This is Max. He was my flute teacher in college, but he was so much more than just my teacher. He was my friend, my mentor, the person who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He was a good man, a mensch. Under his care, I went from an ok flutist who was going to be a band director to an excellent flutist taking military band auditions (military bands are the band equivalent to professional orchestras, as there are no professional bands). He taught me not how to play the flute, but how to make music. He learned that from his own teacher, the renowned Marcel Moyse, a truly great musician.
I would go to flute masterclasses in Victoria, British Columbia in the summers to continue to learn from Max and from the outstanding flutists he would bring in: Janet See, Keith Underwood, and his dear friend Wissam Boustany. It was truly a joy to see those two men together; one an aging Jew, the other a young Lebanese man, and see the love between them. Hatred isn’t inborn, it’s learned, but that’s a post for another day. I learned so much from those weeks in Canada and they remain some of my favorite memories and one of my favorite places on earth.
Max taught with such love. He knew that playing the flute and learning to be a professional musician wasn’t the be-all end-all of life, but a certain aspect of it. He knew we had so many other things going on and would, from time to time, allow us to squeak out of an unprepared lesson so we could get caught up. And because of that we worked even harder.
I wish I could attach a sound file to this post; I’d post a recording of the two of us playing a duet. He’d be the really good one and I’d be the other.
Max was nothing if not supportive. After moving to Colorado for grad school, I’d send him recordings of recitals in progress and recordings of the recitals themselves. He’d send back wonderful messages of what sounded good, what sounded great, and what needed work. All gently, all honestly. I still have all those comments. One I have still tucked away is one he gave me at one of those masterclasses. It’s just a piece of pink notebook paper, folded haphazardly, with some wonderful loving comments about my playing. He’d been writing it while I played for the masterclass teacher, and handed it to me silently at the end of the session. It’s one of my most treasured possessions.
You can probably see where this is going.
I found out seven years ago today that Max died suddenly of a heart attack. I remember finding out via email and just screaming. Poor Tom couldn’t figure out what had happened at first. I remember going to teach middle school band the next day (so much for the military bands, right?) and only being able to muddle through by telling my kids what had happened and to cut me a break. Bless their little caffenated and hormonal hearts, they did. He had retired by then but we still kept in touch, always ending our phone calls with “I love you.” I’m so glad we did.
A memorial service was held for him a few months later at the college. I flew out for it, I had to. I had been asked to speak and did so gladly. I was waiting in the recital hall before the service and was actually alone in there. And I swear on a stack of bibles that I felt him there with me. He was there, in the seat he preferred for recitals, and I was brought to tears. He was there.
Nearly every year since I’ve been reminded of him by some flutish coincidence. A dream a year after his death, when I told him I was pregnant with A and woke up crying. Two years ago, awake very early in the morning, nursing J, and hearing on the radio (the station rarely plays flute music) Poulenc’s Sonata for flute and piano, my very favorite flute piece and the one that most reminds me of Max. Things like that.
I rarely play anymore, and have halted giving flute lessons. I feel like I lost my drive to play and gradually lost my love of teaching after Max’s death. Silly, yes, as the drive should be an internal one, but that’s how I feel. When I was still teaching I wanted and needed so badly to talk to him about my students, about how I could be a better teacher, and I just couldn’t. Today I wish so badly I could talk to him about how terrible I feel that I don’t play anymore and how guilty I feel about that, that I feel like I wasted his time and effort on me. I know he wouldn’t accept it, still love me, and tell me that right now my boys need me and the flute will still be there, but…
I still miss him terribly. So, Max, wherever you are, I hope you’re playing duets with the best up there. Please know that I miss you and still love you. Please know that I’ll pick up my flute again and love it again, that someday I’ll again find the joy in a beautiful phrase I’ve made. And most of all, I hope you know what a difference you made in my life and how lucky I was to have had you in it.
Coincidence or not, I wrote about my music mentor today as well. She passed away on Thanksgiving weekend 1998, but I was thinking of her so strongly this morning that I felt like I needed to write about her.
We went to her memorial service. The church was packed with her former students and colleagues. I remember trying to read along with the scriptures and not being able to see the words through my tears. I still miss her.