Wednesday, October 27, 2010

After the Dance (Ch.12 Pt.2)

I tossed and turned in my bunk bed after the Monday night dance. Scott's light cologne had lingered on my skin; my body still tingled with his touch. I loved the way he had run his fingers through my hair, caressed my face, and sniffed the scent of Jean Nate under my chin and neck. He tickled my nose with his own. "Eskimo kiss," Scott said softly. I laughed and felt beautiful. It had been a perfect summer evening. The incandescent moon peeked above the whispering pines and cast its glow upon the shimmering lake. Crickets chirped in the meadow. I melted into Scott's firm embrace and wished the magic of Interlochen would never end.

"What do I tell my mom about Scott?" I asked my friend Julie at breakfast a few weeks later.We huddled over our trays in a quiet corner of the cafeteria. Scott had left the table to practice for the week's orchestra challenges. He was determined to retain the principal viola chair.
"What do you mean?" Julie looked at me quizzically, her brown eyes magnified through thick lenses. "You're already concertmistress of World Youth Symphony Orchestra; you aced the solo competition; Van Cliburn shook your hand after his guest appearance, and Scott Woolweaver, your boyfriend, is the cutest and most talented guy at Interlochen. It's so neat, Margie. You've got it all. What more could a mother ask for? Won't your mom be happy for you? I mean, mine would be dancing cartwheels."
I sipped from the straw of my milk carton. "You don't know her, Julie—she's, well—"
"Well, what?" Julie's face darkened.
"Sort of intense." I took a final sip and crumpled the carton. "Julie, the truth is, he's my first."
"Listen, Margie, if I were you—"
"Just call your parents tonight before they show up here for Visitor's Day. Tell your mother that you've fallen in love. She's gotta understand that passion and music go together, right? How can you be a true artist without emotions?"
I sighed heavily like my mother would do. "Sure," I said, finally.

♭♩ ♬♮♬ ♯♪♮♩ ♯♬ ♮♩ ♫ ♯♪♭♩

"Daddy, I need to talk to Mom," I said cupping the mouthpiece. I could hear my father flick a match for his cigarette.
"Frances, pick up the kitchen phone. It's the little pisher Margie calling collect, so hurry. We'll stay on the line together. That way she'll have us both."
"Maahgie!" My mother panted into the phone. "How's my dolly?"
"Okay. Good."
"I've been so concerned. Those cabins can be awfully chilly at night. Is your sleeping bag warm enough?"
"Yeah, Mum, it's fine."
"Are you getting enough fruits and vegetables?"
 "I guess."
"We made the right choice sending you to Interlochen," said my mother. "So tell us, how does it feel to be concert mistress of the World Youth Symphony Orchestra? You won the concerto competition with that difficult, difficult Paganini. Did you play the cadenza?"
I didn't have time to respond before my father blurted, "We read about you in The Salem Evening News!"
My father took a drag of his cigarette. "I bought—how many, Frances—ten copies? Enough to show customers at Kransberg's, my brothers, and of course, your Auntie Irene. God bless her. She keeps every newspaper article about you."
"Look, Mum—" I opened the door to the phone booth a crack for air.
"Dolly? What is it? Your voice sounds different. What's the matter? Tell Mummy."

I wracked my brain for Julie's exact words and spoke with quiet deliberation. "I'm sure you'll be happy for me. I have a ..."
My throat constricted.
"Dolly, what did you say? Did you hear anything, John? Did the operator cut us off all ready?"
"Boyfriend." I said, getting it over with.
No response. "Hello?"
I heard them mutter something.
"A boyfriend?" asked my mother. "We sent you to Interlochen to fool around with the opposite sex? When do you manage to find time?"
"There was a dance, Mum. It's just normal at my age, you know, girls and boys—"
"So, tell me. This boyfriend of yours. He doesn't maybe interfere with your studies?"
"Oh no! Scott practices his viola every single day. He inspires me."
"John, are you hearing this? Say something."
"Whaddya want me to say, Frances?" My father expelled with such force that I imagined cigarette fumes wafting from the receiver.
I heard my mother clear her throat before launching into the dreaded questions. "So tell me, Marjorie Jill, what's the young man's name?"
"That's his first. What's his last?"
"Woolweaver," I whispered, the cord wrapped so tightly around my finger that the nail had turned almost white.
"Jewish?" she asked.

The sound of a gong announced the end of three minutes. I heard the operator's voice. "Would you like to continue this call?"
"No," my father rasped. "Frances, hang up the phone."

