Thursday, May 6, 2010

Audition for Harry Ellis Dickson (Ch.2 Pt.3)

Whenever Mrs. Scriven felt confident in a student’s performance caliber, she would contact Harry Ellis Dickson and let him know she might have a potential young soloist. In my case, my mother was convinced that writing a personal letter to Mr. Dickson would be more effective, since she she had spent all those years as a violinist in his Brookline Civic Symphony. My mother wrote explaining that I was now a pupil of Lynn Chang's former teacher, Sarah Scriven.

"Dear Harry," the letter began. "Wait until you hear my little Marjorie. You will not regret hearing her." The words "not regret" were underlined three times. And her letter continued with all sorts of compliments paid to the maestro for his various talents, his encouragement of my mother while she participated in Brookline Civic while pregnant with me, as well as musings about my future. "If only my daughter could be given a chance as soloist. To be a concert violinist is my Marjorie's dream. Who would have thought this would happen? Could it be because she heard music through the womb while I played in your wonderful ochresta (sic)? What do you think Harry? All Marjorie needs is a chance; an opportunity. I'll leave it to you Harry, but remember, you can make her dreams come true! Yours truly, Frances M. Kransberg."  

Harry Ellis Dickson telephoned Sarah Scriven a few weeks after the letter was sent. He had a soft spot for aspiring, young musicians. Besides, child performers were box office sensations. Mr. Dickson agreed to listen to several of Sarah Scriven's students. He was on the look-out for a young soloist, a fresh face, to be featured during the summer Esplanade Series at the Hatch Memorial Shell. But Mr. Dickson made one thing clear to Mrs. Scriven: No parents were allowed to attend the audition, not even Frances Kransberg.

My mother obeyed Mr. Dickson's request, as she had no choice.
Up to the Green Room of Symphony Hall I went with Mrs.Scriven, Elliott Markow (who was my arch rival and closest friend), and his fourteen-year-old sister, RoseAnn. I had watched Harry Ellis Dickson conduct at Symphony Hall with Lynn Chang as soloist, and now I was to play the Mozart Concerto in G Major for him. I wiped my sweaty hands on my dress while Mrs. Scriven tuned my violin. 

After Mrs. Scriven finished tuning, Harry Ellis Dickson threw open the doors to the Green Room and entered with a brisk step. He reached out to Mrs. Scriven for a hug.
"Sarah, Sarah! It's been too long. Who are the marvels I get to listen to today?"
Mrs. Scriven's face lit up. "I have some wonderful talent with me, Harry. Really. You're going to love these kids. All three of them."
 The thought struck me that I'd make an idiot of myself if I had a memory lapse and forgot all the notes of the Mozart. My legs turned to Jell-o.
"This is Elliott Markow and his older sister, RoseAnn. And here's Marjorie."
"Who's on first?" asked Mr. Dickson animatedly. He glanced at his watch and began to pace.
"Marjorie. She's the youngest. Ten years old, right darling?"
I nodded.
"And she's studied with me for—how many years?"
I froze.
"I have to tell you, Sarah," said Mr. Dickson. "I have precious little time. We have a rehearsal on Brahms Fourth with Seiji in an hour."
"Marjorie is a bit shy." She turned to me and coaxed. "Tell Harry how long you've studied with me. He won't bite."
"Oh darling, don't be scared. It's only Harry."

Mr. Dickson walked towards me and pinched my cheek between his thumb and fore-finger. Up close he seemed shorter. On the podium at Symphony Hall, I thought Mr. Dickson was a giant. 
"I know how difficult it is to play for others, believe me," he said. "In fact, to this day I suffer. Sure, my own violin playing sounds great when I'm alone in the practice room. No problem. I can pretend to be Heifetz. Or better than Heifetz. And I think to myself, Harry, why can't you just play like that on the concert stage? What's the matter with you? Look at Joe Silverstein. One Friday afternoon, just before he was to perform the Bruch "Scottish Fantasy", Leinsdorf found him asleep on the couch. Imagine! But not me. I step in front of an audience and, oh boy, I must lose what, about 30 per cent? Sarah—you know what I mean."
She waved him off. "That's enough, Harry."

