Saturday, December 09, 2006

Mrs. Bell, part 2

I found myself thinking about Mrs. Bell since that last post. She was a unique lady and for some reason she liked me. I don't think it was just because I had a fondness for Beethoven and Chopin.

When we were around 14 or 15, she invited a group of the girls from my class to her home for a slumber party. Most of us were piano students, but not all of us. I'm not sure why she thought to do this for us, but we had a really good time that night. We were given the run of her home and she went to her room and left us to our girl talk. I'm not sure I would have done such a thing for a group of giggly, boy-crazy teenage girls, if I had been in her shoes.

One year she took a group of us to San Antonio for Christmas shopping. Again, I don't have any idea why she put herself out for us. It was my first experience of independent Christmas shopping without the influence of my parents. I had a grand time selecting something for each member of my family and feeling all grown-up. It was a rare moment of semi-independence and it felt good.

Sometime during my high-school years Mrs. Bell took a tour of Europe. She brought each of her students a souvenir from that trip. I received two items: a dried sprig of Edelweiss (to commemorate my having sung Edelweiss from the Sound of Music during one recital) and a shiny sixpence that I was to put in my shoe on my wedding day. I still have both.

When I was a Senior, she arranged for a relative overseas to purchase a jade ring, which she gave me for my graduation present. She also arranged for me to have a Senior recital, which appalled me. I had intended to stop music lessons at the end of my Junior year, but she had her heart set on my having a Senior recital and my parents applied gentle pressure for me to continue on and make the old lady happy. I never in a million years thought anyone would actually attend the thing, but I was pleasantly surprised that a respectable number of friends, church members and relatives did show up for an evening that included Beethoven sonatas and a Chopin etude.

I disappointed her in one respect. She was always very complimentary on my ability to sight-read and on my touch at the piano. I refused, however, to memorize pieces. I just didn't see the point when it was easy enough to have the music right there handy. At this point in my life I would probably enjoy the ability to tear into a Chopin waltz, but memorization of music was never easy for me and I just never worked toward that goal. Even though I was frequently told about her daughter, who had studied music in college and could play all those sonatas without the crutch of sheet music, it just wasn't something that was important to me and she never could motivate me to feel otherwise. It wasn't for lack of trying.

I can remember music lessons in the frame building that sat just off the football field. There was no air-conditioning or reliable heat, so there were days that your fingers nearly froze to the keys or that you sweated a big wet spot on the old bench the exact shape of your butt. There were days I nearly suffocated, when the air was still and hot. Mrs. Bell was fond of lavish application of the perfume Tabu, and the strong fumes would surround my head and make me feel faint.

I can remember one afternoon when she showed up at the house with records of the Beethoven sonatas that I was learning for that Senior recital. To that point I had been learning the music, but had never heard the pieces interpreted by a concert-level pianist. She sat there on the couch with me as we listened through the Moonlight Sonata and Sonata Pathetique. It made a huge difference in my understanding of how the pieces should sound.

I can remember her rings. Her husband had been prosperous and she wore rings set with huge flawless diamonds. I've always lusted after diamonds, even at that early age, and those sparkling rings were particularly impressive.

Come to think of it, she probably did not need the fees she charged for piano lessons. And she certainly did not need the aggravation of a bunch of kids around. She had to have loved what she did to put up with us.

I never fail to think of her when I listen to a CD of Beethoven or Chopin pieces. Those two composers are firmly fixed in my mind with the lady who worked with me for so many years and who really thought I had talent. I just wish I had had a little more than I did. I wish I could have been the pianist she wanted me to be.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was the poor old dear's fondest fantasy that a classroom of mostly tone-deaf kids would someday make a sound like the church choirs she had heard somewhere. She always exhorted us to reproduce those "great Negro spirituals," as if we could.