I’ve lost the game again. Always unlucky – make that defeated – in love. This is my second consecutive sleepless night, crying and crying. It’s cold and rainy outside, and it’s no fun to be home alone.
Where do you turn for comfort when your intimate partner has failed you?
The times are tough now, just getting tougher
Outside's the rain, the driving snow
This whole world is out there just trying to score
Last night I heard Midori play a concert of chamber music with a pianist, Charles Abramov. Years ago, I decided that I really don’t like her style too much. I have an old recording of her playing the Paganini caprices, and she sounds downright martial. I decided that I would try listening to her in person, but my reaction to her was no different.
As I write this, I’m listening to a CD with Igor and Valeri Oistrakh playing Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante and two Mozart duos, G major, KV 423 and B flat major, KV 424. The sound is so sweet andcomforting. I listen to it over and over without tiring of it. One of my definitions of great art or music is that you can come back to it many, many times, and it is always fresh.
Being a violin teacher can be very rewarding, although not in a financial way. I always feel excited when something musical clicks in one of my students. It’s as though a gate has been opened to untold vistas. It happened with one of my students this week. M is a fifth grader with a lot of brains and determination, in addition to an unusually good sense of what she can do well and what she needs helpwith. This combination of traits has helped her learn a lot of violin techniques which are real challenges. Now she has had a breakthrough. She is no longer just playing notes. She is playing music! Her musical talent and capability for expression are shining. I told her mother about this, and her mother said that M has a new attitude towards playing her violin now. She is much more enthusiastic and self motivated. Her mother told me that she is very glad to see M happy in her accomplishments, and she thanked me for being a supportive and encouraging teacher. This is very rewarding in many ways.
My new boyfriend is very impressive in a lot of ways. He is very musical. When I’m teaching, he goes to another room, but he listens. After the lesson, he often tells me his impressions of the student. He can tell so much about the student’s musicianship, and he has such good insights. He has never played the violin, although he’s played other instruments and sings beautifully. He and I are sensitive to so many of the same things, but his perspective is different from mine and his perceptions are enriching to me. He is really a wonderful man in many ways, and I feel very lucky to have him.
We were joined by a bunch of friends, and we sat around singing and playing music. After a while, we played and sang Mary Ellen Carter . I can’t paraphrase it, so I won’t even try. It is a song that has saved many people in danger physically and/or emotionally, inspiring us to “rise again.” C told us about a time that this song had saved him. He was lying in bed in a Veterans’ Hospital, nearly out of his mind in pain. His hip had been shattered when his jeep was hit by enemy fire in Vietnam. (It took some serious surgery to replace most of his hip with plastic.) The hospital staff wasn’t paying much attention to him. They acted like he was a drug addict when he asked for painkillers. C thought of Mary Ellen Carter and raised hell until the staff took care of him. They gave him painkillers and they performed surgery. After hearing this, I hugged C again.
We played and sang some more, and someone started playing Ashokan Farewell. I normally don’t like this song, but after C talked about it, I did. C told us that his father was buried with full military honors at the National Cemetery near Washington DC. This cemetery arouses great pride and respect in so many Americans. Many of our national heroes, from JFK to the Unknown Soldier, are buried there. C was a pallbearer and so was his grandson. During the procession, music was provided by one fiddler playing Ashokan Farewell. Everyone was so moved. They were used to hearing Taps and other honorific songs played by brass instruments, but no one – certainly not a fiddler – had played Ashokan Farewell. The troops were teary-eyed, and the officer in charge told them to slacken. When C finished his story, someone said, “Let’s play that again, this time with just the string section.” The string section consisted of one violist and two fiddlers, including me. We played it, and, I must say, we sounded good. Then I got up and hugged C again.
One of the things I like about teaching violin is that I get to know some interesting people. One of my adult beginning students, Mr. C, is a Korean immigrant who started violin lessons with me a few months ago. His spoken English is somewhat limited, but I have taught English as a second language so it’s not much of a problem. He reads English and Japanese. The latter is helpful because the Suzuki books have texts in several languages, including Japanese. Mr. C worked as an engineer for an automobile company in Korea, but a few years ago, his company was bought by General Motors and he retired and moved to the U.S. He is the very epitome of the hard working Asian. He and his wife own a small business here. He works there in the afternoon and evening and she works there in the morning and afternoon. Consequently he can only practice one hour a day on weekdays and two hours a day on weekends. He also plays trumpet and clarinet and sings very well. He plays a lot of music in the context of his church. When he told me that he wanted to learn to play some church songs, I thought of Amazing Grace, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and others of that kind. He brings his hymnal to lessons, but I can’t make any sense of it. I can’t read the words, which are Korean, and I don’t recognize the melodies. He is very eager to play all the songs in his hymn book, but they are written in many different keys, so I had him get a scale book. He attempted to learn all the keys at once so that he could play all the hymns in his book, but I told him to start with G, D, and A major. Most of my students are not particularly interested in practicing scales, but Mr. C went at it in his meticulous, hard working way. He played all the rhythm and bowing variations and the broken chords for G, D, and A major. He brought me his notebook with a long, detailed list of questions on the scales and variations. He is so eager to play that he just can’t stop. When I see that his left arm is getting tired, I try to get him to stop playing and rest. He just tells me that he practices one to two hours a day at home and he does not need to rest. When he decides that his left arm is tired, he takes his violin down, but he does not stop playing. He just holds his violin under his arm and plucks the notes. He is very modest and self-effacing. When I tell him that he is playing well, he shakes his head and says that it is because I’m a good teacher. Sometimes he also cites his eight grade music teacher, who also taught him very well. He told me that he usually practices from 11 PM to midnight and hopes that his neighbors in his apartment building don’t mind. Today he told me that he had awakened at 5 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, so he decided to practice his violin. He did not want to disturb anyone, so he went into a closet to practice. He is delightful and very easy to teach. I think any teacher would be happy to have someone like him as a student.
Here I go again. I feel like a teenager with a crush on someone, and I need to write in my diary (blog) about him. Today I had a date with a man who made me feel good. I told him that the most important thing that I’m looking for is someone to be nice to me. He understood. I spent a fun afternoon with him. He and I have our differences, but I feel that we can be flexible and accepting. A gold star for him: He loves all kinds of music, and he sings. He enjoys solitude, but he also likes being with other people. I’m the same. He is an extravert and he makes friends easily. He’s especially good at making people laugh. I need laughs and hugs. We are both sentimental and romantic. I’ve had so many disappoints with men. Wish me luck, everyone
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Pauline Lerner is from Rockville, Maryland. Biography
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