Monday, October 12, 2009

I Called Him "Dr. Nemesis" - a Yearly Excursion into Fear...

During my late elementary and early high school years, I underwent a brilliant scrutiny by wonderful musicians at the Eastman School Preparatory Department, and in those days, at the end of each year we were required to perform for the head of the department, the result being an advancement in grading, no advancement, or utter failure. I must say that some of the best training I ever received was during these years, for which I am eternally grateful.
Now, the person for which we had to perform was, as I recall, the head of the Preparatory aspect at Eastman, and his name was Dr. Raymond Wilson.
I still vividly remember the end of my first year, when I was ushered into a large room, with no or little furniture. At one end of this room was a piano, and directly to its left sat a gentleman behind a desk.
I approached the desk, whereupon this gentleman, wearing a dark suit and glasses, and without looking up, quietly said, "You will now please perform."
After a halting second or two, I went over to the piano, started to play the first of three or four prepared pieces, with hands shaking as if I had come down with Yellow Fever. Each piece was interrupted about a third or halfway through by the quiet, expressionless command, "Please go on to the next piece."
When done, I simply sat there motionless, totally drained, mostly by a fear that suddenly overtook me. He then said something like "thank you - you may now leave" - and without looking up.
Now this experience repeated itself at the end of each year I was in the Prep Department, and with the same words coming out of what I now considered a kind of monster droning the very same commands. I cannot remember the color of his suit or his commands ever changing, from year to year. And he invariably struck the same kind of fear within me, from year to year.
I cannot remember the advancement levels I had attained during those times, except for my final year there. I DO know that I had always advanced, never having been pushed back in my grading experience.
Now, the final year, one of my prepared pieces was a Czerny Etude, I think the one in octaves, a really difficult piece. Well, after several years of having to have faced whom I privately re-named "Dr. Nemesis," I was still filled with fear, so much so, that I took the Czerny at a pace I had never intended for it to achieve.
After it was all over, I was crestfallen, thinking that this apparition in human form would probably demote me - how will I EVER face my piano teacher the following Thursday??
Thursday came, as it always does, and it was one of the longest days of my young life, having to wait until 4P.M. for my lesson. As I trudged up the stairs to the third floor, I asked myself "how can I EVER explain to Mr. Diamond what happened??"
When I walked into the room, the first words I heard from Diamond were in the form of a question; namely, "What happened??" I thought my experience with music was about to end permanently, when Diamond blurted "Dr. Wilson exclaimed to me that your Czerny was extraordinary. and he advanced you a full grade, which is almost never done!"
Even to this day, whenever I think of my young years, I still am filled with consternation about this experience, most especially the result.

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