Meanwhile, a few passages of the Mozart evaporated from my memory.
"Remember, don't play like a mouse. Be bold," warned Mrs. Scriven before taking her seat on the couch.
I began the concerto with all the confidence I could muster. My cold, numb fingers moved on their own, like obedient soldiers. As I drew the bow up and down, notes that had vanished, reappeared, as if by magic. A little voice inside my head said, Gee, you don’t sound nervous; maybe Mr. Dickson will choose you to be the soloist after all. Mummy and Daddy will be proud. Mrs. Scriven, too. The longer I played, the more my thoughts drifted to assessing what Harry Ellis Dickson thought of my playing. I searched Mr. Dickson's face. He smiled. Then Mrs. Scriven's. She averted my eyes by looking down at the blue and yellow Oriental rug. I glanced at Elliott. Was he picking his nose? My fingers got tangled up and I botched an arpeggio. What had I just played? Was it even Mozart? My hands felt disconnected from my arms, and my bow veered off course in the wrong direction. I made a quick detour to the cadenza, and crashed into the final chord.

Before I drew to the tip of the bow, tears rolled down my face. I felt ashamed. Mrs. Scriven shot up from her chair and threw her arms around me, practically crushing the violin with her large bosom. "You're a human being, darling, not some sort of machine. The greatest artists have off-days. Harry understands, don't you Harry?"
Mr. Dickson nodded agitatedly. "I'll say. Most of my days are off. But you're terrific. Really, young lady. Such musicality, and solid technique."
I cried harder.
"A sheyne punim," he said, and patted my head.
Mrs. Scriven plucked a cotton handkerchief from her pocketbook and dried my tears. "You're right, Harry. You should only see when she smiles—those dimples."
"Who's next?" Mr. Dickson asked abruptly. He looked again at his watch.

Statuesque RoseAnn rendered a note-perfect Beethoven Romance in F Major. Her tone was velvety and smooth, like chocolate fudge cake with vanilla icing. She seemed older than fourteen.
Then it was skinny, golden-haired, Elliott's turn. He played Mozart's Adelaide Concerto. Elliott's confidence must have soared after hearing me fall apart. He didn't play like a mouse. Only I did. More tears ran down my cheeks.
Elliott concluded the Adelaide triumphantly.
"And how old are you?" Mr. Dickson asked Elliott.
"Eleven." Elliott grinned broadly. Done deal, I thought.
"What marvelous pupils," said Mr. Dickson, "each and every one." His left hand rested against his cheek, as if nursing a tooth-ache. Mr. Dickson's eyes darted from one student to the next. "Sarah, you never disappoint. You're an amazing teacher." He muttered to himself, "As if she didn't know—"
"I'm so proud," said Mrs. Scriven. "I kvell. All three should have an opportunity to perform at the Esplanade. Can you give each one a chance, Harry? Please? They're all deserving. What do you say?"
Mr. Dickson paused, then paced around the Green Room. He threw a woolen scarf around his neck, and paced some more.
"Sarah my dear. I really have only one spot for this summer. But I assure you—"
"Only one? But Harry—"
"I'll need the week to think it through. These youngsters are something else, though, I'll tell you. Tough call."

Mrs. Scriven's puppy dog brown eyes teared. She loved her students more than anything in the world, as if they were her own flesh and blood. As I look back, I'm sure it pained Mrs. Scriven to think that for every winner there might be a loser.
Mr. Dickson gave Mrs. Scriven a peck on the cheek, picked up his baton box in one hand, and the violin case in another. "Kinder, don't vorry," he said, imitating Serge Koussevitzky.
Mrs. Scriven waited for him to close the door and sighed deeply. "Well, my dears. It looks as if we'll have to wait a whole week, or at least until Thursday, to find out his decision."
in photo Marjorie and Elliott Markow late 1960s