I had it all spread out on a large dining room table in my head: every fun project for the weekend, all the ones already completed, plus a little extra room on the table for whatever genius ideas might come to mind. The mental radio station was playing my favorite upbeat music. My mood was lifting with the weather. It was almost as though I could close my eyes, take a deep breath, and plunge right into summer all at once.
That is, until the flashing lights tried to put an end to it. I knew they were for me, so I pulled over and waited for them to catch up.
"You were going 65 in a 55. Any reason why?"
"Um, I was, daydreaming. About something." I suspected my eyes must have appeared wide and vacuous.
"Have you been drinking?" He told me to focus on his index finger as he waved it back and forth. I was afraid I wouldn't pass, so I concentrated extra hard on that finger instead of his badge and his notepad and the ideas still lying on the table in my head. As he went back to the patrol car to check my information, I mulled things over. How could I explain that I wasn't really there, that I'd already checked out for the summer? I should have taped a note to the door as I was leaving or something.
I don't know what it is about May, but it seems like this is the time of year that I always come down with something nasty. Usually, it also coincides with my end of the year recital. Last night, as my temperature spiked to 102.4, I finally made arrangements for my good friend, Maria, to take over accompanying the Vivaldi A Minor that was my student Eli's piece for the recital today. Orchestra reductions in general tend to demand a bit more practice time, but this arrangement in particular was not something I would even consider playing without having been able to practice the past several days, much less while delirious with the flu. Eli seemed hesitant enough without my poor accompanying to trip her up, and Maria assured me she'd played it at least a dozen times, so it wouldn't be a problem. I tried not to feel too guilty for pawning her off. The rest of the recital I could handle just fine.
...That is, unless I was still insanely feverish come morning time. ...And I still had the program to design. The cookies to bake... Good grief. Without a doubt, some people must have been praying for me, because at 5:30 this morning, my fever began to break, and I was able to finally sit down at the computer and begin composing the program. At 7:30, the program fell into place, so I lay down for a quick two-hour nap and woke up with a normal temperature.
I couldn't help but notice as I folded and stacked, that most of the pieces on the program were close to beginner level in difficulty. Granted, a large percentage of my students are new this year, but even a couple of students that I've had for a while are playing simple, short pieces. It would be difficult to refrain from giving a speech before each piece, explaining the new challenges that each student had overcome to make it to where they were today, that this piece has tricky slurs, and this one is in a new key, with a completely different finger pattern. And this one is using vibrato for the first time! An untrained ear wouldn't know the difference. And no one but two of us know the amount of work it took to iron out those rhythmic issues or that fourth finger conundrum. We go slowly, but thoroughly, and not until it's right do we move forward.
And yet, I still had my own questions. Were they really getting anywhere? If we traveled like slugs, would we ever get there, or would we shrivel up, stranded in the middle of the sidewalk? Is that what happened to all the ones who quit? It's a sad thought, but this question had been assailing me for quite some time, unfortunately.
As the recital went underway, I soon forgot I was asking myself that. Recitals are so entertaining--maybe more so for the teacher than anyone else! The more years I've been doing this, the more I've learned to stop worrying and enjoy every minute of it. I love seeing the individual personality that comes out on the stage. Every person is so special to me for that single reason: no one else can be who they are.
Last but not least came Eli on the Vivaldi. For the first time, I got to sit in the audience and watch her as she performed with Maria, and for the first time, I really listened to her perform. She was solid! And when did she stop being a little girl? There she was, acting so mature and grown up; it was hard to believe she's only in seventh grade. Look at her go--secure shifting, relaxed bow arm, solid intonation, and all in front of an audience, too! She was in her zone from the start, and when the last note was played, she gasped and stepped back, almost as if being released from a spell. The audience gasped a little, too, before bursting into applause. She was looking at me now, smiling.
You know, I'm actually glad I caught the flu for the recital this year. If I hadn't I might never have gotten to see that, despite my suspicions, not every student is destined to shrivel up on the sidewalk. Some move surprisingly fast in a short amount of time, but only after a sound investment of time.
Maybe it's more like growing feathers.
Lovely weather we're having, don't you agree?
And when the sun finally came out, the locals shrank in despair, like demons being plucked from their dens and thrown into the day of reckoning.
Such a response as this was anything but typical. Most people would unquestioningly accept the sun's warmth, but to them, it came across as a bouquet of flowers from a wayward lover. It felt like a painful reminder of times long past. It felt like a brief tease before the next inevitable heartbreak.
At first, they mocked it. In fact, they were all taking bets on how long it would last before it went away again. For half a day, they watched it from inside the coffee shop, waiting for it to go away. When it wouldn't, they went outside and threw their hands up at it, shouting. It persisted. Eventually, they surrendered their coats and dug into their closets for sandals. What is this? Seventy degrees? Feel it--even the breeze is warm! The last day like that was what, May 2006? Do we dare try shorts?
It was almost impossible to enjoy it; they were uncomfortable even in their own skin, vampirishly bare beneath the stark daylight. In their sandals and shorts, they dodged shriveling snow patches while foraging for foul-flung frisbees in the musty leaves. For three days, they played disc golf, taking the weather like medicine. Then, on the fourth day, the ice went out on the lake and the mountain trails opened up for hiking.
Too many months had passed since the registry on top of Skyline had been signed, so up the trail they went, to stick their names in the notebook at the top of the mountain and see what could be seen on the horizon. Maybe spot a spouting volcano or two. Flush a spruce hen on the way. Take a photo, so it'll last longer. Their skin flushed pink between the snowy south facing slope and the high afternoon heat.
On the way up, the trees were still skeletal. But on the way down, tiny green buds added the first bit of color to a landscape long layered in dormant hues. The fuzzy sprouts, so tender and hopeful, moved quickly to regain their hillside while the snow-melt seeped into the steaming soil.
It was there on that mountain that they began to forget they were angry at the sun, and they stopped growling protectively under their breath like the mean old dogs they'd become.
She brings them flowers and says she's sorry, and they want to believe her, really they do.
More entries: April 2009
Violinist.com Editor Laurie Niles is in New York to cover the biennial event at The Juilliard School, including classes by Brian Lewis and Sarah Chang.
Emily Grossman is from Soldotna, Alaska. Biography
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