Friday, April 6, 2012

Sarah Lisanick

Sarah Lisanick

"Pick up your wrists," she told me again.
    She nodded her head with the suggested rhythms of the piece I was butchering.  When I blew an accidental and trotted past the legato marks, she circled them and insisted I repeat the surrounding four to six measures until I no longer needed the music. 

    Sarah Lisanick played the piano exquisitely.  She was a bespectacled, short-haired blonde with a love of floral prints and pearls. She taught more than technique; she nurtured the unteachable.

    In the second week of my study with her, she figured out my secret: I was a lazy sight reader. Instead of working out the rhythms and actual notes, I would ask my teacher to play a piece once for me, then I would play it by ear.  I had never progressed in my sight reading abilities because my old teachers hadn't figured out what I was doing.  Mrs. Lisanick nailed it in week two.
    The work of sight reading was excruciating to me.  I think it utilized a part of my brain that would’ve rather been left alone.

    She studied with Béla Bartók.  To me, this makes her something akin to royalty.  In the genealogy of musical training, this makes her my pedigree. 

    My ear pulled away from Beethoven and Chopin; no matter that these are the masters to learn when developing technique, she eschewed them for my sake and brought me Erroll Garner.  She filled my head and ears with Johnny Mercer.  She introduced me to Stephen Sondheim. 
    "You need to work out the counterpoint between the hands.  There is a slight syncopation toward the end of the measures that is truly his signature style."
    "I'm really not seeing it.  Would you?"
    She acquiesced and took the bench. 
    "Right here, and again here.  Once more, and then we repeat."
    And then I played it perfectly, not reproducing her nuance but creating my own.  There is great intelligence in the balance of Sondheim's harmonies, but the beauty of his lines can be devastating.

    I saw her for the last time a few months before she died.  Her ex-husband John had moved back in with her for the end. 
    "It's so sad," he told me.  "All the time we were apart.  Now something wonderful has happened, but it's too late." 
    She looked the same as I remembered; short, blonde hair, large, thick glasses-- except she wore a housecoat instead of the usual florals and pearls.  We sat for tea and I told her that while I was still studying music, I had switched from piano to voice. 
    If she was disappointed, she didn't show it.  I played a bit for her, to prove that I was keeping up with the piano, even if I was no longer studying formally. 

    In every musical experience I carry her mark.  I feel her love of music, I remember her emphasis on interpretation and her rejection of histrionics.  Interpretation, as an art of the musician, crosses the span of all instruments.  In the drift from piano to voice to guitar and around again, I have discovered something fundamentally changed. On the good nights, when the technique is strong and little more than impulse, my hands and throat have become conduits for something greater. Mrs. Lisanick molded me into an instrument.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Down by the River

            Along the RiverWalk is a beautiful and relaxing place called Rotary Park. On one side across the path are four gray concrete picnic tables with two small barbeque pits that are imbedded into the ground. Just behind the tables is a cliff with a line of many tall and bushy green trees blocking the view of the Chattahoochee River.
             Rotary Park is a peaceful place to be. The wind blows making the tree branches shake and creak. You can hear different birds chirping from every direction. A motor boat passes by on the river sending ripples of water to splash near the edges of the cliffs.
             A few feet away, two husky looking men stand on the dock loading their boat into the river with their shiny red truck. Once the men get into their boat, they speed quickly away up the river, laughing.
             On the other side of the path is a big area of green grass thick enough to cover your toes. Lying on the grass is a neon pink frisbee, left behind by people who were enjoying the big space and peaceful scenery.  

The Tower

Standing tall and mighty with grace and honor, the clock strikes eleven and a beautiful melody rings as the heart of the campus beats. With lights shining so bright on it as if being honored; its stable foundation keeps the posture and stamina. Being filled with history and bringing unity to the old and the new, the tower attracts life to it as though it's a star in the sky. Watching moths cling to it like a light and the moon shining down, smiling upon it like it knows a secret. It stands with pride being the highest point on the grounds. It looks down at no one, with red and yellow bricks mixed together, making different levels until reaching the top of the tower.
     The heart of the campus beats slowly, la de la de la de la, as if time slows down to capture each moment and scene. The face with so many eyes sees white, black, yellow, brown, and caramel unite as one to make a society filled with love and change. As the melody ends the clock smiles and waits until it can share its beautiful chime with its family, as it has for many years.

The Hockey Game

The Columbus Civic Center is an enormous building, covered with glass windows and inside there are stairs leading to the second level and concession stands all around. It’s a place where lots of people come together to enjoy a rowdy game. The smell of popcorn and nachos is everywhere and you can feel the coldness as you pass by the ice cream. The people in the long lines waiting patiently for an ice-cold beverage are making friends with the other fans. Faithful Cottonmouth fans wear Cottonmouth jerseys. Little kids walk around carrying snow cones and cotton candy is all over their faces. It feels like winter inside because of the large, white ice rink. Fans are cheering wildly and waving their hands in the air for their team. Fans near the rink bang on the plexiglas. The glass is still rattling even after they stop shaking it. Everyone goes crazy when the opposing team starts to fight.  The crowd gets very excited when the free t-shirts start being thrown over their heads.  As the Cottonmouths win their game, all you can hear is the roaring excitement from the proud and overjoyed fans.

100 Yards

Once you make your way past the Romanesque pillars and the massive bronze soldier statue at the entrance the National Infantry Museum, and pass into this “temple of the grunt,” you'll find a special stretch of exhibits. They're on an inclined pathway.

The slope leads you up, and takes you back in time through a rich military history.

The “Last Hundred Yards” exhibit is a celebration of the heroics of our nation’s infantry. The name is a reference to how these foot soldiers clear out the final line of enemies in battle.

As you make your ascent, you’ll come across dioramas showing some of the great battles of our country’s history, from the American Revolution to the current War in Iraq. The figures in the exhibit are not merely mannequins, but rather casts of active duty soldiers. From antique muskets to state-of-the-art tanks, the displays throughout are genuine, as is the admiration for the bravery of the Infantry.

In 100 yards, we commemorate over 200 years of courage and sacrifice.