This was the way it had been for the past six months; each lesson delayed. Instead of the student with a litany of excuses, it was the teacher.
"I got stuck in traffic," she said this time. "There was a truck with a wide load and it clogged the artery."
I looked up at her askance.
Miss DeLay unlocked her studio door and I followed inside. She switched on the lights, and opened the side closet. She then pulled out a machine. "Listen," Miss DeLay said. It was Heifetz playing the final movement of the Mendelssohn in dazzling perfection. I nodded with recognition.
"Now, again; same passage." She slowed the speed to a half.
The Heifetz sheen turned to low warbles. "The vibrato is continuous. So, you see, Dearie, Heifetz vibrates in fast passages, although it's inaudible to the listener. A secret revealed by technology."
I stifled a yawn and thought, "So what?"
Miss DeLay sat down. The sofa wheezed underneath her. She lifted a stop watch from the coffee table and adjusted her reading glasses. "Let's clock him against a few others."
I wasn't sure where the lesson was going but felt comfortable with Miss DeLay's easy manner. She had timed Heifetz, Oistrakh, Francescatti, Menuhin and Stern to compare tempi, and penciled the markings in her score. Jascha Heifetz emerged as the speediest; Menuhin the slowest. "Heifetz sounds impressive on recordings, doesn't he? But in a large auditorium, faster sounds slower, and slower faster. Too fast, and you won't hear the notes. Slower, but with clarity, the result is impressive. Speed is illusory. When did you say your performance of the Mendelssohn will be, Margaret?"
"Margie," I corrected. "I'll be playing it in a couple of weeks."
"Where dear? I've forgotten."
"In Kansas, with the City Symphony."
"That's right," said Miss DeLay with a smile. "Mention Kansas and I become nostalgic. That's where I grew up—in Medicine Lodge."
"You don't say," I replied with feigned interest.
She stared out of the window as if recalling a former life.
"All right, Sweetie. Let's start today with the second movement to get warmed up."
I agreed, but was secretly eager for the lesson to conclude. In another twenty minutes, I'd be at orchestra rehearsal with my best friends, violinists Elena Barere and Heidi Carney, sharing gossip and Jujubes at the break. I imagined that if I could just fart through the Mendelssohn my teacher would be delighted, for Dorothy DeLay was patience personified.
I played the opening phrase. "Add a few more calories to that sound; make it rich and chocolaty," Miss DeLay suggested after about eight bars. "Otherwise the audience won't hear the solo line."
Yes, I nodded.
"Don't forget, Mary. Tune higher, or sharp to the oboe, for projection."
I looked at her incredulously.
"We have to get your sound to cut through the orchestra. Press more into the strings with the bow."
I flicked my long, brown hair impatiently.
"Oh, I hope you do that on stage, too."
"Your hair. Show it off; be dramatic."
"You mean," I groped for words. "I don't need to pull it away from my face?" My mother swept my hair into a high ponytail for concerts, and I hated it.
"Oh, Heavens no!" said Miss DeLay. "If you've got it, flaunt it. You'll excite your audience that way."
It began to register that Dorothy DeLay's method of stage deportment for her students was the inverse of Heifetz. While Heifetz had insisted on a statuesque pose devoid of distractions and mannerisms, DeLay encouraged her students to move with the music.
"Sugarplum. Have you read any of Stanislavsky's works?"
"No," I replied. "Who's he?"
"Konstantin Stanislavsky was a great Russian actor and director of the Moscow Art Theater. I think you'd find his writing insightful, at least I do. You could begin with any of Stanislavsky's books, but I'd recommend On the Art of the Stage. Everything he writes about acting and theater is applicable to a musician. You must remember, that you're an actress with your violin."
I started the concerto again. My fingers felt leaden after the long bus ride from Boston. It took a while before I could get into the flow and channel the composer. As I tapped into my creative powers, imagining myself in a dramatic role, the nasty double-stops in the mid-section of the Mendelssohn came off with ease. I swayed with the music and pressed the bow deep into the strings with unfettered freedom. I glanced at Miss DeLay for approval. Her head had slumped forward; her eyes were closed. Light snoring provided a steady accompaniment. After I finished, Miss DeLay's eyelids flickered open. She lifted her head and aimed a groggy gaze in my direction. I waited for those priceless words; how to become a better violinist, performer, musician, actress.
"Good girl, Margo. Wonderful lesson today."
Dorothy DeLay © Peter Schaaf