Authors: Virginia Euwer Wolff
The author and publisher have provided this e-book to you for your personal use only. You may not make this e-book publicly available in any way.
Copyright infringement is against the law. If you believe the copy of this e-book you are reading infringes on the author's copyright, please notify the publisher at:
Thanks to Dorothy McCormick, Mildred Edmundson, Roby Reid, Anthony Wolff, Juliet Wolff, Carol Sindell, Sophia Tan, Michael Parker, Tom Bessler, Vincent Heitkam, Nick Wheeler, the staff of the Hood River County Library, and most emphatically to Brenda Bowen.
In memory of my parents,
Florence Craven Euwer and Eugene Courtney Euwer,
who gave me music
I learn by going where I have to go.
âTheodore Roethke, “The Waking”
In Mr. Kaplan's studio is a needlepoint pillow, on a chair. On one side of it is a violin. The other side says,
A teacher is someone who makes you believe you can do it.
Somebody who took lessons from him a long time ago made it. When I was little, I couldn't read it clearly because needlepoint letters have odd shapes.
“Now that you're warmed up, let's revisit Mr. Mozart,” said Mr. Kaplan.
It was a gorgeous June morning and in my mind I heard another voice: “Now that you're warmed up, let's demolish those Vikings.” My softball coach and my violin teacher were overlapping each other.
With my softball coach, it was stairsteps and laps and stretches and endless batting practice. With Mr. Kaplan it was eight repetitions of very fast B-major scales and five minutes of octaves. Two weeks after being the shortstop on the team that had lost in the second round of the district play-offs, I was at my lesson, looking for the Mozart concerto. People say I have a quirky way of holding my violin and bow way out to the side in my left hand while I bend over and sort through music with my right hand, as if I'm signaling to somebody. Mr. Kaplan said we were going to “catch up with Mr. Mozart. Do the concerto start to finish, no stops, to see what's going on in the totality of the thing.” He was sitting on the piano bench, waiting for me. The Fourth Concerto, in D. I hadn't paid very much attention to it since February, and now it was June.
In the summer I get to have morning lessons twice a week, and I love it. The sun comes in the windows of Mr. Kaplan's studio, which is at one end of his house, and it lights up the rug's big, colorful designs. Mrs. Kaplan leaves for work early, and there's always some great smell left over, French toast or omelets or something. I work best in the mornings. Things haven't had time to get so cluttered yet.
Mr. Kaplan was wearing his “Pergolesiâa man for the '90s” sweatshirt. It's a joke. Pergolesi lived in Italy in the 1700s and he wrote operas and he died of consumption when he was twenty-six, five days after he'd finished composing something. Mr. Kaplan is better in the mornings, too. He says the Symphony keeps him up past his bedtime. He plays in the first violins in it with my mother. So he's up past his bedtime most of the time during the season. It's the Oregon Symphony. They don't play regular concerts in the summer.
I put the music on the stand and got ready. With Mr. Kaplan you don't whine or mutter. It doesn't help. “We want right notes, not excuses” is what all music teachers say, I guess. He doesn't have to say it very many times; you learn it fast. Mr. Kaplan and I'd been together for seven years, and he was going to know the instant I got to the top of the second page that I hadn't been practicing the Mozart. At that spot there's a fast shift from first finger to fourth finger on the G string, and you have to get ready for it. You can't let a shift like that take you by surprise.
“Straight through. Right, Allegra? Including cadenzas.” A cadenza is the part where the violin plays alone; it's harder than the rest of the piece, and it gets the audience all excited when you do it in a concert. There are three cadenzas in this concerto, one in each movement.
“Right.” Poor man.
The introduction is forty-one measures long. This time, instead of playing just the last two measures of it on the piano, Mr. Kaplan played the whole thing. He wears half-glasses, and he has a balding head with some blondish-gray hair on the back, and a mostly gray short beard, and he's a little bit slumped over when he sits at the piano. His ears stick out in a funny way. I love the way he looks. The introduction to the first movement, the part the orchestra would play, is bouncy, and it mostly announces what the solo violin will play when it begins. That way you get to listen to it twice.
While he was doing it, I practiced the G-string shift without making any noise, sliding my hand up and down the fingerboard.
I love this concerto. Mozart only wrote five of them for the violin. The year before, Mr. Kaplan had let me choose which one to learn, the third one or this one, and I'd taken them both home and spun my bow the way you spin a tennis racquet. If it landed with the hair toward me, I'd learn the third, in G; and if it landed with the hair away from me, I'd learn this one. When Mr. Kaplan and my parents found out I'd treated my bow With Such Astonishing Disrespect, they got very alarmed about it.
I'd worked very hard on it for several months, and in February we'd made a tape of it to send to a contest. I'd worried and fretted and trembled, but we'd gotten the tape made. After that, I'd sort of neglected it. In softball season I'd practically stopped being a violinist.
Mr. Kaplan, who was having fun playing the introduction, got to the
part that comes right before the violin begins. I was ready. It starts on a high D and goes on up from there.
