Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, which I wrote about in my blog of Sept. 16, 2007, is something very special. It is a boxed set of 9 DVDs, each with three 1-hour concerts, in which Leonard Bernstein makes so many complex aspects of music seem easy and lots of fun. The list price on amazon.com at that time was about $180, and it has now dropped to $129.99, still way beyond the constraints of my budget. I borrowed the set from a friend, watched the DVDs, loved them, and wished I could buy them. Recently, I checked amazon.com again and found that one of their associated sellers with a high customer rating was selling the set for a mere $77.99 plus $3 shipping. Using my $50 in accumulated points, I could buy the set for just $31. That’s exactly what I did. Yay! It’s my Christmas gift to myself.
One of my friends (S) lives in Pennsylvania and is a member of a Methodist church with a great social conscience. They work hard to help people in catastrophic conditions. Twice a year, they send a group of volunteers to the flooded area for one week to help rebuild. They sleep in cots in a large room in a Methodist church, and they are fed and assisted by the people of this church. Their most recent trip was to a small city in Mississippi which was devastated by Katrina, and S was there. The volunteers only had to pay for their transportation, and this was a problem for S. She has a handicap and manages to live on a nearly incredibly low income, so she raised the necessary money by contributions from her family and friends.
The group spent most of their time working on one house, which was still standing but uninhabitable. Some people thought it was deserted, and they stole everything inside. The volunteers replaced the roof, put in insulation, and repainted the whole house. S found that she was physically unable to do a lot of this work, so she went to the church office and was given paperwork related to the rebuilding to work on. The owner of the house, a single, African-American mother came to see them work, and her eyes filled with tears of gratitude. The pastor of the church made an 18 minute video of their work trip, and it was very inspiring. The video showed each member of the team working or talking. Most of them said similar things: “I’m so glad I came here to help. It’s really inspiring.”
Rebuilding takes many forms. The most obvious one is physically restoring homes. Another one is an unspoken, personal message. There are people who care about other people with devastated lives and do whatever they can to help. Some of these people are from a northern state and are Caucasian.
The beat goes on. The church is planning their next work trip to the area in early 2008. After seeing that video, I‘ll give my friend more money as a Christmas present. If you would like to help by going or by contributing money, please let me know.
I heard a wonderful concert by Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Kathryn Stott on piano. The program consisted of works by Schubert, Shostakovich, Piazzolla (Argentine), Gismonti (Brazilian), and Franck. Someone told me that if they played something from Argentina, they had to play something from Brazil. Yo-Yo Ma was his usual outstanding self and gave a beautiful performance. To me, though, the star of the show was the cello that Ma played. It was the Davidov Strad that Jacqueline du Pre bequeathed to him. The sound of the cello was like none I’ve heard before. It has a distinctive personality. It’s hard to describe in words, but I’ll try. It was very sweet, yet full and robust, and somewhat dark. Oh, forget my descriptive words and accept that it is very beautiful and one of a kind. The musicians played three encores. I didn’t recognize the first; the second was something by Gershwin; and the last was The Swan. I think of The Swan as one of Casal’s signature pieces, but Ma played it in a very moving way. I closed my eyes and cried as he played. It was a unique and very beautiful concert.
I got an unexpected email in response to one of my Internet violin teacher ads a few months ago. It was from someone asking whether I’d be interested in taking a young autistic man as a student. My first reaction was panic. “Oh, no! I don’t want to be alone in my home with someone who is mentally ill.” I recovered quickly and started reading about autism. I learned that autism is a mental disorder characterized by difficulties with social interactions, including verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests, often music or math. Then I spoke to a friend (Kelsey Zachary of v.com) who teaches violin and has an autistic student. She told me that she loves her autistic student. He is a sweet person with tremendous excitement and enthusiasm about playing violin. I called the person who had sent me the email, a professional social worker and amateur violinist, and she gave me some background. The mother of the autistic student (“D”) had taught D to play violin, but she is now critically ill and can not teach him. He has been placed in a sheltered home, where he is doing well. He is a reasonably accomplished amateur violinist. He sits in for an hour (the limit of his attention span) with a community orchestra at their weekly rehearsals and plays with them. He can not practice by himself because of his limited attention span. He can not practice by himself because of his limited attention span. My function would be to help him with the music and provide him with the necessary structure to practice, including bringing him back to task when his mind goes somewhere else. She also assured me that he is a sweet fellow and that I would like him. We arranged a time to meet, and one of the counselors from his home would come, too. D might have more than the usual amount of difficulty interacting with me because he doesn’t know me, and the counselor would be able to help.
When we met, D appeared quite confused by the new environment. He wandered around, some times picked something up, but was never destructive. His counselor kept calling him back. I took out his violin and looked it over. It was old but obviously well cared for. The only problem was the pegs. They were so badly stuck that none of us could move them, so D had to play on his violin out of tune.
When I needed to communicate with him verbally, his counselor served as an intermediary. I first had D play some of his orchestra music, and he played it very well. I thought he might enjoy playing something different, something with a melody, so I took out one of my Suzuki books. I asked him, “Have you played the Suzuki books?” and of course, he did not answer. I showed him the cover of the book and asked the same question, but still got no response. However, when he started playing, it was obvious that he knew this material very well, and, also, that he was enjoying himself. When our time was up, his counselor asked him whether he would like to continue violin lessons with me, and he nodded “yes” and jumped up and down in his chair with excitement. Then he went towards his violin case to put his violin away, but he stopped and played Twinkle. I believe that this was his way of answering my question about playing Suzuki books. I loved it.
We started some a serious conversation about getting funding for D’s violin lesson. The discussion continued on the phone and by email for several weeks. The social worker told me that the public funds for such purposes had already been allotted. The appropriate agency was only considering emergency cases. She said that it would be much easier if I had a degree as a music therapist, but I don’t. She continued working on the problem.
Obviously, learning to play the violin requires the acquisition of many new motor skills and the use of them all simultaneously. Someone with a very short attention span must have been a very difficult beginning student. I thought about the love and patience his mother must have used to teach him, and I felt awe and gratitude.
Musical talent is a gift and a responsibility. The responsibility is to learn to use it to bring satisfaction to yourself and, hopefully, to others. Music-making must be especially important to autistic people since they are deprived of the many possible good feelings that come from communicating with other people. I decided that I really wanted to teach D and that I’d take him as a scholarship student if necessary.
Next I had to wait several weeks to find out whether he would get funded so that we could start regular weekly lessons.
To be continued
I had an interesting experience recently, and it might be a variation on the scam which cost Jennifer a lot of money.
I got an unusual email in response to one of my ads on the Internet. The return email address was from a government agency near my home. The writer said that she wanted to take lessons from me and that she’d come to my house right away to pay me for four lessons in advance. I responded to her with my usual email in which I explain my teaching, my charge, etc. The next day, she wrote to me and asked what time I’d be home so that she could come to my house and give me the check. I wrote back to her and told her to call me first. I have not heard from her since.
It’s possible that she would give me a check, American or other, for more than the money for four lessons. Then she’d ask me to give her a check for the difference. Her check would be bogus, and I’d be cheated out of some money.
There are other possibilities. Maybe she wanted to come inside my home, but I can’t imagine why. Other than my instruments, I have nothing expensive to steal. She could not be coming to serve me a subpoena. I’ve done nothing illegal lately, and I’m pretty much paid up on my bills.
Has anyone else had an experience like this? Can anyone think of another explanation for her strange behavior?
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Pauline Lerner is from Rockville, Maryland. Biography
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