Category Archives: musicians

The Women Who Share The Shoe.

“There was an old woman, who lived in a shoe; she had so many children, she knew not what to do….”

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Playing with Barbie, Ken, and Skipper was my first experience with dolls. I think I had a drink and wet baby sometime before that, but it wasn’t the Chatty Cathy like Bonnie had and I never saw any point in holding or cuddling a hard chunk of sculpted plastic with blank, glass eyes. For me, since mum was a seamstress, it was just about changing their clothes, whole outfits she would wrap or tuck into the Christmas stocking after hours of arduous toil handsewing tiny hooks, snaps, and lace trim. In spite of her loving and expert efforts, I think the shoes captivated me most – on Barbie, especially the backless dress slippers.

I don’t remember a baby, in our house, though Paul was just two years behind me. The playpen was my home inside ours, me with my crayons and my favorite, the record player, whose 45s I could place on the turntable for singing along. If Paul was to be held and cuddled, it wasn’t his big sister allowed to do any of that. Instead, after first throwing the Fisher Price percolator at my head and drawing streaming blood, he would become my playmate, even my roommate, us talking together in the dark each in our twin beds in the one downstairs bedroom big enough for the two of us.

So, girls with any affinity for baby raising populated a world outside of mine. But, I can remember when they’d be born of the ladies at the Assembly Hall on Sunday morning – wrapped, held, cooing and inevitably crying during what was intended to be a solid hour of quiet meditation interrupted only by a hymn sung or a prayer, stood to be given solo by the occasional man. Most of these cherubs were out of my close up view, being a toddler knee high to their mothers who gathered between Morning Meeting and Sunday School out on the sidewalk or clustered in the gravel parking lot. And, once every summer for a week, they’d pepper the evening humidity at Crawford Hall Auditorium in Grove City during Gospel Meeting at the Eastern Bible Conference as, one by one, their mothers would make the ritual trip up the aisle to the lobby carrying their crying cargo. As I grew, I remember wondering how many of these young women waited all year for their turn to be part of the display.

When I became a teen, there were neighborhood girls who expanded our ranks and who seemed completely enraptured by each new addition born to the fellowship. They would take turns holding the babies. I might have as well, once or twice but, always feeling a bit clumsy, preferring to just look as closely as I could whenever they were nearby. Newborns seemed especially strange, with no ability to keep their heads from wobbling or their faces from forming odd expressions. Yet, the ladies made sounds of adoration, all smiles, talking about not much of anything with each other until I walked away to see if the piano was free.

My cousins Kathy and Cheryl, the former the last of my generation and the latter the first of hers, were the first of the real babies to enter my family scene. Kathy’s family lived in Ohio and the story was that she needed a heart valve surgery in the months after her birth, so I don’t remember seeing her until she could talk. But, Cheryl came with her parents to our large family gatherings regularly hosted by mum’s eldest sister, her parents driving all the way from the Detroit suburbs to present her. Cheryl was nearly perfect, and she wore a tiny pink silk bow attached to the top of her head with clear plastic tape. I remember her mother, Bev, holding Cheryl who sat on her mother’s lap already for the endless pictures being taken by everyone.

Beyond all this, babies really never entered my sphere of fantasy. I don’t remember any desire to have one of my own and, once I found out how they came into the world, even less. Looking back, I suspect the cause was hormone levels slightly out of balance, a lifetime of low progesterone. I didn’t much care for children either, and my first baby sitting job was a night shift where I only had to check on the one sleeping in the crib and spend the rest of the time watching late movies on the Tv we didn’t have in our house. Though naturally messy, I found myself cleaning up after the mother of these much as my own mum might have.

Even the epiphany, which came decades later while driving home from Fredonia ( when I realized I could return there to college and train to become an elementary music teacher) did not draw me to the children themselves; rather, I’d decided that working with the youngest would mean I wouldn’t have to produce conducted concerts.

And, even learning to become that teacher never focused on children or their needs; I was preoccupied becoming their most effective leader and instructor. It was all about me.

Four years after my first teaching placement in the high school, on advice of a colleague I bid down into the elementary system – 34 years old, engaged to be married, and happier than I’d ever been.

Preparing that summer for the first day of school, I enjoyed a surge of creative energy – making large, colorful props, and devising costumes, planning the opening presentation like a Disney producer. The kids took to it like birds in a nest. I had them, transfixed, and would for the next five years solid. They became my willing audience. All the painful years growing up the weird kid at school with few friends dissolved, in the realm which had now become mine. In my insular mind, I was their creative hero.

But, something else also happened. I began to experience the thrill of a child running up and clasping me by the knees. Their cheers in the cafeteria rushed through my body. Their hilarious spontaneity, their endlessly creative questions, their crowing a song together….I fell in love. I fell in love, with children – by the dozens, by the hundreds, by the thousands. It was me and the kids, singing at the tops of our lungs, playing violins and brass, wind, and percussion en masse, dancing (dancing!) and filling the stage for, yes, bi-annual concerts of the entire student enrollment plus ten years of fully staged musicals.

