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Moving On

Emily Grossman

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Published: October 16, 2013 at 4:28 PM [UTC]

Back in college, it became popular amongst my dorm mates to host and attend scrap booking parties. Not bothering to fork over the cash for impractical decorative trinkets and scissors, most of my photos ended up haphazardly layered in a cardboard box in my closet; I guess I prefer to run across my memories in a more unpredictable way.

Tonight, I dug through the file cabinets. Over the years, they have become so saturated with sheet music, so overflowing with yellowing pages of possibilities, I almost forget what all existed back there. For reasons only I can say, I dug. As an archaeologist would date the chronological order by the depth of the soil, I unearthed time capsules of treasures forgotten--either ideas that came and went, or ideas that nagged at me persistently until finally, I bore their fruit, took the stage, and brought them to completion. A flood of memories from far corners greeted me with a smile and warm embrace.

Here lies the handwriting of my high school piano teacher. Unexpectedly, my parents informed me over the phone last week that she had passed away from pancreatic cancer. I expected to feel some sort of grief at the news, yet it's been over a week now, and I've felt nothing but mindful gratefulness for the presence she had in my life. It's been years since I saw her last, but she more or less has been with me every day, as I follow her teachings and pass them on to my own students. Nothing can take her spirit away from me, for she left her legacy in my fingers, and I'll always hear her voice over my shoulder when I practice. I don't feel any more lonely than before I knew of her passing. I only wish I'd gotten to see her one last time, and a pang strikes me when I think of her suffering. I flip through the used books she mailed to me from Kansas years ago when she cleaned her own file cabinets. Her stickers still make me smile.

I unearthed the Bartok I loathed in third grade, bearing the pencil markings of a girl who hadn't yet learned cursive, reminding myself of teacher's orders. Sing-song playground rhymes mocking Bartok came to mind, and I laughed: too young for Bartok! Just you wait! And this one, a Beethoven sonata, reminded me of the boy I loved in high school. What powers love inspires! I would have done anything for him. Ah, and here's the Viotti violin concerto I'd been forced to learn in college--such insipid coffee. That was the last piece I tackled before hanging up the violin on my way out the door of my music major. For a time, the file cabinet became a graveyard of buried dreams. But this one, Saint-Saëns, challenged the gods. I caught a glimpse of the re-emergent self, the one with high horses and grand delusions. I hadn't the technique to be so bold, yet I got straight to the point because I knew what it was that needed said, regardless of the words I chose to use. Ah, such ignorance... So bliss.

...Then there are the pages of music that burn with pain when you touch them--pages of ideas that simply could not be. Your heart fell in love with them, yet they lay out of reach, either because you physically were not capable, or circumstances bid them farewell. Some of those plans made it to the stage, but oh, so few. Pages and pages of crumpled heartbreak line the pockets of the dreamer. The wind pushes through the cracks of your windows and doors, and it howls. Ah, but perhaps... Who knows what the future holds? I refuse to throw anything out.

I dig through the file cabinets. I'm digging in a graveyard. Or maybe it's a garden. Plant some seeds, make some phone calls. Leave some messages with a few good friends.

Try again.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on October 16, 2013 at 6:57 PM
Wow, so many musicians can relate to stories like you with their sheet music...

By the way, I'm sorry for your previous teacher's lost... That must be quite something indeed.

For the scores, I know exactly what you mean... some peices have good memories related to them, other we are still ashamed at what we did (lol or not...)

My teacher gave me her duplicate copies when she cleaned her score desk and many of them would have been dream peices if I was a professional (such as the Tchaikovsky Concerto). All I can do is to take the score and follow through while other violinists play them...

I do not know if I would call it a graveyard... Maybe it's more archives (as in a museum). I have some old scores of 1947 (a lot of 1950, 1960) and a lot from Soviet Editions written in Russian. I also have some old American ones and they coexist very well in my score desk! I made myself an alphabetical order list to know quickly what I have.

Possibly passed by several violinists... I say to myself that they'll be between good hands and when I'll be very old, I'll try to find a good violinist or just another passionated violinist like me who would be interested.

