Thursday, July 1, 2010

Sunday Open Concert (Ch.5 Pt.4)

Sharan opened the door, and Mr. Galamian stood in front of her. He snapped his fingers. "You must practice," he growled. I fled from Sharan's room, hoping Mr. G. hadn't recognized me, and returned to my cubicle. I knew that if I didn't practice, I would never be accepted as Mr. G's pupil. And if I didn't get to be his pupil, I would never become a concert violinist. And if I didn't become a violinist, my mother would be sorely disappointed. Frantic, perhaps.

There were consequences to our having broken the practice rules. Fannie and Miss Thomas held a meeting for all the Main House girls, and warned that if we were caught not practicing again, all privileges would be taken from us, and our parents called.  Ceo, pronounced say-oh, one of the cafeteria cooks, was assigned an additional role as practice monitor, in other words, a spy. I was sent off to Lilacs Cottage to take additional weekly lessons with Ani Kavafian, an accomplished pupil of Ivan Galamian's. Ani's task was to do damage control, as my practicing left much to be desired.

Meadowmount presented students in recital three or four times a week in the concert hall. Most of the events were closed to the public, but Sunday matinees were open to friends and family members. Attendance was mandatory for students. The faculty would sit on a long wooden bench, off to the side. Students would carefully observe Mr. Galamian and his assistants, assessing their reactions to student performances. A nod from Mr. Galamian could mean the start of an international career, or concert management. My parents had planned to visit after my initial two weeks of music camp, and alas, they showed up on a Sunday eager to hear one of Meadowmount's rising stars.

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Twelve-year-old violinist Stephanie Chase stepped lightly and briskly onto the stage, and acknowledged her audience with a warm smile. The hall, small enough for intimacy, was bustling with family members and friends. I sat near the last row with my father. His head drooped from heat and exhaustion. He had driven from Wenham, Massachusetts to Westport, New York through the night, and would drive directly home after the concert for work the next day; a round trip of eleven hours. From the corner of my eye, through the mass of audience, I saw my mother fifth row center. She was determined to sit as close to the stage as possible. Her bewigged head was cocked slightly, a pose she maintained whenever listening intensely. Stephanie tossed her long, chestnut brown hair away from her face, and smiled politely at the enthusiastic audience. She then unfolded a white handkerchief and calmly placed it under her chin. Stephanie, at age twelve, maintained the aura of a seasoned professional. A quick glance at the piano accompanist, David Garvey, after readying her violin, and Stephanie dug into a display of Wieniawski's pyrotechnics. From start to finish, her performance was flawless. With eyes closed, Stephanie exhibited an intense level of concentration, and mercurial technique. She practiced six hours daily, and resided during the year with her teacher, Sally Thomas. During Stephanie's polished performance, I wondered if she ever made mistakes. It was difficult enough for me to pronounce Wieniawski but this girl—this twelve-year-old girl—rendered a flawless performance of the work in its entirety with unrivaled poise.

The audience erupted into a feverish applause before Stephanie had even finished the last chord. She greeted the reception with a look of humility, bowing and lip-syncing "thank you" to the audience. Her chest heaved like a gymnast from a perilous work out. With her handkerchief, Stephanie wiped the perspiration from her neck and chin. My mother bolted up from her chair. "Bravissima! Encore!" I heard my mother's voice rise above the chorus of cheers, and she clapped her hands high in the air. The audience rose to their feet, and Ivan Galamian, seated along the side wall with the rest of the faculty, Sally Thomas, Margaret Pardee, David Cerone, Paul Makanowitzky, Josef Gingold and Dorothy DeLay, beamed with delight. He cupped his hands and whispered something into Miss Thomas's ear, for Stephanie was her prize pupil. And to this day I remember a thought that struck me: It was my mother's misfortune that she had me for a daughter rather than Stephanie Chase