I was the old lady who lived in the shoe and, by last count, had tried to help raise probably four thousand or more. Many of these grew to become my lifelong friends, bearing their own babies, faces I now view with a grandmother’s adoration as they appear in the social feed. I couldn’t love them all equally; that was impossible. But, my best efforts were made, hopefully weaknesses smoothed over by a genuine heart for their creative spirits. I pray, likely as most mothers do, that these were never irreparably broken by anything I said or did.

We teachers are a mixed breed. Many are mothers, themselves. Some have managed to cover hundreds of students per week like I did and still make dinner for their brood and help with homework. My private music students who have come to the house for 34 years, with their parents, have in so many cases felt like the nieces and nephews I never see. Their parents have allowed me to be a part of their lives, like the sprinter who takes the race in short, intense spurts, many of these for nearly a decade at a time. I could not ask for a better gift, after having missed motherhood.

Happy Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day, to those who bore the children of each generation, and to all those who raised them. I’ll be here, in the shoe, with the rest of the women who live in it, doing what I learned to do from you, if and when you need me, baby.

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© 5/8/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Sharing permitted by direct blog link, exclusively – no RSSING. Thank you for respecting the writers from the village.

littlebarefeetblog.com

The Surveyor.

Bill hadn’t played his cello, for years.

We’d both studied with the same first teacher, Dimitri, but several years apart, never crossing paths coming up. However, about a year ago, in that roundabout random way, somebody hooked us up and Bill became yet another adult member of the studio of multi-aged students I’d established back in 1989 after my first trip into the world of Suzuki-based musical instruction at Stephens’ Point, WI.

The two of us, Bill and I, were now nearly 65 years old.

We private teachers of musical instruments run the gamut. Some are self taught, promoters of their own unique styles and approaches; others are conventionally and soundly trained by conservatories; still others come by their skills employing a mixture of acquired pedagogies and “shoot from the hip” instinct.

But, we all take on students, and that for reasons both selfish and noble. Some do because it’s easy money, no accounting for quality; others want to produce the next Perlman, Botti, or Ma; but among us authentic, Suzuki-registered devotees is a collective desire to help each, young or old, grow to enjoy the ability to make good, solid, beautiful music.

Bill was immediately likeable. He had the twinkly eyes, a clean cut presence, and a gentle demeanor. And, he said, his daughter (with whom I’d collaborated while she’d been a college student) wanted him to get some help with intonation. Sure thing, I told him; he’d come to the right place.

We set about some serious ear training. Dimitri had always been about tone, the bow trajectory, himself tall and lean, striding back and forth before us with puffing pipe, declaring with sweeping, long armed gestures: “Seeeng mit de chellow! SEEEEENG!” And, seeeeeng we did. We sang with our bows, drawing full resonance, sound albeit perhaps sourly out of tune, but big and glorious for Dimitri.

Bill already knew how to produce full, Dimitri style tone. So, the two of us worked on his ear, via his muscle memory, with keen aural attention. Pitch by pitch, Bill mastered the G major scale, pocket by pocket, until he could get through a whole Book I tune without losing its tonal center.

We moved on, into pieces which had more complex structure. He’d played some pretty advanced works of music by master composers, in the years between our lessons with Dimitri and the day we’d finally met. They’d been out of tune then, and they were now as well. We addressed all that, phrase by phrase, and there was no denying how much he cared, how earnestly he applied himself, and how each week he’d demonstrate noticeable improvement.

But, once we were all forced to go virtual, and Zoom et al afforded us zero opportunity to play together, I began to pick up on another curious feature about Bill. When playing alone, he seemed completely devoid of any internal rhythm. Even when counting, he’d start out fine but lose it midway, either accelerating or dragging until the steady beat was a vapor.

Bill understood note values. He realized that they each had specific duration. He just couldn’t express duration, when he played. Relative recognition, but complete imprecision, there was no steady beat in his consciousness.

Before anyone reading this thinks that I am in the habit of denigrating or throwing shade on any of my students, stay with me; there’s a point, here, and it’s probably not what you might be thinking.

Teachers are supposed to care about their students, hands down. But, I believe we should also strive to know them. Know them, fully. Get into their heads. And, with adults, this necessitates getting into their histories.

What was Bill about? How had he spent the bulk of his adult life?

Not as a cellist. Nope. Bill was a Security guard.

In fact, he’d begun his career as a policeman, in one of our outlying counties. From there, he’d moved to Baltimore MD, joining a force of about four thousand. Then, he became a Federal Marshall, spending decades in this field and, now, in retirement, Bill was the lone Security Guard for a major, local medical center.

As I sat listening to Bill play, I tried to get deeply into his brain. I wanted to become familiar with how his lifelong habits informed everything about him. Why was he unable to stay focused on the steady beat, even with the metronome pounding into his left ear?

I followed him from the beginning of the song to the end, and then it hit me. Bill had been trained to employ a global view. He was all about the entire scope of the environment, not the details. Any officer caught fixating on one aspect, one person’s behavior, is a cop waiting to be overtaken by a crafty criminal specializing in slight of hand. No wonder he couldn’t stay with the pulse; about a minute in, his brain would go panoramic. To the observer, his mind may have appeared to “wander”, to have “lost concentration”; but, in Bill’s world, he was merely returning to his job — as grand surveyor.

