Thursday, June 24, 2010

First Lesson with Sally Thomas (Ch.5 Pt.3)

At Meadowmount, I began studies with Sally Thomas, Ivan Galamian's first associate, as she preferred to be known. She was reputed to be "tough as nails" by Meadowmount campers, and with her cropped hair and reserved nature, Miss Thomas could be intimidating, especially to an eleven-year-old. Rumor had it that she kept a pet crow and unleashed it on lazy students. The crow struck terror in me; I knew that due to homesickness, my first week of practicing had been a half-hearted attempt.

Our first lesson began with a pencil in place of a bow. I was to learn the right-hand technique, as taught by Ivan Galamian and his disciples, which was based on the Franco-Belgian school of violin playing. Slowly, I became aware of the right hand and thumb mechanism. Miss Thomas took the pencil away and slipped the bow into my hand.
"Bend the thumb, release the thumb. Round the fingers, lengthen the fingers." We worked on open strings with slow strokes, paying close attention to every detail, then a one-octave scale. Finally, a two octave scale was introduced with an assortment of bowing patterns, and then three octaves. 
"Square the bow in the middle, angle at the frog. Draw the bow out at the tip. Out, in, down, up, bend, release," Miss Thomas reminded. 
I missed my former teacher, Sarah Scriven. Before summer, we were about to step into the late Classical and early Romantic repertoire. Knowing Mrs. Scriven, she would have shrieked, sighed, and groaned at my mistakes, but her eyes would have shined with luminosity for the music and me.
I took a deep breath and looked longingly at my watch. The hour had seemed like an eternity.
"Are you late for something?" Miss Thomas asked, with narrowed eyes.
I felt like crying, and glanced at the box of Kleenex on the piano. Miss Thomas strode to the studio door and gestured for me to pack up. Our first lesson had ended.

I walked along the pebbled parking lot back to the Main House, dragging each step. Everyone was busy at work during morning practice hours. Shuffling past Sharan's room, on the way to my lonely room, I heard whispers and stifled giggles, but also the violin. I knocked softly on Sharan's door. I detected rapid footsteps, someone whispering "shush" and the sounds of tuning. Sharan opened her door with the violin propped under her chin and bow by her side. Her frizzy hair cascaded down to her waist. Sharan heaved a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank goodness. It's only Smudgie. Janna, you can come out now." 
Janna, a thirteen-year-old Main House violinist, tumbled out of the closet.
"What's going on?" I scanned the room. It was palatial compared to mine, with a bay window over-looking the gardens.
"Shhh. Be quiet. We thought you were Fannie, the house mother," whispered Janna, smoothing her sleek, black hair into a long ponytail. "Gosh, the way she sneaks around spying on us with that whistle around her neck, gives me the creeps. We wouldn't want to get in trouble around here for not practicing—but we don't want to practice, either, right Sharan?" 
"I could have sworn you were Mr. G. Sometimes, when he's not teaching, he stands behind the door and listens. It's spooky. I can see his shadow." Sharan blew a wisp of hair out of her face. "I swear, Galamian looks like Count Dracula."
"What are you guys up to? I heard actual playing."  
"We've recorded ourselves practicing, and let it playback during the hour," admitted Janna. "Sharan's idea."
 "Smudgie, don't you have a cassette player?" Sharan's dark, brown eyes gleamed with mischief.

I returned to my cell above Galamian's studio and lifted the Sony from a drawer. I pressed record, and got down 50 minutes worth of scales and etudes, replete with the bowing patterns suggested by Miss Thomas.
During the playback, I tiptoed back to Sharan and Janna's room. They sat on the bed cross-legged while reading Seventeen and Cosmopolitan Magazines. Kreutzer number two played   in the background with glaring mistakes and obvious self-corrections. They sipped Coke and dug their musical fingers into a box of Entenmann's chocolate-chip cookies.
"Are those good?" I licked my lips.
"Don't tell me," said Janna, gliding her tongue over her braces, and holding up a tiny, chocolate-chip laden cookie. "You never tasted an Entenmann? Oh my gosh. Where have you been kiddo?"
And just as I was about to experience the pleasures of an Entenmann, there was a loud rap at the door, and a dark shadow.
in photo: Sally Thomas with me in 1970