Passing the Baton
For students and teachers everywhere, it is time to move on. Changing schools, growing up, graduating, retiring. There is change in the air for all of us. There is laughter and anticipation. There are tears and goodbyes. It's a bittersweet transition.
I remember graduating and leaving my private teacher of seven years. He was my mentor, my guide, one of the most important figures in my young life. Yet when the time came to move on I never looked back. Thrilled at the prospect of college, a new city and new musician friends I couldn't wait to leave. Now I understand the conflict of pride and loss.
My newest endeavor, teaching elementary orchestra classes, has a special significance for me. Ages ago my 4th grade orchestra class shaped my life. I threw myself into playing the viola with a fervor. That experience started me on my musical path. The path which led me to this very spot. As I bring these classes to a close I wonder about my students' futures. I know I shared my passion and caring. Did I make an impact? I suppose all that matters right now is they made an impact on me.
This weekend the Philharmonic said farewell to our Music Director. Lawrence Leighton Smith and I joined the orchestra the same year. I was glad to win a contract. He was ready to start something new. His passion and joy in music-making was just what the orchestra needed yet he shared more than music with us. He became part of our lives. He stood by us when the orchestra declared bankruptcy in 2003. He married the second flute player. In recent years our quartet performed piano quintets with him and working with him was revitalizing. He coached us like a teacher and he treated us like equals.
After 11 seasons it was time for him to move on. He announced two years ago that he was stepping down. We didn't see Larry much this season. We were busy auditioning Music Director candidates; he was busy writing his autobiography. In January Smith revealed that he had been diagnosed with a form of dementia, Binswanger's Disease. Scheduled to conduct our last two concerts, he was able to lead us in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in April but declining health forced him to cancel his farewell concerts last weekend.
The community threw him a formal party to say goodbye. Two hundred friends, colleagues and patrons were there to honor him. Memorable food. Grateful words. But there was a much more touching tribute. I bumped into Larry during the cocktail hour. He greeted me warmly, took my hand in his and wanted to know all about our quartet concert last month. He told me what a pleasure it had been to coach us. It was a moment I'll never forget. Utter humility. And I'll bet he was just as charming and attentive to everyone in the room.
I've come full circle. I remember how effortless it used to feel to move on. With each May I experience the pride of seeing young musicians taking the next step. Today I feel the solemnity of a goodbye. Farewell Maestro, you will be sorely missed.