Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mother Of All Commutes

I know what it feels like being schlepped around for violin lessons. So, when anxious mothers and fathers call to set up lessons for their offspring at Talvi Studio, I at least make every effort to factor in mileage costs, and traffic issues, while offering scheduling accommodations.

Ilkka and I have a little competition going as to which one of us spent more hours on buses commuting to and from violin lessons during our young years. He says he did, with travels back and forth from Kuusankoski to Helsinki often twice a week, usually by himself. Ilkka's travels clocked up to twelve hours weekly, plus one day a week of missed school. But I'm convinced I spent more time traveling for lessons, especially with the additional car time from Beverly to Boston. Round trip from home to Lincoln Center took me about twelve hours as well. Here's how it started:

My late mother, Frances Kransberg an amateur violinist, kept an eye on Boston area young violinists in the 60's. One little boy caught her attention in a big way; his name was Lynn Chang. Lynn outpaced all the other violinists, according to my mother, and I'd sort of have to agree. The secret of Lynn's violinistic wizardry, in my mother's mind? Lynn Chang traveled from Boston to New York every weekend for lessons with Ivan Galamian at Juilliard, and Frances Kransberg wasn't about to have her daughter outdone.

You can probably guess the rest. Every Saturday morning, at 2 A.M., my mother and I boarded the Greyhound bus from Boston's Port Authority and arrived in Manhattan for an 8 A.M. lesson at Juilliard Pre-College, followed by a full day of classes: theory, orchestra with Isaiah Jackson, and later James Conlon, solfege, and string ensemble with Wesley Sontag, and chamber music with Bruce Berg. Afterwards, we'd head back for Boston. I'm shaking my head as I write this. At that time in the New England area, there were phenomenal artist teachers; Joseph Silverstein for one, Emanuel Borok, another. Robert Koff, founding member of the Juilliard Quartet, taught at Brandeis. Greater Boston Youth Symphony offered terrific opportunities for youngsters, including solo competitions, and these events were practically in my backyard. Were those hours spent on Greyhound necessary? Shrug.

The seeds for my becoming a conspiracy theorist were sown years ago. On one of our Greyhound travels to Juilliard in mid-winter, my mother awakened to find her boots missing. (She had a habit of removing her shoes before falling asleep on the bus). We arrived at 42nd Street Port Authority in the middle of a blizzard, and my mother's boots weren't anywhere to be found. She tapped the shoulder of the passenger in front of us; had he seen her boots? He shook his head. Naw, lady. She nervously asked a couple of women behind us. Had they seen her boots? Maybe the boots had slid under the seat. Uh-uh, replied the women, yawning. Nobody had seen her boots; they vanished into Greyhound oblivion.

Margie, some wise guy stole them, she said. Crazy people. She marched up to the Greyhound driver in her stocking feet. Please, Mr. Driver, make an announcement. It's snowing heavily outside and someone snatched my boots. Oh, and they're navy blue.
I slunk in my seat. Did I know this lady without shoes?
The microphone made a loud hiss, and then the driver announced:
This lady here tells me her navy blue boots are missin'. It's not funny to steal someone's shoes, so whoever took 'em, give 'em back.
Stifled giggles.

The boots had disappeared without a trace. So, what did she do?
Ilkka laughs when I remind him. Even he has to admit my mother was clever; an original.
Mom plucked a pair of brown leather gloves from her pocketbook and pulled them over her feet. And this is what she said:
It's New York—stop laughing. Nobody will notice and they'll keep my feet warm. Who knows? I might set a trend, yet.

And off she waddled, through Port Authority to Woolworth's, in search of a pair of inexpensive shoes, with gloves on her feet. You know what? Come to think of it, she was right; those New Yorkers didn't give her a second glance.

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