Two Songs

“So,” she said, as we sat down.  “Could you tell me about Dragon?  Could you tell me about a song that was important to him?”

I had already opened my Music Program binder.  We were meeting our new Music Program Coordinator, Arie Lugo, and I was all set to talk operating procedures, the mentor program, student to teacher ratios, and ways to measure our effectiveness.  I had my MBA hat on, I had a draft of our mission and vision, and I was all ready to go.

But not for this.  I hadn’t prepared myself for this.

Arie again asked for Dragon’s favorite song, a song that was important to him.

That was easy.  It had been playing in my head for days.  I thought back to Dragon’s freshman year.  That day when I picked him up after school, when he jumped excitedly into his seat on the passenger side as I pulled up to our normal meeting spot on Sycamore Street.

“Hey Dragon, how was school?”

“Mom!”  he exclaimed.  “It was so good today!  Mr. Pacier introduced us to a new music group.  Do you know a group called ‘Queen’??? ” Dragon asked, delighted, not knowing that Queen was one of his father’s favorite groups.  Daniel was a child of the 70s.

Dragon went on: “And Queen… they have this really great song… it’s called, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody!'”

I smiled to myself, loving how his 9th grade mind was expanding.  As part of his music curriculum, Dragon was also taking History of Music, and he was being exposed to new musical genres.  The previous week, he had jumped into my car with a similar enthusiasm, asking me with genuine curiosity, “Mom, what is New Wave music??”

Duran Duran, mixed tapes with A-Ha, a Flock of Seagulls — the soundtrack to my teenage years suddenly flooded my senses.

But back to Bohemian Rhapsody.  So that was Dragon’s first encounter with this song, Bohemian Rhapsody.  He so loved that song!  When he found out his Brass Ensemble class would play it for the spring concert, he started practicing to nab the trombone solo.  Over and over again, we heard the staccato of that solo.  Dragon got the solo.  When, a couple weeks later, at the concert, I sat nervously in the audience, anticipating the rush of notes that would be coming, knowing the difficulty of this measure.  But when it came time to play his part, his hours of practicing paid off.  Dragon nailed it.  It was heartfelt, and lovely.

A voice called to me from my reverie.  I snapped back to the present, and found myself sitting across from Arie, who was asking her next question: “And was there a song Dragon struggled with?”

At first, I didn’t know what she meant.  Did she mean, was there a song he didn’t like?  A song that challenged him?

Ah, challenged him.  That answer too was easy: Concertino in E-Flat Major, by Ferdinand David.  The song he played for his audition for the Pacific Youth Symphony. And then it all came rushing back.  How he tried out that first year, as a seventh grader.  He had just started playing the trombone the previous year.  With only one year’s experience under his belt, we knew it was a stretch, trying out for one of the country’s most prestigious youth orchestras, the one that played on stage at Orange County’s premier concert hall, the Segerstrom.  But, Dragon wanted to try.

So, I ironed his shirt.  Daniel tied his bowtie.  In his pressed concert attire, with trombone in hand, Dragon and I set off for his audition at UCI.  As a mom of a middle schooler, I realized that Dragon and I were embarking on what would be a series of situations where people and organizations would be evaluating my son.  Looking down the road, I saw high school admissions interviews, musical auditions, tryouts, applications for college.  Even job interviews.  Dragon was starting down a path that all of us have to go down when we apply for positions in organizations, as we chase our aspirations and dreams.  My job at this point was to put the opportunities in front of Dragon, drive him to the events, straighten his tie, and wish him luck.  I felt a twinge of protectiveness, seeing him there at UCI, seeing him with his big trombone case, signing him in for his audition.  They asked that parents remain outside while the children were auditioning.  This was new for me — having to leave my child to face the judges without my presence.  Again, the first of many such times to come, I thought to myself.  When they called him in, I walked away, wanting to get away from the other nervous parents.  I called a friend to distract myself.  We talked about our daughters.  Within half an hour, Dragon came back out.

“How was it?”  I asked, anxious, wanting to hear about every detail.

