Thursday, May 20, 2010

On the Way to the Galamians (Ch.4 Pt.1)

After my debut with the Boston Pops, my mother decided that it was time to leave Sarah Scriven for a teacher with more clout. The next step, in the climb to success, would be to audition to study with the famous pedagogue, Ivan Galamian in New York City. I would play for him on the sly, without Mrs. Scriven's knowledge. If accepted by Mr. Galamian, my mother would deal with Sarah Scriven later. In the meantime, she could think of a tactic to soften the blow to Mrs. Scriven that one of her prize pupils would be leaving her studio.

There was no room for argument with my mother on this subject. My father did his best to remind her that it was Sarah Scriven who had generously offered extra lessons free of charge, and Sarah Scriven who had been responsible for my debut, after countless solo appearances with various community orchestras and the Crescendo Club. What's more, Sarah was, to my father's eyes, a Yiddishe Mama with a golden heart. But my mother's mind was made up, and she stood determined; Ivan Galamian had the necessary connections to launch a young concert violinist's career, and anything else that Mrs. Scriven might do paled in comparison. Besides, Ivan Galamian was on the faculty of both Juilliard and Curtis, the two most prestigious music schools in the country.

"He's the greatest violin teacher alive," my mother said. "Think of the concert violinists he's produced: Pinchas Zukerman, Michael Rabin, Miriam Fried, and the Cripple—I always forget his name."
"Itzhak Perlman. They're all Jewish."
She tilted her head back and looked Heavenward. "Our people have the violin in our blood. Let's hope Ivan Galamian accepts you as a pupil, my dolly. Because if he does, I can almost promise, you'll have it made."
My mother pulled a pink frilly dress from the closet, and laid out a pair of white tights next to it on my canopy bed. She had taken out the scissors a few days before, and given me a haircut modeled after The Little Dutch Boy. "You'll look adorable. And we mustn't forget to show Mr. Galamian this—"
She waved a newspaper in front of my eyes. A full page photo of my debut at the Esplanade with the Boston Pops had been published in the "Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle" with the caption:
Young Violinist Takes Boston By Storm.

On the day of my audition with Mr. Galamian, my mother piled pillows and blankets in the back seat of the Oldsmobile, so that I'd sleep en route to Manhattan. We weren't halfway out of the driveway before my father lit a cigarette, and took a deep inhale.
"You have to smoke in the car, John? Margie and I get nauseous from the smell. Don't you want her to have a successful audition? She needs oxygen, not cigarette smoke."
"Look, Furrances," he said, craning his neck as he pulled out of the driveway and sped down Burnham Road. "I gotta have a smoke. Next time, do me a favor. Go without me, only, don't smash up the car."
"Since when do I smash up cars?" Her voice leaped up an octave. "You know, John. I'm a wonderful driver—I haven't once gotten into an accident on the road."
"Ha! If you're so wonderful, why do I get calls from the police?"
"You don't, John. You're making that up." My mother rolled down the window and a blast of cold air hit me in the face. She turned to me. "Your father likes to create stories. Don't pay any attention to him. Lay kepeleh so you'll have strength enough for your audition."
I sank into the pillows and pulled a blanket over my head. Sleep would be preferable to listening to my parents argue. 

Hours later, I awakened to the blaring of car horns, slamming of brakes, and noxious fumes. We were stuck behind a stalled bus in mid-town Manhattan.
"Where the hell am I gonna find a parking space in this spaghetti bowl of a city?" my father snapped.
"Shhhh! You'll upset Margie. Remember, to be in the presence of Ivan Galamian is a great honor." 
"I don't care if he's Jesus Christ—"
 A cascade of swear words fell from my father's lips as he tried to find a parking space on the Upper Westside.
I felt car sick. 
"Mummy, I'm nauseous." I licked my dry lips.
"Now the kid's carsick," groaned my father, and swerved into a lot off Broadway. 
My mother lowered the visor to look into the mirror. She dabbed a coat of lipstick. 
"She's carsick, Frances."
"Margie? No, she's fine. All she needs is to get out of here and away from your cigarette smoke. Feh!"

My mother was right. I felt much better after stepping out of the car and walking along 73rd Street to the Galamian's house.
"This must be it," said my mother in front of the brownstone building. "Imagine all the concert artists who have climbed these very steps to his studio."
She rang the buzzer with determination.
An old woman peeked out from a heavily pad-locked door. After a slight hesitation, she clicked open all the locks. "Won't you come in?"
 "I'm John Kransberg, and this is my wife Frances," said my father, holding his Fedora hat to his chest. On cue, my father could step into the role of a perfect gentleman.
He gave me a gentle shove from the doorway. "This is our little violinist, Marjorie."
"Oh, how do you do," said the old woman warmly. "I'm Judith Galamian." Her salt and pepper hair was stacked in a tall bun. She wore a paisley apron over a simple dress. It felt as if we were visiting my grandmother.
My father took a couple of steps into the foyer. Strains of violin music wafted through the house. "Frances, what a lovely piece." He smoothed his hand over an end table. "It's a Chippendale."
Mrs. Galamian sustained a beatific smile.
"I wish I could say I'm an artist like your husband, Mrs. Galamian, but I'm just an old furniture dealer."
"A very successful business man," asserted my mother. "John owns the company Kransberg's Furniture. Have you heard of it, Mrs. Galamian?"
"Come again?" 
"Kransberg's Furniture," repeated my mother with a puzzled expression.

Mrs. Galamian scanned our faces. The faint sounds of violin playing grew into shrieks.
My mother cocked her head to listen. "You are so fortunate to hear magnificent music from your famous husband's studio all day long."
"You're so very kind," said Mrs. Galamian. "Actually, Boss is in the midst of a lesson right now, but he's been expecting your daughter." She lowered her voice to a little girl whisper. "I always call my husband Boss. You know, I mustn't disturb the artist at work—"
"Of course not," exclaimed my mother. "I'm the exact same way with John. That's how it is when our husbands are busy."
My father folded his arms and snorted.
Mrs. Galamian reached for my hand to usher me away.
"Follow me, dear, to the warm-up room. Boss will come get you when he's ready. Your parents are welcome to keep me company in the kitchen. I'll make a strong pot of tea, and we'll get acquainted. Such  interesting people, your parents. Why, I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about—"
Me sitting on Dad's Oldsmobile