Sunday, February 12, 2012

They'll always be my students

My sweet wife and I spent two full hours on Friday night, listening to one of my former math students play her cello and a bit of piano. It was a concert worth writing home about.

The Calvary Church in a nearby town has a concert series it calls "Offerings." Recognizing the abundance of skilled musicians in their congregation, the pastor created this concert series several years ago. It gives each artist a chance to showcase their talents, and to make an offering to the Lord commensurate with the talents He has given them. The concerts are free to the public; there's not even a hint of a request of a donation. In fact, there's nobody to collect your money, not even a coffee can with a slot in the lid.

One young member of the congregation, whom we'll call "Emily" to pick a random name, is a senior at a local High School, and the principal cellist in the town's Youth Symphony. I first met Emily when she was in my 7th grade advanced math class. She was a quiet girl with a shy smile, the kind who excelled in all her classes and hoped nobody would notice. But she did have a lot of self-confidence. That came partly from playing cello, and partly from having good parents. (Kinda like some other cellists and musicians I know.)

This was Emily's Offerings concert, and it could also have been her senior recital. She had chosen 20 works for cello, and for two hours she regaled us with cello music and commentary. They weren't all solos. She did some duets with her violin teacher from when she was a little girl, with her cello teacher, and with a friend who played piano and had done his own Offerings concert earlier in the year. She played some Acoustic Eidolon pieces with a very talented guitarist, and she accompanied a vocal trio in a pretty praise-and-worship song.

Like some of you, she had started on piano back when she was a very little girl, but had quit piano to do something else and in later years quietly resumed piano on her own. So in the middle of all the cello music, she sat down at the piano twice, once to play a song from the second "Twilight" movie, and once to play one from "Pearl Harbor."

I would name some of the other pieces she played, but most of my readers wouldn't recognize the names. You would recognize the music, though - she did a couple of famous classical cello pieces. And she didn't just play music. She injected feeling and emotion into it, so that we didn't just hear it. We felt it.

In her introduction, Emily said that she was really nervous and didn't like public speaking. You wouldn't have known it from her delivery. She was poised and articulate. She had memorized all of the music she was going to play, and she had memorized everything she was going to say. Her delivery was not flawless, naturally, but it was genuine. The language she used was not flowery; it was simple, straightforward, and sweet.

She played the first half in blue jeans, and during the intermission she changed into a formal gown. She was obviously having fun playing, as she would trade grins with her partners and with the audience of almost 200 people.

In one of her narrative sections, she acknowledged her musical talent and the opportunities it had given her, and then she said, "I know my talent is a gift from God, and I give Him all the honor and glory."

After graduation, Emily will go to college, to pursue her lifelong dream of being a nurse. She will be taking her cello with her. She has spent six years living a good life, choosing the right and working hard to excel. It meant a lot to me that she wanted me to be there, and it meant a lot to her that I showed up. I'm very blessed to have been a part of her life, and to be counted among her friends.

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