Author - Musicologist - Pianist - Inspirational Speaker

Questions and Answers from Making Friends With Other Trees and Flowers

Chapter 01 The Letter

Q. What is the value of this letter?

A. It demonstrates my mother’s skill and creativity as a teacher as well as her passionate desire for me to experience life as fully as possible. By virtue of this letter alone, my book would qualify as a teaching tool for teachers of the blind and low vision children from pre-school through high school.

Q. When did you discover your mother’s letter?

A. I discovered it days before I was to begin my first chapter. I was preparing to write down as many pertinent early memories as I could when I found the letter 54 years after it had been written. I chose to include all of it and therefore my job was to include my early memories in reference to it.

Chapter 02 The Battered Green Songbook

Q. What is the meaning of this title?

A. The Fireside Book of Folk Songs brings the element of music into my early life, for music was there all around me although I did not begin lessons until much later.

Q. What is unusual about your description of attending Kindergarten?

A. I describe in detail what I could see and indicate what I could not see well or not see at all.

Chapter 03 The Portrait

Q. This chapter describes a train trip across the United States. What was important about this trip?

A. I learned I could appreciate my surroundings even though in retrospect I realize I saw very few details.

Q. Why did you choose to have this specific portrait of you reproduced in your book?

A. At the ages of seven and eight I was learning so much. In that portrait, the artist had me reaching out to touch a butterfly. That has literal as well as metaphoric implications. I could see the flashes of colors if the butterflies were big, and certainly they could represent the new ideas and concepts I was grasping at that age. I was deeply saddened to discover the artist had died fifteen years before this book was published. I would have liked for him to know how important it has been to me.

Chapter 04 Brook, Lake, and Ocean

Q. I understand this chapter is the first in which you wrote about three special incidents which you recognize as particularly important in your life. Tell us about them.

A. Last summer I wrote a pair of articles Keeping Cool Before Air Conditioning Parts One and Two which were drawn from this chapter and which appeared in the Belmont Citizen and Herald. I loved writing about the brook which flowed across the front of my childhood home, I enjoyed swimming and playing in the sand at the lake about forty minutes away from our home. Best of all I loved our vacations to Cape Cod where we lived in a simple cottage and spent hours morning and afternoon at the beach. For the first time I was able to run with the wind in my hair and I knew there would be nothing that would cause me to stumble. What a feeling of freedom that was for me. That was the first of three important incidents which helped to shape my life. The second one happened when I attempted to see the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, and the third happened four years later when, due to a serious deterioration in my limited vision, I no longer could read. It was at that point I began to study music seriously and to know that I had found what I wanted to do for my career.

Chapter 05 Listen my Children

Q. What problems did you encounter in the Third Grade?

A. Developing a legible handwriting was not easy, but in time it was accomplished. Similarly, as the standard size of print grew smaller as the grade levels advanced, it was increasingly difficult to read. If my personal reading was at grade level, the level of books that were read aloud to me were much more advanced.

Q. How did you spend your Saturday mornings when you were eight?

A. My sister and I had art lessons at the DeCordova Art Museum in Lincoln, MA. The art teachers never made me feel out of place because I couldn’t draw people and I lacked the ability to see or to represent a three dimensional prospective. I worked with color and had a wonderful time. I also studied Modern Dance as I did off and on through High School. It helped me to move competently and confidently through space.

Chapter 06 We Sail the Ocean Blue

Q. From the title, you must know your Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Do they enter in to this chapter?

A. Indeed they do. I have had a life long interest in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and through the years have been in several. At the age of eight I learned most of the songs from H.M.S Pinafore, and later I was to sing in the chorus of sailors in a children’s version. The importance of this title is that we did indeed sail the ocean blue for my family and I were to live in London for fourteen months in 1957 – 1958. This chapter captures the excitement of our first six months there.

Chapter 07 Matterhorn by Moonlight

Q. You must have seen the Matterhorn by moonlight. Tell us what else you saw during your month’s sojourn there.

A. I almost called this chapter A Low Vision Guide to Europe. I chose the actual title since that visit to Zermatt. Seeing the great silver-white mountain jutting into a black sky was one of the most spectacular visual memories I have. Other memories I have are seeing a bed with bed hangings in the Castle of Newschwanstein and marveling in the shape of a Renaissance door hinge. Most people remember the Alpine views, but those did not affect me much. I went nose to nose with myself in the Hall of Mirrors, visited a champagne cellar and two of the French chateaux.

Chapter 08 Epiphany

Q. What prompted the title of this chapter?

A. On returning to London we visited the Tower and saw the Crown Jewels. My anticipation was great and my disappointment was even greater, for the guard rail around the display case kept me just far enough away I could see only a faint glimmer. At that point I told myself it was enough to be in their presence and that I probably knew more about the jewels and their history than the adults around me. I understood that if I made a good education my goal, I would never feel trapped by my low vision. .

