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Pauline Lerner

August 24, 2005 at 6:55 AM

Emily is very, very fortunate to have had music and love in her family background. My childhood and adolescence were so different. There were no musicians in my family, as far as I know. My parents were cold and angry to each other and to most other people. Most of my memories of my childhood are dark, drab, and lonely. I still have occasional nightmares about it. I had no siblings or extended family to show me what warmth feels like. Both of my parents loved classical music, and I grew up listening to it. My father got me a violin and took me to music lessons, and my mother objected with all her considerable wrath. In music, as in so many other things, my parents used me as a pawn in their battles against each other. My father seemed warmer and gentler to me than my mother did. He gave me his love of learning and of music. My mother was a bitch. I had to listen to her constant refrain: “You’re an egghead, a worthless, no good piece of s**t just like your father!” repeated over and over while I was growing up. When I was a teenager, something happened to my father. He, too, beat me down verbally. As a child and an adolescent, I was completely convinced of my worthlessness as a human being. (I’m feeling anger and pain as I write this.) My introversion, reading, and music probably saved me psychologically. They were my escapism from my harsh home environment.

Aside from my parents, the person who had the biggest effect on me as a child was my violin teacher. He was such a dear man. He was like a grandfather to me. He was tough at times, but he was uplifting. He believed in me. I have such warm memories of his home, where I had my lessons. His dog would sit next to me during my lessons, and when he yelled at me, she’d bark at home. She died of an overdose of dog biscuits, I believe. He spoiled her with them. The song “Leader of the Band,” by Dan Fogelberg, describes so well my feelings about him.

He earned his love through discipline, a thundering velvet hand
His gentle way of sculpting souls took me years to understand.
I thank you for your music and your stories of the road
I thank you for the freedom when it came my time to go
I thank you for your kindness and the times when you got tough.
And [teacher] I don’t think I said “I love you” near enough.
The leader of the band is tired and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument, his song is in my soul.
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man.
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.

So many times in my life, music has saved my mortal soul. I know that it affects other people that way, too. I have no children of my own, but I have my students. They, like everyone, come from home environments filled with both good and bad things. I try very hard to give them the strength, warmth, fascination, challenges, and rewards that only music can bring. Music is the strongest message. It survives, and it enables us to survive.

I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band.

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