I’m going to try too much in this post. I’m going to tell you of youth and beauty, of talent and hard work, and of a failed audition. I’m going to tell you of the Russian, of the day my dad died, the day another dad hugged his daughter, and why teachers matter. It’s too much. I probably won’t make it. But the stories keep swirling around my head, begging for me to give it a try. And so, I will.
(Play the video above while you read to have something like her sound in your head like I did while I wrote. Abramovitz isn’t exactly Mikaela but he does a fair impression.)
Last Friday night, a young lady named Mikaela Rink captivated an audience with her clarinet performance. She stood before us in a full length black gown, long light brunette hair cascading down her shoulders, and fingers flying in perfect rhythm to music she heard first in her head and then breathed into being. Her eyes often stayed closed, and she had no music on paper. It all came from within her as she swayed gently now and again. She performed to the small audience in the local church as if we were in Benaroya Hall and we heard her magic made just for us.
As I sat watching, especially during her cadenza when I had no chance of messing it up with the band’s accompaniment, I remembered a much different experience I had twenty eight years ago.
In 1989, I auditioned at the University of Puget Sound, hoping I would be able to earn my own scholarship and hoping it would be enough to pay for my college there. Winning that scholarship was my only hope of attending. My family could not otherwise afford the tuition.
I could not control my nerves. Every mistake I could have made, I made. Perhaps I should have practiced more in front of an audience. Maybe I should have had my dad drive me since he had taken me to all those years of lessons at UPS. Maybe nothing would have helped because a degree in music wasn’t meant for me.
I fumbled my way through and the professors watching me, I’m sure, felt as relieved as I did when I was able to stop. I know I was not ever as skilled as Rink, but that day I wasn’t anywhere near as good as I could have been either. It’s a failure I haven’t even allowed myself to think about much until very recently.
And here is one of the most ironic twists to my story.
“You want to teach, of course,” one of the men said to me that day. He said it as if it were the least of all the musical options. As if any decent musician would perform and not have to lower herself to instructing others. I can’t imagine that’s what he meant, but that is what I heard.
Not long after I watched Mikaela Rink play until our mouths dropped open last Friday, I remembered what she told me she will do with her talent.
She plans to teach.
I could easily see why when I watched her dad Bob Rink finish his conducting of the band and turn to hug her. Her own father has given thirty years of his life to the Ferrucci Junior High Band and taught innumerable students over the years, including his own children by example. What better thing for Mikaela to do with her glorious skills than take that and pass it on to others?
I didn’t end up teaching music but landed on another love called writing. Some days I wish I had made it into the teaching world of notes and cadenzas. But the other night Mikaela and Bob taught me to remember that my work in writing is not only for those who freeze up at performing and could also be for those who love what they do so much that it flows out of them and into the next person.
Instead of that music degree, I now soak up the small band I play in and revel in sitting next to the principal clarinetist from Russia who did make those auditions in the Moscow Conservatory. I work to match his sound and glory in the moments when I succeed.
It occurred to me also, days after the performance, that a few of my tears at that hug between father and daughter came because May 19th marked six years since my own father died. Watching them together tugged at me more that day than it might have on another. Some part of me knows Dad was there saying to me in his quiet way: “Well. Sounds like you got that thing going as good as you ever did.”
Yes, Dad. I have. And thanks to an 18-year-old, I’ve even learned a few things from it all.