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Scheherazade at Interlochen (Ch.12 Pt.1)

I had returned to National Music Camp at Interlochen for a second summer in 1975. Not out of choice, but because my mother fell in love with the place, a music camp in northern Michigan surrounded by lakes and forests that offered a rich regimen of music and art classes. "Oh, if only I could be you," she'd intone at each visit. If it had been up to me, I'd have returned to Meadowmount. There I could at least have tested the waters of independence and crashed midnight parties. But at Interlochen there was little chance for enterprising escapes. I'd live in a rustic log cabin with eleven other girls my age under the watchful eye of a counselor, and partake in cabin clean up with my two friends: the broom and dust bin.

Though my violin teacher, Dorothy DeLay, had invited me to Aspen, it was J. Frederick Müller, my manager, who sold the Interlochen experience to my parents. As guest lecturer and adult workshop coach, Müller had an established presence at the camp. I had been his discovery; the poster child for the string instrument company Scherl & Roth. But by the time I went off to Interlochen, solo engagements had become increasingly difficult to obtain. At sixteen years of age, I was no longer a child sensation.

The World Youth Symphony Orchestra extended its arms to talented youngsters from every corner of the globe. If you glanced up at the stage of Kresge Auditorium, you'd find these words emblazoned like the Ten Commandments: Dedicated to the promotion of world friendship through the universal language of the arts. And that summer of 1975, students traveled from as far away as Romania, Israel, Finland and Iceland. Everywhere you turned you'd hear foreign dialects. National Music Camp at Interlochen would be—how did my mother put this?—a broadening experience.

The day began with a bugle call, or reveille, at 6:45 A.M. It could have been the the military, as far as I was concerned. Dressed in uniforms of red sweaters, white blouses, and navy blue knickers, campers resembled American flags as they tore out of their freezing cabins for breakfast. Teeth chattered at the speed of 64th notes. The morning air smelled of lake water, damp earth and fresh baked bread from the cafeteria. At breakfast, over a bowl of granola and milk, I found myself noticing that some of the gawky, pimply-faced boys from the previous summer had turned into striking young men with sideburns and light mustaches. Camp uniforms didn't offer much to see, of course, but male voices had deepened, and unbuttoned shirts revealed tiny tufts of chest hair.

Me and Jeannie Wells Yablonsky at Interlochen
At the Bowl, Jeannie, my stand partner, was diligently practicing the music even before the orchestra tuned. We were to rehearse Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" a symphonic suite based on "A Thousand and One Nights". The conductor, an ape-like figure with white hair silenced the orchestra. "Boys and girls, how many of you know the story of Scheherazade?" I heard giggles from the back rows and turned around. One of the newcomers, a Romanian violinist with stringy hair was showing off her Paganini left hand pizzicato to new admirers. "Young lady!" shouted the conductor. "We'll have none of that during orchestra." He held up his score for all to see. "As told in the Tales of the Arabian Nights, the Sultan Schahriar, convinced of the faithfulness of his many wives, has sworn to put to death each one of his wives after the first night. But the Sultana Scheherazade," he pointed to me, "depicted by the solo violin, saved her life by spinning tales to her husband during a thousand and one nights."

A gentle breeze rustled the pages of our music. Jeannie speared the part with her bow and giggled nervously. The conductor lifted his arms to usher in the theme of "The Sea and Sinbad's Ship". My bow was poised in mid air to play a high E after an introduction by the harp. But then, my eyes landed on the principal violist seated diagonally across from the first violins. He swayed with the music; a lock of wavy brown hair had fallen over his forehead. He flicked it away, glanced up, and beamed at me through black-rimmed glasses. It was Scott Woolweaver, the cutest boy in all of Interlochen. I sunk my bow into the string and lingered on the first note to begin a four bar rhapsodic cadenza. This might be the summer of night after night of wondrous tales, I found myself thinking.
"Scheherazade" by Sergey Smirnov

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Imaginary Acts (Ch.11 Pt.2)

"Sugarplum," says Dorothy DeLay after listening to my run-through of the G Minor Bach Fugue. "Imagine leading a four part choir whenever you play this. Point to the alto in the opening to introduce the fugal subject; then, two bars later, indicate to the tenor, finally, gesture to the soprano to join with the others. Bring out every voice for your audience to hear. Fugues are daunting for the average listener."
I nod with apprehension. My recital at Paul Hall begins in four hours, twenty minutes, and twelve seconds. I wipe my clammy hands on the skirt my mother sewed for the event.

