Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Morning Child

An antique secretariat sets inside the front door where I hang my coat. I turn the corner. A teeny tiny television resides near the baby grand whose top holds fancy picture frames of loved ones and her students. Immaculate and dustless.

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. Matsonwatch 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.

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