Her name is Anna Yianitsas Tringas. She is my first violin teacher, and at age 91 still maintains a full studio of violin students in Pensacola, Florida.
I remember when my father took me to her home for the first time to introduce me to her. I recall that he seemed a little nervous standing at her door. I later understood why, when during our visit he asked her if she would consider taking me on as one of her students.
Anna Tringas had a huge reputation in our town. She was known to be no-nonsense, very direct and prone to "fire" students who did not practice.She was tough, demanding and had unquestionable authority. As I learned later, she also has a heart of pure gold.
She teaches in a studio in her very large home overlooking the scenic Bayou Texar, surrounded by twisted Live Oak trees with low-hanging Spanish moss decorating them. The foyer outside her studio is decorated with many Persian rugs, sculptures which reveal her refined tastes, books on the foundation of Western Civilization and hundreds of violin-related "artworks" created by her adoring students over her more than 60-year career.(Most memorable is the taxidermy frog, stiffly mounted to a piece of wood, playing a glued-on violin!-it still gets smiles).
I remember walking up the steps to her studio door as a young student,full of awe. The combination of the house, the artwork, the Persian rugs,and the presence of our distinguished teacher made her students feel they were entering a special place worthy of reverence and respect. (In fact, we were!) We would quietly walk up those steps, meet the wonderful aroma of gardenias growing in the manicured garden outside, open the door, and step into a very,very special place...
It is impossible to fully describe what has transpired in her studio over the years. There, lives have been forever changed. Doorways to the world at large have been opened, opportunities for personal growth have been abundantly presented, love for the violin, music,art,and Beauty in general has been instilled in young lives.
Overshadowing all of this though, is the love (sometimes tough!)she showers on her students--and the love we all have for her in return.
Today, I am sometimes confronted by the difficulties and frustrations of a high-level violin teaching career. Politics, ambition run amok, insincere motives, power dynasties...
its almost enough to make me falter....
Then, I remember the sweet aroma of gardenias...
Mrs. Tringas, I am grateful.
My father was a very special musician. He was a truly great jazz trumpet player. His favored style was Be Bop. He had immersed himself in it in the Jazz clubs in Harlem in the 1950s, but after settling down in Pensacola, Florida to raise a family and be an all-around solid citizen, this big-city sophisticated musician found himself in an environment which favored dixie-land and swing music. He adapted and became a celebrated member of the musical life on the Gulf Coast.
His skills were truly remarkable. I remember occasions as a child when he would take our family to a 'gig' in the park. When his solos started, the crowd would be whipped into such a fervor they seemed to be riding the very edge of the music, reacting spontaneously in unison! At the end, the eruption of cheering was wild! His family was so proud.
But his artistry was most apparent to me at home, on our own back porch. This was truly his favorite place to be. He would sit for long periods of time each day, intermittently working a crossword puzzle and working out Be Bop riffs for his own gratification. His creativity was most apparent in those times. He would dissect a musical line and improvise on the smallest part of it, flowing along with whatever came to mind.
One unforgettable afternoon, I heard an amazing collaboration taking place. My parent's dog Martha would sometimes react to certain pitches he played on the trumpet, barking in little staccato notes. That particular afternoon, my father picked up on her rhythm and pitch and began improvising a tune around her vocalizations. This excited Martha even more and she added some howls, to which my father added a really cool line! It was hilariously brilliant and unforgettable!
I love my father. I miss him a lot. Even though I do believe I will see him again one day, the daily walk through this life is diminished by his passing. One memory in particular brings me sweet sadness: One day during his final illness, when he was unable to play the trumpet any more, he was remembering the thrill it gave him to play for the crowds and how exciting it was to watch them light up at the music. He said to me (as if I could grant the wish): "I wish I could do that just one more time." If only I could have granted that wish!
After his passing, I received his trumpet to keep. It is the thing with which he was most identified and it is an honor for me to have it. Occasionally, at bedtime my oldest son Daniel would be missing and mourning the loss of his beloved "Pa-Pa". At those times, he would ask to hold his trumpet for a bit and I could not deny such a tender, heartfelt request. Then, after a time he began asking if he might play a note on it once in awhile. And then...eventually...he asked if he might have trumpet lessons.
Today, my son is playing the trumpet and making wonderful progress with a great teacher in CIM's Prep division. He practices (almost) every day, and is first chair trumpet in his school's band. The instrument he is playing on is my father's very own. So, once again the sounds of my father's trumpet are heard daily in my home. This time, they are sounds of someone working out the basics, but the sound he is making in the process is reminiscent of my father's. Isn't life wonderful in that way? It seems God is quite the improviser--and could it be that His favored style is Be Bop?! ;-)
So far, our dog has shown no musical talent. But stay tuned... you never know.