"Let's talk for a moment about the summer," she says, lifting a tub of Darigold cottage cheese from the coffee table. "I hope you'll attend Aspen, so that we can continue our work together. Great outdoor concerts and picnics, too."
I mutter something incomprehensible about my mother and Interlochen. The truth is, Fred Müller, my manager, has sealed a deal for a summer program. I've been awarded full scholarship to Interlochen, and that's that. Müller has convinced my mother I might be named concertmaster for the World Youth Symphony; my mother imagines her daughter following in the footsteps of Joseph Silverstein, Boston Symphony's legendary concertmaster.

"You have your mother come upstairs after the recital, OK? It'll be easier for us to discuss plans here in my studio than backstage at the hall, where I might get distracted by others."
You mean, accosted by other stage parents.
"If your mother has objections to Aspen, I need to understand her reasoning."
I force a smile. I'm aware that Dorothy DeLay has a degree in psychology as well as music, but my mother has a Ph.D in Obstinacy. No amount of analytic reasoning will change her ways.
"Are parents really allowed up here?"
"What dear?"
"You know. Isn't there some sort of, um, policy? Like, no parents allowed on the fifth floor."
Miss DeLay sets the tub of cottage cheese on the coffee table and darts a disapproving glance. "Oh, these hare-brained institutional policies, Margo. For every rule, there's an exception. Speaking of exceptions—"

I tuck the violin under my arm and distractedly etch a circle into the carpet with my bow. Somewhere I had read that Piatigorsky, the great Russian cellist, had begun one movement of a Bach Suite in a concert, and detoured into another. The week before, Robert McDuffie, Miss DeLay's prize student and not exactly a wimp, perspired uncontrollably during a performance while fighting his way through a fugal episode of Bach.
Why did I agree to this recital in the first place?

"If I'm to stick with this diet," says Miss DeLay, digging into her pocketbook and jangling coins and keys, "I'll
need chocolate. Sweetheart, here."
She crumples a couple of dollars and extends her arm.
I reopen the thick Galamian edition of Bach to examine a fingering.
"Will you bring me a candy bar from the vending machine before your next class? Make that two, actually. I'll be going all day without a lunch break."
I distractedly reach for the dollars after glancing at the notes.
"Thank you, Margaret, and keep the change."

♪ ♩ ♪

Backstage of the recital hall, I begin to warm up; the violin feels alien. I've been told to enter on stage at five minutes past the hour, allowing latecomers a grace period. I tiptoe to the stage door, hold it ajar, and frantically scan the audience. I spot my mother sitting third row center. She's fanning herself with what appears to be several concert programs. I know what she'll do with those programs; she'll send to my sisters, aunts and uncles as proof of my prodigious accomplishments. She glimpses my figure from behind the door, and tosses a bouquet of kisses. I release the heavy door and let it close with a thud. My legs turn to Jell-O.

In less than an hour, I tell myself, the recital will be over. I glance up at a red lettered sign: EXIT. If the performance is awful, really awful, I'll unlatch the fire escape, jump out, and vanish. Kids disappear all the time in New York City.

My mind races as I imagine all sorts of strategies to survive. I recall Joseph Silverstein performing the same Bach G Minor Sonata at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. There's a violinist for you, I think to myself; an artist unburdened by stage fright. I envision him backstage with me, amused as I pace back and forth. His thick eyebrows, two furry caterpillars, raise and dip.
Scared of a solo performance, are you? He brushes off my nervousness with a wave of his hand. What could possibly be more enjoyable than playing Bach? I imagine him saying. Besides, it's not as if you're performing all six sonatas and partitas, as I'll do on my birthday.

I've attended many recitals of his in Boston. Each time Silverstein bounds the stage with the enthusiasm of a diner heading for the buffet table. He squints into the lights with a grateful grin and offers a deep bow to acknowledge his audience. Silverstein then readies the violin to produce—as my mother describes—a purity of tone comparable to vintage wine. He renders the sonata that I'm about to perform with elegant ease. In his supple hands, voices flow in seamless textures, sometimes blending together, other times diverging. But always beautiful. The audience is transfixed by the artist's touch and tenderness. Even the complicated fugue is suffused with gaiety and charm.

A backstage voice bellows. "It's time, young lady." The man, his sullen expression that of an executioner, props open the stage door. It creaks loudly. With quickening pulse, I walk past him, into the lights, and acknowledge the smattering of applause with a prolonged bow and grateful grin. I slowly ready the violin, close my eyes, and take a deep breath. Soon the ordeal will be over. My knees tremble. Joseph Silverstein, I find myself wondering: Are you with me?
Dorothy DeLay at Aspen  © Peter Schaaf; Joseph Silverstein

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Unforgettable Journey (Ch. 11 Pt.1)