I got through the first movement all right, and I made some genuine messes of the beautiful double-stops near the end of the second-movement cadenza. Double-stops are two notes at once, on separate strings. And I was sure the last-movement cadenza was making it Abundantly Clear to Mr. Kaplan that I hadn't even seen it for a long time. But the end was fine. The
came out very, very soft and nice.
Mr. Kaplan leaned back, smiling and saying a kind of “ah.” Then he turned sideways on the bench. “Isn't this a beautiful song, Allegra?”
“Yep.” It is. Mr. Kaplan calls overtures and symphonies and concertos “songs” sometimes. I waited for him to say the rest.
He leaned forward and flipped the pages. “Hmmm. I'm concerned about the articulation in spots, and some of the dynamics aren't at all what they should beâand you
that, young ladyâandÂ â¦ Hmmm.” Then he turned sideways on the bench again, straddling it. “Are you willing to play this concerto a thousand times by September?”
I laughed. That would be more times than I'd brush my teeth by then. He watched me thinking. He started to smile, then he got up and walked across the studio, away from me. Then he turned around. “Your tape was accepted,” he said. “For the Bloch Competition. The finals are on Labor Day.”
I looked at him. And I saw myself four months before, worrying and worrying and worrying about whether or not the sixteenth-notes in the first movement were vigorous enough, how satiny smooth the
was.â¦ I remembered being a mass of nervousness, actually frightened of a tape recorder.
“Had you really forgotten about it?” he said.
The picture in my memory faded and Mr. Kaplan's face came in, looking at me over the top of his half-glasses. He has terribly vivid blue eyes.
“You're serious, aren't you?” I said.
“Indeed. You are one of the finalists. We have almost three months, if you decide to play. You may decide not to, of course.”
I laughed. I held my violin and my bow out at arms' length, so I was kind of a V shape. “Really,” I said. “Thanks, guys,” I said to them. I dropped my arms, letting violin and bow dangle so they hung just above the floor. I thought of my grandmother in New York, Bubbe Raisa, who'd bought me the first violin I ever had. It was a one-eighth size. I can still hear her voice in my head, like an old radio program you think you remember, all jolly-sounding, saying, “Just tuck it under your chin, just tuck it.â¦” The whole violin was only seventeen inches long.
Mr. Kaplan bent his head to the side, a little bit like a bird listening. “Mr. Kaplan, do you thinkâ¦” I purposely let my voice fade.
He shook his head back and forth. “You make your own decisions, always, Allegra.” I laughed again, and so did he. Mine was kind of an accusing laugh; I was thinking of the thousands of hours of finger-sickening exercises he'd put me through in seven years. Those nasty exercises were his decisions, not mine. “In important things of this kind,” he added.
Spend three months with Mozart. My whole summer vacation. Go through the nervousness all over again. The Ernest Bloch Competition for Young Musicians of Oregon. Last year it was for piano, the first Beethoven concerto, and the boy who plays piano with the Portland Youth Orchestra won it. He played the concerto with the Oregon Symphony at a Sunday concert; that was his prize. I'll never forget his eyes when he came out on the stage to begin playing at the concert. They looked wild, as if he didn't know what a piano was. Daddy and I were sitting down front, and we could see him very clearly. Mommy said he'd been awfully jumpy in rehearsal but always came through in the clinch. He was eighteen. He played the performance wonderfully.
“How old are the others?” I asked.
“Allegra, will that affect your relationship with the concerto?”
I looked down to both sides of me. My violin was centered exactly over one of the dark blue curly designs on the rug. I centered my bow over another one. The designs weren't exactly alike. I'd had the rug designs memorized for years. I looked back up at Mr. Kaplan. He was standing with his hands in his pockets. “I don't exactly know,” I said.
He moved his feet slightly. “Let's say I'm quite sure you're the youngest. Let's say that.” He kept looking at me over his glasses. I put both violin and bow in my right hand. “How tall are you?” he asked.
I told him. Five feet one and three-quarters.
“Indeed,” he said. “And you've had the full-size instrument since?â¦”
“UhÂ â¦ I was just starting sixth grade. One and a half years ago. One year and nine months.” The agreement was that if I started to slack off on the practicing, Mommy and Daddy wouldn't “take the payments very seriously,” as Daddy said. If I got unmotivated or lost interest, away would go the violin, and I could use a rental. Same with the bow.
“I'm wondering if we can expect some growth these days. It would make the reaches a bit easier for your hand, you know. Your brother David, he's rather taller than you, yes?”
“David's five eleven.”
“Indeed. Well, we'll see what nature has in mind.” He began pacing across the rug. Then he stopped. “What do you think, Allegra? Would you like to play the competition? You mustn't play it unless you're willing. Com
I'd never done such a thing in my life. I'd played auditions. One for the All-State Prep Orchestra, but I was so young then, that one hardly counts. I almost didn't even know what I was there for. And for the Youth Orchestra, the one I play in now. That was scary, because I knew exactly what I was there for.