“It was fine.  I made a couple mistakes, but I think I did okay,” Dragon responded, unwilling to grace me with any additional information.

And so we drove home.  The decision wouldn’t come for a couple weeks.  We weren’t particularly nervous, but we were curious.  When the decision came, it was bad news.  It was a rejection.

The next year, when the auditions for the Pacific Symphony opened up, we saddled up again.  The same routine.  Another few weeks of intense practice.  Hours of listening to Dragon play Ferdinand David.  I ironed his shirt.  Daniel tied his bowtie.  We drove to UCI.  We signed the roster.  They called him in.  I walked away.  After the audition, I picked him up and we drove home.

“How was it?” I asked, anxiously.

“It was fine,” Dragon answered.  Two weeks later, the same rejection letter.  Thank you, but no.

In February 2015, Dragon decided to try out again.  By this time, he had been going to OCSA for a few months, so daily intense trombone practice and more experience playing in front of an audience.  When the calls for auditions went out, Dragon had Ferdinand David’s Concertino down.  I didn’t know what to expect.

Our routine didn’t much vary.  We had bought Dragon his first suit for OCSA, so he decided to wear that.  He ironed his own shirt.  He tied his own bowtie.  We were both much less nervous.  And this time, we knew which parking lot at UCI was the closest, we recognized some of the other students and parents, we recognized the people checking us in.  We signed the roster.  They called him in.  I walked away.  After the audition, I picked him up.  We drove to Gina’s, an Italian restaurant near campus that served the best meatball subs — juicy beef meatballs and melted mozzarella smothered in a warm and tangy marinara sauce.  I had recently discovered this sandwich, and knew Dragon would love it.  I had been waiting for a chance to take him.

We each got a sub and sat down to dig in.

“So, how was your audition?” I asked between bites, remembering auditions from years past.

“It was fine.  I thought it went well,” Dragon admitted.

I remember looking at Dragon in that pristine, white concert shirt, and at the dangerous mess of marinara sauce, melted cheese, and meatballs in front of him. I remember thinking of how brave he was to put himself in front of that committee playing that same fucking song for the third fucking year, getting rejected year after year.  I remember thinking how happy I was to be sharing this delicious meatball sub with my son, my boy who loved to eat, my boy who loved music.  We finished our subs and went home.

Two weeks later, we got the letter.  Yes, it said.  Congratulations!  Please come to the first rehearsal, September 2015.

But Dragon was killed in August.  After all those years, after all those ironed shirts, after all those hours playing Ferdinand David’s Concertino, Dragon never got to go to his first Pacific Youth Symphony rehearsal.  He never got to play at the Segerstrom.  There would be no more auditions, applications, or job interviews.  There would be nothing.

Instead, we asked Dragon’s trombone instructor to play the Concertina at his funeral.  That song, one last time.  And in the program for Dragon and Justin’s memorial, we included these lyrics from Bohemian Rhapsody:

Goodbye everybody I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.

Mama, 
Didn’t mean to make you cry
If I’m not back again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on.

4 Comments
  • Dollaya Chaibongsai
    Posted at 18:15h, 08 March Reply

    Moving. I’m brought to tears. Thank you for sharing Dragon’s (and your) journey in this one aspect of applying to the youth symphony. His perserverance, humility, joy for music (and food) comes across so clearly. Love to Dragon. Love to you.

    • Grace Kim
      Posted at 01:46h, 10 March Reply

      I forgot. I forgot until Arie asked, that we had Dragon’s trombone instructor play the Concertina at the funeral. Funeral.

  • Jennifer
    Posted at 16:59h, 09 March Reply

    Grace, thank you for including the clip of Dragon playing. He really did nail it. This post took my breath away, as I recognize the feelings you share about loving your son as you do something as simple as eat a meatball sub together. You bring Dragon to life with these posts for those of us who didn’t know him well, There truly was a light about him.

    • Grace Kim
      Posted at 01:44h, 10 March Reply

      Jenn, I love that you always comment when I write something. I see the love you have for Lou shining through.

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