Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A Magical Evening

I haven't written about a unique event we hosted at our house last Thursday night, because by and large, I have been speechless. To understand, you first have to go back about 14 years, when son, Chris, was eight years old and just starting violin lessons. He had been begging to take violin lessons for about a year, but we were reluctant to let him start because our oldest son had taken violin and it was a constant battle to make him practice, and he quit as soon as we let him. A daughter of a friend of ours had also started violin, and quit out of frustration after a year of doing nothing but scales. Then we happened to see an ad in the newspaper for four introductory violin lessons from Ken, who had come to town to get his master's in violin performance at the University of Illinois. We decided we could put up with four lessons and see how they went.

What happened is that Chris took off like a rocket. The problem turned out not to be to try to force him to practice, but to get him to stop practicing. We had to make rules: "No practicing before 7:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings," and "No more than two hours of practicing without a break." Ken was the perfect teacher for a beginning student. He had an enthusiasm for violin playing, and he was willing to let students go at their own pace, letting them try new pieces even before the pieces they were working on were technically perfect. Ken loved to perform and he provided lots of opportunities, particularly for five of his more advanced students, to perform, at weddings, birthday parties, nursing homes, the county fair, talent contests and other places.

After about three years, Ken and his wife, Peggy, moved to Korea to teach English as a Second Language. His students were distributed to other teachers, and gradually lost touch with each other, although we maintained contact with John, one of the students, because we had gotten to be friends with his parents. After Ken and his wife came back from Korea, they moved to Southern Illinois, where he built up another violin studio, and then left violin teaching to become a trucker, although he still loves to play violin.

The week before Christmas we went, with Chris, to hear the annual Christmas concert by BACH, a local group specializing in Baroque music, at Holy Cross Catholic Church. We mainly went to hear Sherherazade Panthaki, a fantastic soprano, who is still around after getting her PhD from the U. of I., but is destined for bigger things. Before the concert started, my wife spotted the Oreskovich's, whose daughter, Katie, had been one of Ken's five advanced students. During the intermission, we sought them out and asked about Katie, learned that she had been a voice student of Panthaki's, was a junior at West Virginia Wesleyan, studying voice and violin and was doing well. We asked if she was coming home for the holidays and got sort of a strange look and a reply, "Yes, she's singing in the BACH choir." She had been standing right in front of us for 45 minutes and we had not recognized her, which was understandable, since the last time we saw her, she was an eight-year-old tow-head. I remember clearly the first time I saw Katie play at a recital, a cute little girl, brimming with charisma. Now she is a beautiful 19-year-old, brimming with charisma.

We decided we should try to get these kids together over the holidays, contacted Ken and found out he would be in town on the Thursday before New Year's, and invited him and the five advanced students and their parents. Two of the students, sisters, one of whom is in medical school in Chicago, could not make it. Katie and her boyfriend, Adam, a trumpet student at West Virginia Wesleyan, John and his parents, and Chris's high school friend, Jimmie, a piano player, did make it.

What a night it was. After a light meal, the kids (not the right word anymore, "young people" I guess) jammed for about four hours. They enjoyed each other, but there was such joy in their playing that nobody wanted it to end. They all have such talent, not just in music, but also intellectually, that they could be successful in many different fields. I didn't do anything but listen, but I felt a high I have never felt before from aural stimuli.

Ken has started a blog, Heart Strings Express, which I have added to the links to blogs I read on the right side of the page where you can read his description of the evening.


Brenda Maust said...

John, It sounds like it was a DELIGHTFUL evening. I wish I could have been there to have experienced my own high from such an aural stimuli! Brenda

Trucking Fiddler said...

Finally looked in on your blog... & couldn't read about that 'magical evening' without tears. I was there; and I was there 14 years ago; and over the years I've told hundreds of people about those special violinist kids in Champaign and their accomplishments at such a young age. I am so thankful to still be in touch with you, to see the ongoing rise to excellence of these five former beginning students of mine! 29 Dec 2005 was the reunion 'jam session.' It took me 2 days to come down from the clouds after seeing what great young adults these kids have grown to be, and what an essential role music still plays in their lives.