught to me about playing bassoon was embouchure. Embouchure is a French word that, like many musical terms, gives a very high-brow name to something simple. It refers to the manner in which a player shapes his mouth, especially the lips, to properly play the instrument.

With the bassoon, good embouchure not only produces proper sound, it also helps protect the expensive double-reed so that it does not split or crack. Good embouchure helps use the lips as a natural barrier that keeps one’s teeth from contact with the sensitive reed.

Are we all on the same page now?

To learn bassoon, one must begin by learning the careful and proper position of mouth and lips to produce good sound and protect the instrument.

Typically found in orchestras, bassoon is often played in compositions of classical music that often run for many minutes. A player must be able maintain good embouchure for extended periods of time, keeping lips moist and teeth at bay.

If you find yourself a bit shocked or horrified at my suggestion, consider a couple things. First, it may be best to have his dad suggest the lessons. Dad will understand their eventual value at a more visceral level than Mom will. That may make it easier to put misgivings aside. This is, after all, a matter of helping your son become a man (to say nothing of doing a community service). Second, while people may look quizzically when you tell them your son is studying bassoon, nobody will be scandalized. All very harmless, even if perhaps a bit odd.

If you insist that your young gay son study bassoon for at least a year, you will have slyly put into his experience a set of skills that he’ll swear will prove utterly useless in adult life. But he would be wrong about that.

Down the road, when he realizes he was wrong about that, he will thank you. It will give you both a private joke, only the punch line of which he’ll share in reply to some flushed face wearing a rare expression of stunned surprise and mindless delight, who gulped down enough air to ask in half voice, “Where did you learn that?”

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