Despite not knowing it at first, at eleven years old, I found a grandmother.
During an introductory orchestra class in fifth grade, I chose to play the viola, a stringed instrument with a deep, rich sound. That year, I also met with and began taking viola lessons from Mrs. T., a retired educator and reputable violist, who had played with the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra for fifty years. Armed with a sparkling sense of humor and warm, caring eyes, she gently demanded musical perfection. In her white-walled studio, as our violas harmonized, we bonded. Every week, I’d look forward to seeing her face light up as she’d open her front door and welcome me into her home with open arms. No matter how difficult or taxing my week had been, Mrs. T, as if holding a magic wand, brought happiness and ease into our weekly sessions, a much needed departure from the stressful routine of life.
Over time, our 45 minute lessons turned into hour-long lessons, and the hour-long into two. Mrs. T was no longer just a viola teacher to me, but she soon became a grandmother figure. My paternal grandmother died fifteen years before I was born, and my maternal grandmother lives halfway across the world. The daily absence of both deprived me of a meaningful grandmother-granddaughter relationship. Coincidentally, Mrs. T lacked this relationship herself, having no grandchildren. The mutual absence of an intergenerational connection in our lives strengthened and deepened our bond even more.
Our weekly lessons revolved around musical expression and intonation initially, but as time passed, we began to take breaks midway following our sight-read duets. We would sit at her small kitchen table over a large bowl of hearty, vegetable soup, and chat about life beyond her music studio. She’d describe summers spent at her cozy cottage in Maine, and winter hiking in the Swiss Alps. At eighty-two, Mrs. T still lived an impressively active lifestyle.
Two months into eighth grade, just as we began to prepare for my upcoming high school orchestra audition, Mrs. T. was involved in a collision and suffered lower leg fractures. I was very worried when she was hospitalized, checking in whenever I could to ensure that she’d be okay. When Mrs. T was released two weeks later to a nearby rehabilitation center, she was ready to resume our lessons. Walking into her room, I watched my viola teacher’s face light up at the sight of me. Although sitting in a large, bulky wheelchair with both legs in casts, Mrs. T still had her genial and elevated spirit, along with her trusty viola in her arms. The dedication Mrs. T had for me during the weeks following her accident meant so much, as I couldn’t imagine how difficult of a time she was going through. About a month later, I sailed through my audition and secured a seat in the high school orchestra.
These days, I am immersed in bittersweet emotions. As I send college applications out, I’m painfully aware of the forthcoming end of my magical departures with Mrs. T. But while I will no longer have her constant presence in my life, her spirit and values are deeply rooted inside me and as I reflect back on our seven-year bond, I realize that beyond musical education, she taught me persistence, priorities and passion. Most importantly, she loved me and still loves me as a granddaughter, and I am forever grateful to her for that.