I say goodbye to all this with an ode to my great, old, pain-in-the-ass piano teacher, Vesta Mosher
I'm back from an intense summer trip -- my high school graduating class organized a 30th anniversary reunion.
The visit was also an excuse to drop in on the one person who has done more to influence how I listen to and how I make music today: Vesta Mosher, my old piano teacher from high school.
Through her persistence and cajoling and, yes, grumpy threats, she somehow caught my teenage imagination and opened my sensibilities to the million-and-one ways in which an interpreter can approach a piece of music.
Many teachers give lessons prescriptively, Vesta would sit me down, for hours on end, to analyse music so that I could come up with my own prescription that was true to historical practice, tradition and a sense of musical narrative.
It's only been since I wrote my first concert review for the Star, slightly more than 10 years ago, that the true value of what Vesta imparted came into focus. I feel indescribably lucky in having had a teacher like that.
Vesta was a true mentor, inviting me into a world of ideas that went far beyond music. She spent time with me that no sane teacher would ever dedicate to a passing student.
I've visited with her several times over the years, but this time felt special.
Vesta turns 82 this fall. Four years ago, she fell asleep at the wheel and drove her car off the highway. She spent a long time in hospital and, even though she shouldn't, she continues to live at home, by herself, with severe physical disabilities and a failing memory.
It was my first visit with Vesta since the car accident, and I was very conscious of how this could be the last time that I can still get access to the core of a vibrant, tireless teacher, orchestra conductor, accompanist, music festival organizer and civic pain-in-the-ass.
Of course, Vesta wanted to know what made me think I was qualified to be a critic. She wanted me to tell her what I meant by a musical narrative. She challenged me on the definition of musicality.
Unlike the cringing teenaged me, I could now smile, laugh and challenge her right back, knowing that she was just being her Socratic self, enjoying the act of questioning more than coming up with possible answers.
Vesta gets visitors, but few people play for her. She asked repeatedly, so I obliged with something I hoped I wouldn't mangle too badly, one of my favourite Haydn Sonatas.
"That was musical," was her simple reply.
"You were one of my best students, you know."
I asked her why she had never told me that 30 years earlier.
"Because it wouldn't have been good for you," she snapped back.
In my adolescence, Vesta called me a lazy ass, over and over again. She was right, of course.
This morning, fresh from vacation, I found out that I am no longer music critic but a reporter for the business desk at the Star -- a bit of news that still has my head spinning a bit.
So, that's the end of the line for this blog, as well. It really has been fun -- in the same kind of way that my lessons with Vesta were: I got to think and question and listen and wonder every single day.
These are the things that make not only music, but anything in life, worthwhile.
So, what piece of music does one choose for an exit like this? One that contains thought, question and wonder, of course.
Simplicity, in the beautiful, Shaker sense, is also present in Dmitri Shostakovich's Op. 87 Prelude and Fugue in C Major, the key where everything begins and ends, as played by the composer himself. Neither the playing nor the piano are perfect, but that is part of the charm, too: