The man was a breed apart.
Ray* had spent his entire adult life head of maintenance, for the local General Electric plant. He swept floors, it’s true; but, he also repaired just about everything when it broke. Trained as a welder, this included soldering thick pipes.
Always resourceful, Ray taught himself to use a sewing machine. Most of the shirts he wore he’d made himself, complete with top stitching, buttoned cuffs, and added pockets. He also built a deck on the back of his house, and inlaid floor tile.
Outside of work, the man had a rich, cultured experience. He’d met his wife, a native of Rome Italy, at Karate – where they each achieved the 3rd degree black belt, and could both break brick. She a tax accountant, during her off season the two of them would travel the world on expensive cruises, usually for two weeks at a time. By the time Ray reached retirement age, he’d been just about everywhere.
Nevertheless, Ray wanted to learn cello. His goal was to play for the angels someday, in the realm to come. A lofty aspiration, no pun intended, I decided he deserved the opportunity to prepare.
Unlike most beginners, he’d had no musical background. No singing, in school. No church, in childhood. No rhythm sticks, hand bells. No records playing, at night before falling asleep. No piano lessons.
By contrast, I had been surrounded by music making since infancy. Its aural patterns played in my head, regularly and easily. How to get these into Ray’s cranium would become MY ultimate challenge.
Apparently, he’d played for a few years already before we met; Ray came to me after all three of his preliminary teachers had, for one reason or another, set him aside.
So, we began at the beginning. Solid first position set up. Bow arm trajectory. He had the basics well established, mechanically; minus a tendency to play finger to finger, all Ray really needed was an ability to hear and match pitch.
This would prove his ultimate contender.
The man was my most devoted student. Everything I advised he do, he did – to the absolute best of his ability. A self described “slow” learner, nobody knew better than Ray how much effort and repetition would be required to master the tasks set before him.
He’d been my adult cello student, for over ten years, before – post pandemic – Ray spontaneously lost the hearing in one ear. We both postulated that, surely, exposure to continuous loud interior shop noise was the likely culprit.
The ENT examined him. His ears, the doctor declared, were fine.
An MRI was scheduled, next. I kept mum my encroaching concerns; auditory tumors were not uncommon, anymore. He’d be sure to inform me, of the results of the scan.
The day came. Ray described with his customary, easygoing narrative his experience at the MRI test. The technician, he said, kept coming back out to check him – for metal. No; no earrings, nose rings, implants. No metal. But, there was metal, the tech said. In his head.
The test complete, there was no metal on Ray’s body. But, there was metal in. his. head.
Ray wracked his tired, aging brain. He’d never been in the military. Never shot a gun. Never endured a traumatic, penetrating head injury. All he could blame were those days at the G.E., welding pipes. Had he inhaled metal dust, and had particulate reached his brain?
This made sense, to both of us. To me, it explained much. Jay, always struggling to both grasp and retain teaching concepts, would make exhaustive effort to get them into his longterm memory. Even then, if enough time elapsed, invariably he’d need to relearn some of what he had already demonstrated.
Yet, when taken as a whole person, simply put: Ray was not a slow learner. He’d reached the maximum skill level, a master of the art of self defense. He’d made half of his own clothing. He could still fix whatever broke. This was evidence of giftedness – not a feeble mind!
Rock and roll music evolved, in my lifetime. From simple chord progressions topped off by an innocent melody, life and its increasing assaults would birth a genre devoid of nourishment – angry, screaming, pounding, thrashing. Called heavy metal, this was music for the abused and poisoned.
Now, Ray fights back, against the very infiltrate of this evil residue.
May the angels reserve his seat.
*to respect his identity, my student’s name has been changed for this account.
Copyright 3/13/23 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. No RSSing copies. All rights those of the biographer, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Sharing by blog link, exclusively, and not via RSS feed. Thank you for respecting the true stories told by others.