Bill being more than just pleasant, but gallant, he took to my confronting this with grace and deference. In fact, he concurred completely. I posited that he might, at work, entertain the occasional interchange of small talk with the proverbial smile and nod, but that absorbing conversational content was all an act. Again, he concurred. He didn’t like big parties, he said. He couldn’t concentrate on anything anybody ever said to him. At this point, surprise; I told him I was exactly the same. Relatability, the essence of common ground.

So, now Bill had a plan. He could harness his widely scanning, revolving, weather vane of a brain to the task of actual focus for 3 solid minutes during the passage of time required to produce a musical tune. He knew now when during the piece he’d likely veer off, and would set his intent with resolve to stay with that pulse through to the end.

Many teachers might question this conclusion. Excessive over think. Unnecessary analysis of basic inability. I stand in challenge, to all that. To my seasoned experience, there is no such thing, inability. There is only absence of informed understanding. The brain, and the mind which governs it, continues to produce – new cells, new blood vessel pathways; the mind, who is kidding whom, here? is as infinite as the God Who created it.

As we age, let’s remember that our successes are never either defined or limited by years.

Bill, the cellist, will tell you.

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© 1/11/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo/littlebarefeetblog.com. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting rights of authorship, and for being the better person.

The Late Boomer.

Duct cleaning was the real world equivalent of a colonoscopy.

Beyond fundamental purging of the crud adhered to household infrastructure, what mattered in the end (npi) was all the unfinished business unearthed in the process.

I’d purchased the old farmhouse in ’89, at the ripening age of 32. Among my phase of the Boomer generation, this was considered respectably progressive; most single girls were renting in townhouse complexes held up by select, emerging studs. I was the girl with other things to do.

Like, build a creative life.

And, toward that particular endeavor, such construction yielded the acquisition of: things.

It only took three decades. In that time, I’d managed to retain eighteen throw pillows, four keyboards, seven hundred ninety eight gig check stubs, one Koehler beer bottle, George Foreman mini grill, Jack Lalane Juicer, Oster food processor, Skinny bullet, Cuisinart countertop, two rotary phones, seventeen curio boxes, six hat carriers, five unmatched end tables (from Sundance), ten lamps, three sofas, fourteen area rugs(half off, shipped direct), and each piece of clothing ever handmade by Mum or purchased from Newport News catalog. Everything was a potential theater prop. Every issue of The International Musician, Suzuki journal, CD sample, 8.5 x 11 page of sheet music, and idea scrawled empty envelope ever hewn, molded, collated, or conceived. Hard copy was the hallmark of my people; we had history, because we made history.

But, post-pandemic, it was time to get this hoard in order.

Duct cleaning services only ask for the simplest compliance: make every warm air vent and cold air return accessible. Large expanding hoses, I dimly remembered from well over a decade past, needed to be attached to each and then run outside through a noisy compressor the size of a pediatric hot air balloon in the shape of a human stomach. A couple hours hence, and the digestive system of the old Saraceno homestead would be purged.

Well, not so fast.

The constipation of thirty plus years was compacted. Furthermore, like most artists, I’d re-designed the floor layout as many times as the visual landscape warranted, which was frequently, and with no regard for anything as life sustaining as air flow. And the cellar, become the catch all for 25 years in K-12 vocal /general /instrumental and dramatic music, held enough foamboard, posterboard, cardboard, laminate, and plastic binned handhelds to start a very smelly bonfire at a summer camp.

Speaking of fire, I’d spent the two full hours and nineteen minutes ensconced in the attic loft contemplating how many minutes it might take to evacuate my four most precious treasures in the event of such an alarm. From there, I could hear the two cleaning guys at the back mud room doorway as they wrapped up their afternoon.

Then, it happened. That moment, in every Woody Allen film, where the frame falls away and the viewer – exposed – becomes the central character. From my perch on the landing of the loft, I heard one say to the other:

“This place is a mess.”

Down the back stairway I pummeled, ready for confrontation. Had they finished, and was I not so sorry about the cluttered entryway and the prohibiting things. What was the condition of the ducts. Genuinely surprised, I stared as the one who denied making any judgment declared that neither the ducts nor the vents were caked in soot. What, then, had caused the overwhelming dust bunny convention in virtually every room of the house?

My collection of, you guessed it: things.

Paper and cardboard, to be exact. The stuff of all conflagration. The cause of the problem was the problem. Shit, effectively begetting shit.

In spite of the questionable integrity of the first floor wiring, the Nutone heat lamp timer on the bathroom wall still worked. If I set it to its maximum 15 minutes, I could start at the south end of the kitchen and work my way north. The white washed Pier I country house bench, wedding gift from Lisa in ’93, would be the first suffocation rescue; what remained would take the rest of my life.

Faintly, in the distance of my inevitable future, I could almost feel it:

Boom.

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© 6/10/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or part including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for respecting the transparencies of original writers.

littlebarefeetblog.com