Posted by: hope_rising | February 12, 2010

Professor of Hope

Growing up, our house was always full of music. The genre of choice during my younger years was mostly show tunes. I was a big fan of the show tunes. We had all the albums. Camelot, West Side Story, Hello Dolly, South Pacific.  My goodness the memories that come back when I think about those songs.

Our living room had an arched entry way as you passed in from the hallway. The space right in the center of the arch was hard wood, while the hallway and living room on either side had carpet. That little patch of hardwood was our broadway stage.  It was there that we performed “Surry with the Fringe on Top” and “One Enchanted Evening” and “Officer Krupke“.  It was there that I was transformed into Maria as I sang “Tonight” and where I passionately sang good night to my someone.

When I was in the fourth grade there was a tv show on public television that taught guitar lessons. I sat in front of that tv with a small guitar my dad had brought home. I stretched and pressed my little fingers in the exact same place as the instructor. To my dismay, my notes never sounded like hers. Her notes rang brilliantly and mine buzzed and sounded flat. In later years I would learn about tuning and the mystery of the mismatched sounds would be solved.  Still, I loved trying to play. I loved the feel of the instrument in my hands.

My parents and my God father, nurtured my budding passion for music. I took guitar lessons for many years. My first instructor was an honest to goodness  professor.  Professor Alfred Yesue. He taught lessons in his home on the other side of town. He was a short and stout man, always in a suit and always smelling like a cigar.  Each lesson day I would climb up the porch stairs and ring the bell. It was an older bell so it didn’t ring so much as it buzzed. The floor on the other side of the door would creek as the professor approached.  The house opened to a wide hallway with a staircase to the left and a swinging door just ahead. Placed just to the left of the stairway, perpendicular to the door was an old upright piano.  I would place my music up on the piano and take my seat beside the professor. In the beginning, my feet swung freely under the chair as I stretched and pressed my finger into the fret with my left hand, and plucked the note with my right hand.  As with anything new, the start was slow going. I would look for my note on the music sheet, then look to my left hand on the neck, find my placement, press my finger then look to the right and find my string and pluck.  Every note that came out clear was rewarded with a tap on the knee and a resounding “good” in thick Italian accent.  I was as enchanted with this man as I was hesitant. He was very demonstrative when he expressed musical concepts. His face would scrunch and his hands and arms would rise and fall to demonstrate for me what the music intended to express.  Some of his mannerisms and exuberance I found at first intimidating, but I see in retrospect that it was part of his old world charm.

As my skills improved, so to did opportunity to play. I joined church groups, I played at school events and in recitals. The more I learned the  more I wanted to learn. In high school I joined a group of students who had been playing at church events in another town. Playing with these folks changed my life. They weren’t playing just classical pieces or hymns from the prayer books; they were playing things right off the radio. They were playing “Round About“, and “Stairway to Heaven” !  Learning from them injected  momentum into my music. I started writing songs, performing publically and practicing religiously. Eventually studied music in college.

The atmosphere in college was electric. So many musicians, so many styles, so much opportunity. The college years were an immersion into classical music, the theory of music and the history of music.  Those years on that campus seem timeless to me. I can still smell the must of the practice rooms. I still hear the jam sessions in hallways and dorm rooms. I can recall the collaborations with fellow musicians; the  creative stream of consciousness among artists. I was honored when asked to accompany a fellow musician; an oboist, a vocalist, fellow guitarist. Those were, without a doubt, some of the best, if not the best years of my life. It was an outstanding experience and one that shaped my life significantly.

Music remained in the forefront of my life until I returned to college for engineering. Time didn’t allow me to be a slave to two masters and  eventually practice time gave way to study time and performances to presentations.  Years sped by, many years, without me playing so much as a note.  I always intended to get back to it, but somehow never did.

A year to two ago, I’m not even exactly sure why, I contacted a local music studio and enrolled in their program. While there was some memory, in most ways I am a beginner again; re-learning more than I am remembering and playing piano more than guitar. Even with fumbling for the notes and playing comparatively easy songs, there is not mistaking my feeling when playing music. The feeling is familiar, and even the simplest of songs when played well feel like symphonies to me.  My motive is different now. I’m no longer striving to be a rock star or performer.  I am no longer reaching for perfection. I am reaching for and finding the piece of me that, when playing, feels connected to something powerful.  Music played from heart, even if not played perfectly, is a respite in a day that is otherwise chaotic, tightly scheduled and sometimes lonely.

When I play music, I do feel hopeful, and I think it’s because I can feel my soul.  I can feel the part of me that is more spiritual than physical. In these days I don’t have hours and hours to practice as I did when I was younger. I do find, however, that  daily focused attention to part of a piece, in time, becomes a finished piece. When I play my music I can find a connection to the past. To the days of tap dances in the archway  to our living room; to the cigar smells in my dear professor’s hallway; through the musty piano rooms of my collegiate practice hall; into the smoke-filled bars and coffee houses that held my audiences. Music weaves together the years, people and experiences of my life, like no other medium could. I feel it all, I remember it all; not as individual memories as much as all memories melded as one primal emotion coming through my fingers into my instrument, nourishing my soul.   For me playing music is a touchstone for hope. On days when I can’t reach a hopeful place in my mind or with my intention; my music takes and keeps me there.

here’s to hope.



  1. Bravo! As nicely expressed as any song…

  2. As a teacher, I teach students through music all the time . . . there are many types of learners, one of them being children who learn through music. They are your students who hum in class, and they don’t realize that they are doing it. They are the students who might drum on their desk while they are doing independent work. I often combine two styles of learning, both music and movement together. It seems natural to do it! When teaching through music, the students sing loudly and with enthusiasm. They tease me, because I am not a singer . . . without a doubt, I am more of a movement gal, but that does not stop me . . . . in any situation really! But it is awesome to see a student taking a test and they are singing and moving to the water cycle dance to explain the cycle in sequential form, or they are singing the songs to prepositions or helping verbs to label parts of speech in a sentence. Very funny . . . our motto . . . “Sing Loud and Proud!” Music is universal, we have music playing during tests, and we sing song lines to get us back in focus. I also believe strongly in the music program at school . . . Just sooooo cool!

  3. As a kid, music was always present in the house. All my memories are tied up in music. Listen to the radio, and I can tell you where I was and what I was doing. My wedding song, “Longer Than,” by Dan Fogelberg, our high school victory song when our team went 10-0, “We Will Rock You,” by Queen, and so many more. The song I danced to with my father at my wedding,”Daddys’ Little Girl,” and the song my son has chosen to dance with me . . . when he gets married . . . Rascal Flatts. When it comes on the radio . . . I get a little emotional and he doesn’t even have the girl yet! Or a good John Denver song, anyone to be sung with your sister, in harmony of course, any time any place, but when it is night, and there is no one up but the two of you . . . Just magic . . . .

  4. What a beautiful tribute to the wonder of music in our lives. I can definitely relate!

  5. I grew up in Hudson and knew “The Professor” as a close friend of my father and a delightful guest in our house. His joy in teaching young people music was an inspiration.

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