After all, many of us own violins that are "too good for us" too :) And we enjoy playing on them even so!

Have a nice day,

From Tom Holzman
Posted on October 16, 2013 at 8:10 PM
I suspect that we all have music like that. I certainly do. I fondly look at my copy of Mozart's #3 in the edition edited by the teacher I had in Paris in 1965-66, Rene Benedetti. When I studied it with him, he made further handwritten edits, so I refer to the copy I have as "M. Benedetti's edits of his edits." Every time I look at it, it reminds me of the wonderful year I had studying with him. So, thank you Emily, for reminding all of us that we have wonderful pasts as musicians which reside faithfully in our memories and the yellowing sheet music in our files.

BTW, I would be glad to provide a copy of "M. Benedetti's edits of his edits" to anyone who wants one.

From Randy Walton
Posted on October 16, 2013 at 11:51 PM
My most treasured memory of music books belongs to a book that no longer exists. My grandpa gave it to me when I was about 10, and the pages were already yellowed and brittle. The edges were worn and broken here and there and some songs were not complete. It was filled with what grandpa called "hoe-downs." He was the old-time barn-dance fiddler and 'caller.' He did not need this book; he knew all the tunes by heart. He did not adhere strictly to the printed notes; nooooo.....his playing had authenticity and was infused with rhythmic vigor so that you could not stay motionless. Feet would tap, fingers would drum and you felt you had to move, to dance to the rhythms pulsating from his fiddle.

I suppose that book finally disintegrated over time, I really don't know. I just know I wish I still had it. It and grandpa only exist now in my memory.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on October 17, 2013 at 2:35 AM
Randy, if you haven't read it already, you might enjoy my essay about my grandpa Reese, who was a self-taught fiddler. The most important things we can leave behind aren't things at all, are they?

Grandpa Reese

From Karen Rile
Posted on October 17, 2013 at 4:34 AM
I'm so sorry about your teacher, Emily! This was beautiful.
From Randy Walton
Posted on October 17, 2013 at 12:39 PM
Beautiful essay, Emily! You really are a gifted writer! Seems like you're just gifted creatively, not only in writing but musically and artistically. I must stop before you start blushing again! :)

I would play 'hoe-downs' from that book to the best of my ability and then ask grandpa to play that tune for me. Well, when he played, it was no longer notes coming off the page and through his fiddle; it was a living, breathing entity standing on its own and beckoning me to join in the fun! When he finished I would ask, "why can't I make it sound like that?" Before he could respond grandma would reply, "don't worry Randy, you're playing it right, he's not."

I knew that he wasn't playing the notes on the page as written, and was adding notes and double-stops and rhythms, but doggone it, his was good! and I wanted to sound like him! I've never heard anyone sound like him and I certainly don't either.

Thank you, Emily for bringing these memories to mind once again. Grandpa has been gone for a long time now, but in some ways he's not gone at all.

From Christina C.
Posted on October 17, 2013 at 4:44 PM
Not only is this a (another) fabulous post but it also really taps into something that's been on my mind quite a lot lately. I've been wanting to undertake a similar sort of archeological expedition for quite some time now.... dust off some of the 'ones that got away' and see how I play them now. Whether it was due to lack of stick-tuitiveness (I was seriously under-motivated as a kid) or just plain ol' lack of ability at the time (no idea if I was any good, just knew I wasn't as good as the kids around me… many of whom went pro)…. I'll never know, but I'd like to think that revisiting 'music from lessons-past' will help to exorcise at least a few demons.

This has been coming to mind more lately because in recent chamber music get-togethers I've found myself confronted with a few pieces that I've had trouble with in the past and thus tended to avoid if the choice was up to me…. the violin 1 part of Schubert's Quartettsatz, for example. I was happy to discover that the pieces did seem as hard as I remember. Nice to think that I've actually managed to make some progress over the years. Trying to improve involves focusing on what we cannot yet do and that makes it so easy to be blind to how far we've come. Sure there are still plenty a folks around who play better.. just like when I was a kid, but I'm certainly much more motivated now.

So you say "Try again" . Why not take another crack at those pieces?

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