Fran Kransberg with my music
It was scary to look at my father before we left for Boston's Greyhound station. The routine of driving us to the city after the clock struck midnight—for Saturday classes at Juilliard—threw him into a rage. "I hope this is all worth it, Furrances, these goddamn music lessons in New York. They're taking years off my life. But you already know that, don't you?" He stared us both down, as if mother and daughter were cohorts in crime, and pointed his finger at me. "You wanna grow up to be a concert violinist, little girl? It's your mother's crazy fantasy. When are you going to wake up and realize that she's robbing you of a normal childhood?" I stood without protest; my sleep deprived father was out of control. The best way to cope, I figured, was to pretend his words had no effect. My mother did her best to cajole. "Do you have your cigarettes, Johnnie?" she asked sweetly. "We don't mind if you smoke in the car, do we Margie?" 
"Enough," he fumed. "Let's get this show on the road."

♪ ♩ ♪

A line of zombie passengers awaited the 2 A.M. Greyhound bound for Manhattan from Boston.  "New York!" shouted the driver, a big-shouldered black man, swinging open the doors. A blast of cold air swept against my face. My mother barged through to the front of the line, and handed the driver our tickets. It would be a five hour trek to Port Authority. I yearned to rest on my mother's shoulder, as I had done through the night every Friday into Saturday, for the past four years of violin lessons.

"Please, Mr. Driver," my mother whispered as she pressed the tickets into his hand. "Do you suppose you could drop us off in front of Lincoln Center? That's where my daughter studies the violin—at Juilliard. It's a big day for her."
The driver shook his head, no.
"But you pass right by the school, on the way to midtown. There's a traffic light; the bus stops anyway. We won't keep you waiting. You say the word go, and we'll scramble off the bus."
He reached past my mother to load suitcases.
Light snowflakes danced in the sky and fell softly, like powdered sugar, onto our coats.
"It would make such a difference. My daughter has an important recital to play. Oh please—"
"Step on up, lady," the driver said with exasperation. "No letting off passengers before 42nd Street terminal. I gotta follow regulations. Besides, we're due for one helluva blizzard. Lucky if we make it."
She gasped. "But the recital!"

My mother linked her arm in mine, and hoisted me up the steps. The combined odors of perspiration and cleaning fluid—Lysol?—overwhelmed me.
"C'mon, my dolly. We'll sit near the front. You never know. Maybe that grouch will change his mind."
She stashed her Mary Poppins carpet bag underneath the seat, and stowed my violin case in the bin above.

"Oy! I'll sleep, that's for sure."
She unzipped her knee-length, brown-leather boots, and kicked them off.
"To think the other mothers will finally hear my dolly perform at Paul Hall. You'll put their children to shame with that unaccompanied Bach Sonata and the Mendelssohn Concerto—a complete program memorized. I can't wait to see Edith Blum's face when you play. She always brags about her two boys, the pianists, what are their names?"
"Michael and Freddie."
"Michael and Freddie. Such nice boys. And your teacher, Dorothy DeLay. Won't she be proud?"
My mother smoothed her shoulder for me to rest. "Come here. I'll tell you a secret."
"What?" I found myself asking. It was during Greyhound commutes that she imparted her keenest observations.
"It used to be a Jewish thing."
"What—what used to be a Jewish thing?"
"Music, especially the violin. No more."
"What do you mean, no more?"
"I mean, the Orientals."
"What about them?"
"They've taken over. Generations ago, the violin was an instrument that Jewish parents would give their little boys—their Jaschas, Mischas, Toschas; you know, as a means to lift the family from poverty. Our people couldn't have survived without music in the Old Country. Life was too difficult; music offered strength. And I always wondered—you know your mother—why just the boys? Why not give the girls an opportunity too? I'd have given my right arm for lessons but my parents were deaf to my desires. Only my brother Morris, because he was the firstborn son, got to have anything he wanted."
My mother spread her fur-lined coat like a blanket and tucked it up to our chins.
"Nowadays, when I wait for you at Juilliard, I see mostly Orientals."
"Asians," I corrected, half-asleep.
"What, I have to be careful how I talk to my daughter? We're so proper, all of a sudden?"
The low hum of the motor and motion began to work its magic. "Oysgemutshet," I thought I heard my mother say, before we both drifted off.

I awakened to frantic rustling underneath my seat, and glanced down. My mother was on all fours.
"Mom, what are you doing?" I could taste Greyhound deodorizer on my tongue, an indication that I had slept with my mouth open.
"Margie, it's the darnedest thing. My boots are missing!" She raised herself from the floor in a panic. "Look outside. The streets are covered with snow, and we're in midtown already."
She snapped open her bag from under the seat and took inventory. "Everything is in its place, the wallet and essentials. I checked your violin up here." She pointed to the bin. "But my boots. Pardon me," she spun around to the passenger across the aisle. "Did you happen to take my boots—they're brown leather—by accident?"
The passenger, a pony-tailed young man in a stupor of contentment shook his head, no.
"Hello?" she asked another passenger, a few rows behind. "Could you check under the seat? My boots may have rolled backwards?"
The woman stared blankly. "I don't see no boots under no seat."

