Tuesday, June 14, 2011
(In a recent blog, http://tinyurl.com/6etfa9b, Dean Miller asks his readers to "comment ... on one thing you've done that you are truly proud of completing." Thanks, Dean. Here's my answer.)
My brother and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Stillwater, Minnesota last week-end. They have lived in the same house for almost their entire married life, a house they have made into a comfortable and welcoming home, with gardens that would be the envy of city planners or the designers of botanical gardens, have raised a wonderful family there, worked at and retired from demanding jobs, volunteered at the homeless shelter, sung in the choir, been politically active, lost dear friends, consoled the grieving families left behind, have become grandparents (doting, I might add), sailed on the river and in the great lakes, even in the moonlight, biked several times across the state in a fund-raising tour for multiple sclerosis, and have found time to sit at the bedside of loved ones who have recovered from serious illness and surgery.
I wanted to give them something different, personal, special, but couldn't think of the right gift until I remembered that a former student of mine in a psychology course at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point is a talented harpist and just happens to live in Stillwater, Minnesota. Voila. After one telephone call I had my surprise present all wrapped up. Or so I thought, until my own harp teacher, Connie Wallace, a University of Wyoming faculty member, suggested I, too, should play a few pieces either alone or in a duet with the musician from Stillwater.
"Find out," she said, "what your brother and his wife like." Connie and her husband, Jack, an accomplished violinist and award winning fiddler, rearranged "Annie's Song," a John Denver classic, so that even I could attempt it. I sent the original version to my former student, whom I had contacted to play at the banquet. She agreed to let me play the John Denver song with her, as well as a few other songs, first solo and then duet.
It worked. Well, she played beautifully; I did ok. The day before the event the young harpist and I met for a practice session, and again the next day, when we both arrived early for another rehearsal. My former student (psychology) had become my teacher (music). And at 76, having studied the instrument for a little over four years, I became a harpist, willing to play for others, admittedly family and friends. I had great fun doing it. I hope it was an example of what T.A. Northburg (http://www.otterocity.com/) calls "Otterocity!"
In the same way that Dean Miller suggests that "the majority of us struggle to even call ourselves writers," I have been struggling to call myself a harpist. I asked my once student - now teacher, "When do you think I'll be able to play in public?" Her answer "When you feel confident."