The first year was tough, spending hours bent over beginner books, memorizing fingerings, frustrated I couldn’t play as swiftly as my hands dancing over piano keys. The sound was there, I heard it maturing underneath the surface, hiding behind inexperience, a natural vibrato lingering over notes.
Then I met Mr. Herbert. My parents decided I earned the privilege of private instruction after a year of dedication. Nerves and anxiety crowded his small, musty studio. A workroom layered in sheet music, reed making tools, instruments and recordings. The sweet smell of wood and oil filled every corner. We sat side by side, elbows brushing, sharing music together.
For nine years our passions intermingled. I accepted a music scholarship at the same university Mr. Herbert was hired, relieved to prolong our goodbyes. He became my best friend and confidant. He knew my friends, how school was going, what boys I was interested in and how things were with my parents. Our lessons were intact, productive, but he always made time when we were done. He was like another father, and I wanted to make him proud.
My sophomore year of college I began to struggle. My emotions were all over the place; head and heart in constant conflict. Mr. Herbert and I talked less, friction surfaced. By the end of that year I changed majors from Music to English but kept playing for the department and taking lessons. The lessons were strained; his disappointment did not go unnoticed. I was making crazy decisions I would later regret, decisions that pushed me into a tailspin for the next 6 years.
Finally, I got married at the age of 22 and dropped out of school. By then Mr. Herbert had been in my life for eleven years. It broke my heart to say goodbye. I tried going back to school briefly while I was pregnant with The Tortoise, slipped silently into the music department to feel the comfort of performing again. Our paths crossed a few times, but as soon as I went into early labor, school was over. I was twenty-five. I never went back to the music department, graduating several years later, clutching a bitter-sweet English degree.
Mr. Herbert and I last spoke thirteen years ago, but not a day has gone by that I haven’t felt his presence in some way. I may have given up a music degree, but I never gave up the oboe. I’ve played for both professional and community bands or orchestras, as well as taught off and on over the years. The drop of potential he saw in me grew into a fountain of creativity. He taught me how to listen to myself, and although I stopped listening for a while, I did eventually find my own voice again.