The core of an artist

Microsoft Office clip art

A crisp, sweet smell of Fuji apple lingered on my fingers. The core peaked reluctantly through the partially eaten meat. I greedily ate fresh fruit, veggies and humus in the green room, as I re-hydrated and mentally regrouped. Our “sound check” lasted a little over two hours. Sunday was the season finale for the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra, and we were featuring an incredibly talented composer and violinist, Gareth Johnson. Gareth’s extreme travel distance dictated how much time we actually got to rehearse with him, making every available minute necessary.

There are days I question why I continue to play second oboe. I feel lost in the hundreds of rested measures, waiting to speak. My mind wanders outside the floating notes of principal instruments. Sometimes I feel unnecessary, like a forgotten accessory hiding in the back of a closet.

Then there are days like Sunday, when I am reminded how intricately woven each purposely placed sound is, creating a tapestry of music. The 500 plus people filling the auditorium’s seats felt like Peeping Toms, peering silently through an invisible window, while all the musicians on stage engaged in an intimate conversation, revealing themselves to the core. I couldn’t remember a single missed note or wavering tempo by the end of the concert. And it suddenly didn’t matter how many, or how few, notes I had played because I was part of a whole. My contribution was necessary in order to produce this end result. A sense of accomplishment and contentment filled me, as I listened to the sound of rapid applause reverberating off the walls of the theater.

Although Gareth’s talent is impressive, it is his character that is most inspiring. The notes trickled off the strings of his violin, while his body remained grounded. His presence was soft-spoken and uncomplicated. There was no hint of arrogance, only humility, as he performed in partnership with our orchestra. It was like spending the afternoon with a cherished friend, sharing secrets and personal stories. I couldn’t help but feel an empty sadness packing up my instrument, knowing that this moment was over.

I will cling to the crisp, sweet sounds of a Stradivarius lingering in my ears, its voice now resting deep within my core.




This post was partially inspired by last week’s Red Writing Hood prompt, focused on the word “core”. The original prompt was  to explore any meaning of the word in a work of creative non-fiction/memoir or fiction in 450 words or less.

And the Band Plays On

Goofing off  in the pit orchestra for West Side Story

I learned piano at age seven, but when I was given the choice of instruments in 6th grade, I chose the oboe. I wanted to be the duck from Peter and the Wolf, its voice charming and independent.

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.

This week’s RemembeRed memoir prompt asked us to write about a mentor, someone who guided or inspired us. How did this mentor impact our life? Word limit 500.