Thursday, July 29, 2010

Here's Marjorie! (Ch.8 Pt.1)

I was lying on my powder blue canopy bed reading Seventeenwhich I pilfered from the Memorial Middle School library, while watching a rerun of "Love Story" with the volume turned down. At thirteen, I was torn between wanting to look younger for concerts, like the child prodigy violinist Lilit Gampel, and wishing to be cool, like actress Ali MacGraw.   
Strains of my parents arguing wafted upstairs, swirling, like the spiral staircase.
"There's only one Heifetz," my mother shrieked. "It'd be the opportunity of a lifetime."
"I dunno what you're talking about Frances. You mean, Marjorie plays the Oklahoma concert as part of her Mid-West tour, then flies off to California? What for?"
"For exposure, John. So she can be in the presence of one of the greatest living artists of all times. Lilit Gampel played for Jascha Heifetz. It was written up in The New York Times Magazine. Why shouldn't Marjorie? And besides, one day she may want to study with him."
My father raged. I could hear his heavy footsteps pacing back and forth. "Jeezus, can't we just be a normal family for a change?"

J. Frederick Müller had booked me for concerts all throughout the Mid-West. My 1973 tour would culminate in Enid, Oklahoma at the Tri-State Music Festival. With Mr. Müller as conductor, we were to perform the Saint-Saëns "Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso" together with an orchestra comprised of three state high-schoolsIt would be a high profile event, according to Mr. Müller, with artists, music teachers and educators present from around the nation. The "Here's Marjorie" brochure that Mr. Müller designed had been circulated to every school and musical institution as part of American String Teachers Association. I received numerous requests to perform as soloist. And every Saturday, at Juilliard Pre-College, my mother wondered if I might be in better hands under the tutelage of Dorothy DeLay. Parents in the waiting room at Juilliard whispered that Miss DeLay had more clout than the other violin teachers. Her students were gaining recognition and winning international competitions. Isaac Stern had sent Miss Delay wunderkinder from Israel, the Far East, and the Soviet Union. And the students adored her for the tolerance she showed for Juilliard dress code. The secret was out: Dorothy DeLay allowed her students to wear bell-bottomed jeans.

"I'm not crazy about Miss Thomas," my mother admitted, finally.
My father wiped his brow with a sleeve. With the exception of Sarah Scriven, one teacher was as good as the next.
"She plays favorites."
"What are you talking about, Furrances?"
"John. If you don't believe me, let Marjorie tell you, herself."
Marjorie Jill! My mother shouted upstairs. I flung the magazine on the floor, turned off the television, and snapped to attention.
"Uh, what?" I had been deep in thought. My hair had grown out, and I could finally pull it back like Ali MacGraw.
"Tell your father about your teacher, and how she favors Stephanie."
My father stood beside my mother peering up at me. From my vantage point, on top of the spiral staircase, they both looked crazed. The top of my father's head had turned gray. My mother wore a frosted wig.
OK, I thought. Here's an opportunity. I never felt at ease with Miss Thomas. She made me cry at lessons.
"Yeah, well, she said I wasn't ready to perform Rondo Capriccioso in publicand that I'm concertizing too much."
"See, John," my mother said, victorious. "That teacher doesn't want anyone in Stephanie's midst."

My father, determined at last to pacify my mother, phoned Mrs. Reynolds, secretary to Jascha Heifetz, at the University of Southern California.
"It's settled," he told my mother, days later. "Jascha Heifetz is willing to hear Margie. She'll need to prepare scales and harpos."
"You mean arpeggios," said my mother.
"And she'll need to write an essay to Mr. Heifetz."
"An essay? What for?"
"She's supposed to put in her own words why she'd like to meet him, I guess. Frances, I'm just the messenger."
"I'll help her with the essay to make sure that it's polished. In fact, I'll write it for her to save time."
"In her own words, Frances—"
 "They'll be hers. Don't worry, John. To think that our daughter is going to play for Jascha Heifetz! Imagine? I wonder what we should  prepare—"
My mother darted me a glance at the top of the staircase where I stood leaning against my bedroom door.  "Well, let's see. You'll have "Rondo Capriccioso" at performance level. Maybe you could brush up on Achron's "Hebrew Melody" or Bloch's "Nigun". After all, Heifetz is an elderly, Yiddishe man."
I shifted from one foot to the other. I had heard Heifetz was a control freak, a man of few words, and an irascible artist.
"He'll adore you," my mother said, blowing me a kiss. "Pretend he's your grandfather."

♪ ♩ ♪

"Whatever you do," said my mother en route to Juilliard by Greyhound. "Don't tell Miss Thomas about the Heifetz audition. It's not for her to know."
We rested our heads on each other's shoulders in the bus, and fell asleep twisted like pretzels, but with a secret pact.
At my 8 AM lesson, I unzipped my music bag and placed Fiorillo Etudes on the music stand. Miss Thomas sat on the window ledge over-looking Lincoln Center. She crossed her legs, smoothed her skirt, and nodded for me to begin.
I held a note too long, out of rhythm. I felt exhaustion from the nocturnal, five hour bus ride. 
"Marjorie," Miss Thomas said. "Observe tempo and meter."
She lunged to the piano for pencils. I squinted at the music and tried again. My fingers felt like sausages.
"Intonation. Here's a red pencil. Next time, you'll have to mark in blue."
I started over after circling the errors, but botched another segment.
"Marjorie. Have you practiced this etude?"
And I thought, who does this woman think she is, Heifetz? I rolled my eyes.
Miss Thomas heaved a frustrated sigh.
"Mar-jor-ie. I would appreciate the courtesy of a reply."
The edge in her voice unnerved me.
"Perhaps Juilliard's not the school for you after all," said Miss Thomas. "It's a privilege to study here. We don't retain students who display negative attitudes by making faces at the teachers."
I lifted the violin to my chin, and began a concerto. I closed my eyes tight to hold back the tears, but it was of no use. The tears had dripped onto the violin. Miss Thomas reached for the box of Kleenex on top of the piano.  
Another lesson would be over, but not soon enough.