With stockinged feet, she went from passenger to passenger, then visited the WC, in case someone had played a practical joke. No boots. Finally, my mother inched forward to the driver, and brushed her hand against his broad back. At close range, I saw her blondish wig lower to his eye level.
"Lady? What's the problem?" He growled.
"Can you make an announcement over the loudspeaker? I can't seem to find my brown leather boots. They've got to be somewhere in this bus, for boots don't just fly away and disappear!"
He lifted the handset slowly and brought it to his face. "Attention, Greyhound passengers. See this nice lady here?"
Then he whispered. "Lady, what did you say your name is?"
He bellowed over the speaker. "Fran here lost her boots. What color did you say they are?"
"Brown leather with zippers."
"You heard the lady. Take a look under your seats, and search your belongings. Help Fran solve the case of the missing boots."
Passengers chortled.
"And welcome, Greyhound passengers, to the Big Apple."
A final lurch, and we were parked in Bus Zone.

The boots were nowhere to be found. My mother sifted through her bag, only to find a mismatched pair of extra mittens.
"What are you doing?"
"I have no choice," she said, tugging the mittens, one blue, the other brown, over each foot.
"You're going to walk around like that?"
"This is New Yock! Nobody cares. Woolworth's inside the terminal sells shoes—don't they?"

We tumbled out of the bus. I followed my mother as she glided through the corridor. Throngs of harried passengers with briefcases, newspapers, and bags dodged past us.
"Marjorie Jill—" She turned and paused.
I took a deep breath to keep from laughing.
"Stay close to me. Eccentrics, those New Yorkers."

At Woolworth's, there was only one pair of plain pumps in my mother's size.
"No boots?" she asked the stout sales lady.
"Sorry honey. We're sold out. You want those pumps or not?"
My mother unclasped her purse, and begrudgingly paid for the shoes. "They'll have to do for now."
She glanced at her wristwatch. "Oh my goodness, dolly, we're running late. Your lesson starts in less than thirty minutes."
I shrugged. "Miss DeLay's never on time, Mom."
"We'll hail a taxi."
Was I hallucinating? We had never taken a cab in all my years of music lessons. "You have enough money?"
"When it comes to being at Juilliard on time, in the snow yet, I have money. Besides, these shoes will never do in this weather. They're horrible."

Yellow Cabs lined the curb at Port Authority. My mother waved and caught a driver's attention. He sprang to his feet, to help carry my violin case.
"Don't touch that!" my mother snapped.
"No problem." He threw up his hands. "Where are you ladies heading on this  snowy morning?"
"Lincoln Center. Juilliard."
He glanced at the oblong violin case.
"What's that, a trumpet, horn or somethin'?"
"Violin," I replied.
He squinted.
"Mr. Driver, we're in a rush. My daughter has a violin lesson at eight o'clock sharp."
"OK." He nodded for us to get into the car. The meter clicked a presto.
"Oy, so expensive." My mother shook her head.
The taxi belched as we gathered speed. Snow had piled up the streets and sidewalks, causing mild pandemonium. Horns blared, and red-cheeked passengers leaped off curbs. A woman slipped and landed on top of her shopping cart. Bagels rolled to the middle of the street.
"Ha! I almost got her," boasted the cabbie. He careened around a corner.
"You're a wonderful driver," said my mother, gripping the hand rest.

The taxi spun in circles through a traffic light. I felt dizzy. My lips pursed the letter M for Mommy. The next thing I remember is being in front of Lincoln Center. My mother paid the exact amount, down to the penny. The driver grunted something, and raised his hands, palm side up. Reluctantly, she unzipped her coin purse. "Here," my mother said, counting change. She dropped three nickels and two pennies into his hand for a tip.
The cabbie shifted a toxic gaze from my mother to me.
"Come on, Marjorie," she urged, opening the door.
I bolted from the taxi with my violin.
"We made it," she sang, our arms interlaced. Soon I'd have my lesson and perform my first complete program at Paul Recital Hall.
A car screeched to a halt and blared the horn. "Hey Blondie!"
We turned around.
Our cab driver thrust his head out from the window, unlocked his fist, and hurled my mother's tip onto the middle of the street. "Keep the change!" he yelled, and floored the gas pedal.