I close my eyes and I am there. Back in that house. My piano teacher's house.
Mrs. Matson. I never called her by her first name, Ruby, a classy lady full of piano playing talent.
|Ruby Matson, photo from The Daily Plainsman, Huron South Dakota|
When my mom was in the Huron Nursing Home near the end of her days, so was Mrs. Matson—only she seemed to have a bit of dementia. Such a cruel condition for a sophisticated white-haired woman who spent 68 years teaching piano.
I never knew her husband, for she was already a widow when I entered her life. She had no children of her own, but her piano students seemed to be just that—her children. I became one of them when my first piano teacher, Lillian Horn, moved out of town but had arranged for me take lessons with Mrs. Matson.
And how fortunate I was. Years before, Mom said she had tried to get my older sisters in with Mrs. Matson, but even back then, she was booked. Many times I felt out of my league surrounded by her talented students. I never realized at the time, I was slowly becoming one of them.
|a recital program from spring 1982 when I was a sophomore|
One was Huong Nguyen, a Vietnamese girl whose lesson was before me, and sometimes her equally talented younger sister, Trang, played after me. I loved to hear Huong play the beginning piece in Grieg's Holberg Suite. So if Mom was early or late in dropping me off or picking me up, I soaked up their incredible playing. Sometimes the schedule would change, and I then admired Heidi Krutzfeldt playing Debussy's The Sunken Cathedral. Heidi and I were duet partners for a couple years when Huron hosted a mass piano-duet concert involving more than a dozen pianos playing at once.
|judge's comments about my performance at a contest during my senior year|
Mrs. Matson was usually all business with little chit-chat. So I was shocked one Saturday morning after the boys' State B basketball tournament when she told me she had cheered for the Crow Creek Indians the weekend before when they were on television. Mrs. Matson—watch basketball? I was stunned.
I close my eyes, and even today, I have a hard time imagining her sitting in her fancy curved-leg high-back chair, cheering on Chuck World Turner and his feisty teammates. But she spoke enough of the game that I knew she had watched. This was in 1982 when Webster defeated the crowd favorite, Crow Creek.
Mrs. Matson had a way of doing that to me. Stunning me. Nothing shocked me more than when she placed that Grieg piece in front of me.
|I earned a I+ on the piece, Praeludium.|
The faith Mrs. Matson had in me to master it lead me to write the poem below in 2008 when I took part in the National Writing Project, a program for teachers to not just assign writing but to teach it.
This poem went through multiple revisions. Originally well-over 100 lines, I was forced to cut, cut, cut by the instructor and the e-anthology critiquers. It pained me, but in the end, I agreed with colleague Steve Maack, the lead instructor for our local project, who said, "Now it is a poem."
One of Ruby’s Jewels
by Melodie Harris
I’m up next. I walk to the piano
with a half dozen books in my arms.
I see the photographs on the baby grand.
Faces that sit, like me—
One of Mrs. Ruby Matson’s protégés—
A Saturday morning child, waiting to be taught.
I glance around.
The teacher has changed the knickknacks
on the always dustless end tables.
The best China adorns
the dining room table expecting company.
A half-written letter awaits completion
on the open secretariat.
A mostly blackened score is placed before me.
Grieg's Holberg Suite.
How about you? Ever been challenged to a task so difficult you could not believe you were being asked to take it on? What happened? How has someone's belief in your abilities shaped who you are?
Writer's Note: read more about the role of music in my life in the blog posts entitled Hootin' ~n~ Tootin' and Mom's Pestering Pays Off.