Joanne Lipman's NYT Times op-ed "And the Orchestra Played On" will no doubt elicit comparisons to the maudlin movie melodrama Mr Holland's Opus, as both feature student musicians gathering for a final performance in honor of former bandleaders--except that this story is real:
Mr. K. pushed us harder than our parents, harder than our other teachers, and through sheer force of will made us better than we had any right to be. He scared the daylight out of us. I doubt any of us realized how much we loved him for it.
Which is why, decades later, I was frantically searching for an instrument whose case still bore the address of my college dorm. After almost a half-century of teaching, at the age of 81, Mr. K. had died of Parkinson's disease. And across the generations, through Facebook and e-mail messages and Web sites, came the call: it was time for one last concert for Mr. K. -- performed by us, his old students and friends.
When I showed up at a local school for rehearsal, there they were: five decades worth of former students. There were doctors and accountants, engineers and college professors. There were people who hadn't played in decades, sitting alongside professionals like Mr. K.'s daughter Melanie, now a violinist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. There were generations of music teachers.
They flew in from California and Oregon, from Virginia and Boston. They came with siblings and children; our old quartet's cellist, Miriam, took her seat with 13 other family members. They came because Mr. K. understood better than anyone the bond music creates among people who play it together.
Many who have experienced that bond can relate to the conclusion of Lipman's piece:
Back when we were in high school, Mr. K. had arranged for Melanie and our quartet to play at the funeral of a classmate killed in a horrific car crash. The boy had doted on his little sister, a violinist. We were a reminder of how much he loved to listen to her play.
As the far-flung orchestra members arrived for Mr. K.'s final concert, suddenly we saw her, that little girl, now grown, a professional musician herself. She had never stopped thinking about her brother's funeral, she told me, and when she heard about this concert, she flew from Denver in the hope that she might find the musicians who played in his honor. For 30 years, she had just wanted the chance to say, "Thank you."
As did we all.
I hope that her viola continues to be an outlet for her, and a source of comfort in times of distress. Would that we all had the opportunity to so honor our former teachers in the company of old friends.