Genealogists and family historians get a lot of satisfaction from chasing their ancestors’ stories. Finding a diary, a message on a postcard, or a photo with a name attached is like the sun coming out after a storm. One day we will be somebody’s ancestor. We need to leave our descendants a little bit of sunshine too. So here is my story told alphabetically, not chronologically: Growing Up in Cradock.
We are nothing like the Osmond Family by any means, but music has always been viewed as an important component of child-rearing in my family. Even during the Depression my mother was given lessons in piano and tap, so it went without saying that her children would get piano lessons too. There was a number of music teachers offering lessons in their homes in Cradock. On recommendations from her teacher friends, Momma arranged for me to take lessons with Mrs. Anne Shuler. Her home was about a 15-minute walk from my house.
|Schaum theory books|
|My book of scales written by Mrs. Shuler|
Mrs. Shuler also valued technique. If my hands were not in the right position while playing, she would slide her hand under mine to lift them up. She also expected a graceful lifting of the hands and placing them in the lap as the last note evaporated.
|Wendy in December 1964|
Obviously I was just sitting at the piano. There is NO music
AND my hand position shows I was not playing.
Every week Mrs. Shuler wrote my assignment in a notebook: which scales to practice, how many music theory pages to complete, and what music to practice including whether sections were to be memorized. If I had a good lesson, I got a gold star. Gold stars were important to me, but they did not come easily. Of course, Mrs. Shuler might have been more generous had I actually practiced like I was supposed to. Students had to EARN those stars.
It’s not like Mrs. Shuler was the Piano Nazi impossible to please. No, she was “in tune” with her students (har har) and always tried to select music they would enjoy. When I was going through that moody teenage stage, I discovered the dark tunes of Frederic Chopin. Mrs. Shuler made sure I got to play some of it as well as other classical music by composers like Felix Mendelssohn. There were many sonatas and sonatinas in my musical past.
I really enjoyed when Mrs. Shuler and I played duets. Somehow it made me feel like a better musician than I really was.
What sent me over the edge though was the yearly recital. Mrs. Shuler always planned a lovely evening in her home with students playing for the parents a special piece they had been working on. Even when I was prepared, I hated it. Nothing made me as nervous as performing for an audience, not an oral book report, not a presentation of a project, not delivering a speech for the student body, not even reciting a poem from memory for English class. Part of the problem was that I was years behind some of my friends because I started lessons later than they did. While they were playing complex “important” pieces by well-known composers, I was playing what I considered “baby music.” It was embarrassing. Of course, it was partly my own fault for not being a more dedicated student who could have progressed more quickly had I practiced. When I turned 16, I put my foot down and refused to play in any more recitals.
I just wanted to be able to play music. I didn’t really want to KNOW anything. Poor Mrs. Shuler. Probably every music teacher has had their fair share of difficult students, and I was certainly one of them. I just hope I wasn’t the worst because she was the best.
For more pontificating and other pieces in print, pop over to the A to Z April Challenge.
© 2016, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.