Q. What was your most important memory of the Fifth Grade?

A. Three indications of what my life was to be professionally, came to my attention though I didn’t realize their importance at the time. When the teacher asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, my immediate response was that I wanted to be a teacher. At the end of the year I had played and sung the part of Katisha in a children’s version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado, so music was becoming more important in my life. Earlier that year I had written a poem and a short story, not for an assignment but because I wanted to write. There are the three areas of interest which were to create a multifaceted career.

Chapter 09 The Discovery

Q. What did you discover?

A. In 1959 my father bought the family a stereo hi-fi system and began collecting LPs. The Mikado, The Brandenburg Concerti,of Bach, and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons were some of our first records. As I began listening to the music, I knew I was doing more than listening. It was speaking to me, and without knowing any details, I was learning things about music history and theory that I would be studying in detail only three years later.

Q. What was your crowning achievement at the end of the Sixth Grade?

A. I wrote a play The Courtship of Miles Standish based on Longfellow’s poem. My teacher let me present the play to the sixth grade class. I played the part of Miles Standish and my two girlfriends were John Alden and Priscilla. I had my Priscilla sitting and spinning at her Hula Hoop spinning wheel and I wanted her to sing. I knew I wanted her to sing a song out of the right historical era. In chorus we had just learned the Tallis Canon, and I knew that would work. I was proven right The melody predated the Pilgrims by 100 years. In 1960 I didn’t know what a musicologist was and certainly didn’t know I was to become one. Live and Learn!

Chapter 10. The Decision

Q. What was the decision which was so important that you gave an entire chapter this enigmatic title?

A. On a November day when I was in the eighth grade, I was reading a book for a homework assignment. I looked up out of the window into the bare trees of the woods that surrounded our house. I rubbed my eyes and looked down at my book. The pages were blank. I could no longer see to read. From that day through my graduation from high school, my mother read aloud to me all of my homework assignments. My parents, my oculist, and I all decided I should stay in the sighted school rather than going to the well known school for the blind. How grateful I am that I was helped in this way to achieve my education as I had started it.

Chapter 11. Song of the Crickets

Q. What kind of sound creates a cricket’s chirp and why did you have to know whether the sound they make goes up or down?

A. After studying music for just one year, I wrote the incidental music for the ninth grade play The Insect World. I wrote four short piano pieces representing The Butterflies, the Crickets, The Ants, and Life and Death. For the Crickets I had to figure whether they chirped up or down and then imitate their sound on the piano. I guess they chirped down and was proven right the following spring.

Chapter 12 No Time to Spare

Q. Was it worth the three years of relentless study, frustration, and effort you and your mother put into your years in high school?

A. Of course the answer without reservations is YES it was worth the struggle. I learned how to concentrate and remember facts on hearing the materials read to me only once. I still rely on what I learned fifty years ago as I continue in my work as a teacher, musician, and writer. The education I received at the Commonwealth School of Boston made it possible for me in time to earn my Bachelor of Arts degree, my Master of Music, and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees.

Chapter 13 The Thunderstorm

Q. What was remarkable about a thunderstorm that you should make it the title of your chapter?

A. I was fifteen years old and living with four other girls in a house so old and rambling it was a pretty close imitation of a castle. It was on a hill, so when a thunderstorm came one night, it was severe, frightening, and threatening. I sat up all night wondering if I’d have to use the ancient rusty fire escape! My reward was that I heard the thunderstorm’s gift. I heard the storm lessen in strength as it moved on, and as the thunder grew softer I heard the first songs of the birds who greeted the dawn. Amazing! From that day to this, whenever I hear Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which is his sixth symphony, I always tell my students about my experience for I hear it so clearly in the music.

Q. What was the most important thing that you learned outside of music during your three summers at music camp?

A. I learned I could study and learn without having to have my work read to me since everything was “hands on” and it was all music. I learned I could have a wonderful time with people my own age since my study schedule precluded me from any social life in high school. Even though I couldn’t see people to recognize them, I began making friends with some of the boys. I could recognize it was Chris who was playing the Beethoven concerto and Bruce who was playing the Mozart d minor concerto.

Chapter 14. Making Friends with Other Trees and Flowers

Q. In your last chapter you told of your successes in high school. What did these include?

A. I learned and performed a lengthy and difficult piano sonata by Haydn. I wrote a prize winning composition Three Pieces for Four Recorders which was played at my commencement. For English I wrote a Chaucerian inspired tale in poetry and earned an A in spite of the pun at the end of the poem! I was looking forward to beginning the new phase of my life as my parents drove me from Boston to New York to begin my years at Sarah Lawrence College, but that will have to be told when I write the sequel.

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