Ghosts of Christmas past:
My friend Jan called me and told me that she'd like to go to a Xmas eve service with me. Neither of us is religious but we both like the singing and the candlelight and the hope in the darkness. Douglas and I met her at the church. Towards the end of the service, in the darkened sanctuary, I stood between Douglas and Jan, each of us with a lit candle in his or her hand, each singing. I felt the love well up over me from both sides. A high water mark.
It had been a crazy year and an unusual Xmas. A number of bad things had happened to me that year, culminating with the death of my father about two weeks before Xmas. I flew to Denver to visit my long lost friend Suzanne for Xmas. We had been good friends back in high school, about 25 years before, and we hadn't seen each other in about 15 years. We drove up, up into the mountains and returned barely in time for Xmas Eve service. I drove her to church early, in time for choir rehearsal, and went home and took a nap. I was not feeling well, the result of too much to eat, too much excitement, too little sleep, and too little oxygen. (Denver is at an altitude of about 5200 ft.) I slept later than I had intended and woke up feeling awful. If I hadn't promised Suzanne to meet her in church, I would have stayed in bed. I went to church and sat down just behind a father and daughter, about six years old. I thought, "I want my Daddy back" and cried through the rest of the service. It was the first time I had been able to cry for my father. The service ended and people got up and hugged each other, but I cried for a while longer before joining in the hugging.
I was alone at Xmas time and feeling very lonely. I called my friend Dottie and told her that I'd like to go to Xmas Eve service at her church and hear her sing in the choir. It was cold out and the bus just wouldn't come, so I bummed a ride to the Metro station with a stranger. I took the train and walked several blocks to the church, in spite of my almost complete lack of a sense of direction. When I entered the church, the service was already in progress. I slipped into a seat in the very last row, started crying, and cried through the rest of the service.
Many tears later, I'm still looking for the hope and the love in the darkness.
We are fortunate to have some excellent soloists sing with us. This year I was especially impressed by the soprano. She has a beautiful, full, rich voice that seems to flow effortlessly from her. I managed to talk to her before the performance. I had to tell her how excited I was listening to her. She was nursing along a cold and held her coat up tightly around her throat. I lent her a scarf, happy that I could help. We got into a long conversation. She is a lovely person. She has suffered several misfortunes in the last few years, as I have. A long time resident of the Washington, DC area, she had auditioned for the Met several times, and, in 2000, she got in. She lived partly in DC and partly in NY, dedicating herself to the wonderful opportunity in her career. Then came 9/11. NY City went into a slump. Fewer people attended performances at the Met, so the number of performances was cut back. My new friend had to do temp work to make ends meet. She has diabetes, and this spring she became quite sick and was hospitalized. While she was in the hospital, her vision deteriorated badly, and she had to have surgery on her eyes. Her vision is now seriously impaired. While all this was going on, the relationship she was in was falling apart. She moved back to the DC area, where she now lives with her family. She is planning changes in her career because of her visual impairment. She will try doing concertizing and recitals as a soloist instead of opera. In spite of all that has happened to her, she pours out such a beautiful sound from her soul. When she sang, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” she sounded like she felt reassured and comforted by the knowledge. I asked her about this after the performance, and she said that she truly feels this way. She is almost a miracle with her rich music and her equally rich giving. I got her phone number so that we can stay in touch. She loves Kathleen Battle (of course), so I will make her copies of some of Ms. Battle’s CDs, including her recording with Christopher Parkenning and “Grace.”
Today I taught one of my adult beginners. It was only his second lesson and he is doing so well. He holds the violin as if he had been playing all his life. He uses the bow well and gets a pretty tone from the violin. It’s a good violin for a beginner. He told me that he likes it. Last week, I went with him to get the violin and get him fitted for it. Then I gave him his first lesson. I showed him how to hold the violin and bow, how to draw the bow across the strings steadily to give a nice sound, and how to play some major scales. He loved it. He could hardly wait while I explained him something because he was so eager to try it. When he started playing something, he just kept playing it over and over, determined to get it right. I finally stopped him and told him that we had to end the lesson after an hour and a half. He left with a lot of enthusiasm for playing, and he returned that way today. I taught him his first tune, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” today and he had a great time with it. I also showed him something extra about scales. You can check to see whether the G you play on the D string is in tune by playing it with the open G string. He thought that was a pretty neat trick. Now he’s learned about octaves and he’s getting some good ear training, too.
Earlier, when I asked him, as I ask all my adult beginning students, why he wanted to learn to play the violin, he had told me that he had been to Ireland and loved the Irish fiddle playing he heard there. After today’s lesson, I looked around for the easiest Irish tunes I could find. I get tired of “Twinkle” after a while. I found a few simple tunes or simple arrangements of tunes, not all of them Irish, but all of them fun, including Clementine, Michael Row the Boat Ashore, Amazing Grace, John Ryan’s Polka, and Castle of Dromore. Each has its own lessons in musicianship. I decided to play them for him next time and ask him what he wants to try next.
I have a seven year old student who is a really happy kid. She is full of smiles and enthusiasm. When she comes for a lesson, she is so excited that she is jumping up and down for joy. She is quite talented. Her intonation has been almost perfect right from the start, about two months ago. She learned to play “Happy Birthday” for her grandfather’s birthday party, making him and the rest of the family very happy. Now she wants to play “Happy Birthday” for her class at school. Her mother told me that she is impressed because her daughter wants to perform. She also told me that she is so glad that she found me to teach her daughter. The girl doesn’t get stressed when she can’t do something right. She just enjoys every little bit of advancement she makes. This is just what Mom had hoped for. I do love making people happy.
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Pauline Lerner is from Rockville, Maryland. Biography
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