Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Was Once a Violinist

The following is an essay that was written by a former student. He posted this on his Facebook page and I asked his permission to share it with you all. In it, he outlines so many of the hopes that I have for each of my students. Generally, his is a life that has been enriched by his participation in strings and orchestra. I am proud to have been both the "dancing conductor" and "Scott" to whom he refers! He got it. He received all that orchestra was intended to give. That is, a life enriched.

Tonight I walked alone into a concert hall in LaGrange, Ga. A friend from my Tuesday and Thursday night trivia team is also in the local symphony, and she got me free tickets.

I brought a book with me to keep the boredom away before the show started, during the intermission, and if they started to suck.

Mind you, since I left the stage for the last time in April of 2002 (the last time I was in an orchestra), I have played at different churches for worship choruses. I have played the violin for myself at very random and sporadic times in praising God, using an old red hymnal from my childhood church. I have even seen professional symphonies from coast to coast, whether in Jacksonville, Denver, LA, or DC. This was not the first time I had been to see music performed.

The first piece, Strauss’ Die Fledermaus was decent enough and kept my attention. The second was a rather challenging arrangement by Tchaikovsky (Var. Rococo Theme OP33), a solo for cello. I came quickly to find that this young man, while not notorious enough to brighten the halls of the Kennedy Center or other infamous venues, was more than enough to take my breath away.

I found myself sitting on the edge of my chair, leaning into the high notes of this prodigy’s tune, and melting into a puddle as the depths of his lower range shook the foundations of the building. I was enthralled. The ending came too soon.

I was delightfully surprised to find that the conductor then allowed this young man the stage alone. While the rest of the orchestra sat as part of the audience, this young man played a soul rendering Bach piece that was short, non-technical, but lyrical throughout.

Intermission came and went, as well as a chapter or two from my book. The lights went down, and memory lane commenced. Within seconds of the opening of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Russian Festival, I was lost in time.

Having played this piece numerous times, my mind wandered to yesteryear. Definitely not planned and definitely not organized, memories started to dislodge themselves from the recesses of my mind. With the quickening beat of the conductor’s baton, I sat back in amazement as I recalled…

…the smells of Eleanor Roosevelt high schools’ orchestra room, rosin filling my nose, while I ate there during lunch both junior and senior year.

…the stickiness of bow rosin if you wipe it off with your fingers.

…the crazy athleticism of my high school Orchestra director from the conductor’s stand and his never ending drives and swells to make the music come alive. In many ways, his dance became the rhythm that set the tone for the evening.

…various stand partners and all my crazy antics from all those years (5th grade thru the end of college.) Besides Josh Raskin, my only male stand partner, I spent countless hours vibing, laughing with, and fiddling around with Annette, Doris, Hannah, Maria, etc. For one Christmas, Doris gave me an Animal key chain (the drummer from the Muppets). She said it fit my personality. (Some things don’t change; all puns intended.)

…the sweat that lingered on my uniform after concerts until dry cleaned by my Mom.

…JB and all of our crazy escapades from Day One. Whether it was in wrestling practice, Bible Club, Prom, camping, overnights, “princesses,” or whatever we filled our time with, Scott and God were never far from our minds.

…from 6th grade through the end of my Senior year of ERHS, Allan Chui and I were friends from first sight. Through the wars of acne, youth orchestras and the Kennedy Center, the trials of junior high boys, the competition of awards, endless Friday afternoons at the movies, or the stage fright of “macking,” we always had our strings to keep us looking forwards and upwards.

…the hand lotion of my junior high orchestra director. There were times that I think I wished my violin would go out of tune, just so that she would have to come and retune it, filling my nose with her delightful smells once again. (Okay, yeah, I had a crush.)

Back to the present…Korsakov had to finish at some point. But just in case my trip was not over, Sir Edward Elgar’s (and now all the band and orchestra geeks are shaking their heads at me) Pomp and Circumstance March finished the program. If I had been alone when I walked in, the memories were coming full blast at me now, sitting down next to me, making me lose all sense of time and space.

Again, I was reminded of…

…tossing the tassel at my graduation from high school and college from right to left.

…my close friends, Jeffrey, Philip, and Rosemary Walters. To say that I was a part of their family growing up would be an understatement; I had dinner at their house weekly, if not monthly. Never having brothers, these men filled those roles, whether it was the older brother that I idolized, or the little brother that we ganged up against. “Mom,” to the great disapproval of my biological, was my first choral director, my churches’ organist (which was a coveted position in my life), my substitute teacher, and one of the most influential women of my musical and spiritual upbringing. We love you. We miss you.

…my angry organist-turned-orchestra-director from college. He really had no idea what he was doing up there; the orchestra from his tapes that were playing in his mind never reflected the sound that we cacophon-ized. I missed every other conductor I had sat under, every time.

…all the girls that I had crushes on. Whether it was redheads, blondes, or brunettes, whether in church or school, whether in practice and sweats or performance day and black skirts, I had the privilege to play with some gorgeous women. I still don’t think I would have the cahounas to ask most of them out, even today.

…the fact that I still carry my violin with me on the road. In 1992 or ’93, my mother bought me my own violin, which I still carry in its old, beat up, plastic case. Usually it sits in my closet, collecting dust.

Tonight, I was lost to the moment. I was no longer 29, but 13, 18, and 21 again. I thought about the cliques of my high school and longed to be a part of them. I sat there thinking of how proud I was for every time my sisters had crossed the stage, and how I am looking forward to all future stage crossings from them, myself, and our kids. I sat there wondering how I had gotten here, in Podunkville, GA, while dreaming about Beltsville, Hyattsville, Greenbelt, Baltimore, and Grove City.

Completely, wholly, I started to think back about all the things I had looked forward to, things that I had already accomplished. So many moments that had passed me by. So many times I had failed at taking the risks I had dreamed of, jumping off the ledge into. So many achievements that I never ever imagined I would have done by now, even in my wilder moments, that I look back on now with pride.

I sat there thinking “Am I where that kid dreamed I would be? If I could say something to that kid now, what would it be? If I am not where I want to be, from then or now, what is truly holding me back? Why am I not bold enough to dream, and then pursue, if the course of my life has not matched my fantasies?”

I sat there conducting the Orchestra myself, and as I tapped my feet, nodded my head, and even once or twice was so entranced that my hands were moving as well, I was lost in the music. And then it was finished.

And when I walked out, the sun was down.

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