VOX HUMANA: A Long Overdue Letter
Mardirosian, Haig, The American Organist
A Long Overdue Letter
DEAR MISS MYERS,
Before I write another word, please let me apologize for being so late in sending this to you. It has been a very busy 45 years since your last letter. Time gets away from us, but worse than that, it sometimes just takes a while to untwist our minds and let our thoughts steep until they can say what they must.
I thought of you the other day as I was resting a bit before playing a recital. Yes, I am still playing the organ. I remembered that last letter you wrote to me. I imagined you writing it sitting in your parlor in that big white Victorian on Ravine Road where you taught hundreds upon hundreds of piano students. I imagined you had finished your afternoon of teaching. Your companion, Miss Anderson, was pouring a cup of tea. I could see you sitting there at that antique secretary desk, across the room from the upright by the stairs, carefully - if wobblingly - shaping each word. I remember the room clearly: the embroidered cloths, stack of sheet music, pencils everywhere and within arms' reach to mark scores, big windows looking out on the inviting porch with its rocker and swing, and the tall, breezy oaks and blooming magnolias hinting at school's surrender to sublime summer.
I remember your letter nearly word for word, though somewhere in the to and fro of life I've mislaid it. You mailed it to me the day after I played a recital in the Riverside Church. That recital was the last time I saw you, sitting in the front pew. I'm glad you found a friend to drive you from New Jersey, because I know it must have been difficult to walk or even sit by then, but you brought your characteristic smile and glittering eyes. You wrote and told me how delighted you were that I had played "in the Rockefeller church." You said that when I was a boy, you were sure I would never get anywhere with music because I never practiced. And now, you added, you were wrong and happy about that.
But I did practice . . . sometimes. The music I was playing would inspire me, or not. Do you remember how, after months of work, I still couldn't play "Old Folks at Home"? It wasn't because I didn't practice. I just never liked Stephen Foster. In fact, I never liked much music in major keys either. Do you remember another piece you gave me, a Native American chant of some kind? And when you taught it, you described your childhood in South Dakota before it was even a state in a small town near a reservation. You said you'd watch elders of the tribe, in their beautiful ceremonial dress, sitting in front of tepees swaying and humming quietly in the warm sunlight. I could just about hear that exotic singing and wanted badly to play it back to you on the yellowing keys of that great old upright. Happy was the day you told me I reminded you of being a girl back in the 1880s!
I know I wasn't your prize pupil, and I know I sometimes disappointed you as well as my mother, who had tried to teach me at home when I was five. …