Thursday, September 19, 2013


(We had to do an exercise for the Granby Library Thursday Morning Writer's Group on music, and the one I wrote brought back such a powerful memory, I decided to post it.)

I disliked my third grade teacher, Mrs. Wolfe.  She didn’t like me, either.  I spent a good deal of time shut in the cloakroom or with my head on my desk during recess or held after school, all of which were standard punishments for an unruly eight-year-old in the school year of 1963-64.

But it wasn’t all bad.

We had Music every day. Mrs. Wolfe had a series of 45’s, each with samples of well-known themes from some important work of classical music.  Every week we heard five selections, and on Friday, there would be a quiz.  The quiz was simple; she played that week’s music selections and we would write down the name of the piece and its composer.  By age eight, I could spell “Mussorgsky” and “Tchaikovsky.”

I loved Music. I loved it even more than Reading, Writing, Vocabulary and Penmanship, which, until third grade, had been my favorite subjects. Mrs. Wolfe would close her eyes when the first notes of a sonata or an aria or a movement from a symphony would lift up to the high ceiling and swirl around against the walls and windows to finally swoop and skim along the boards of the old wood floor. When the listening part was over, she’d have us write out the name of the piece and the composer.  We did this every day.

Tuesday through Thursday, she would carefully raise and lower the needle on the record player, thereby changing the order of the music.  In this manner, we learned themes from the work of Bizet, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, Liszt, Bach, Haydn, Verdi, Copeland … and so many more.

One winter Monday, Mrs. Wolfe put the needle on the 45.  It crackled for a few seconds and then reality, as I knew it, was suspended; time and chalk dust and Presidents Washington and Lincoln and the Palmer handwriting strip and the blackboard and the American flag and the other children and Mrs. Wolfe … all of it folded in upon itself and in my line of sight the bare trees and the house-crowded horizon beyond the chain link fence beckoned— “Come away … this is not your true home ...” and my heart tightened with yearning and an unearthly feeling of loneliness.

But it was the beauty, the unutterable beauty, of Antonin Dvorak’s Largo from Symphony No. 9 that made me cry.

And when the last strains of the three minute sample faded and the feel of the tears on my cheek and the salt in the corner of my mouth brought me backembarrassed, Mrs. Wolfe was just opening her eyes.

Eyes that were filled with tears.


  1. That is a wonderful memory and beautifully written! I'm right there in the classroom.
    We have weekly "Composer Study" with the girls (on top of the usual music playing in the background), and it is a highlight of the week for all of us.

  2. A great story! Music(and words) are both so powerful.

  3. I love this. We can learn so much - even from those we don't like. I'm glad you found something worth remembering of Mrs. Wolfe - and that you shared it with us.

  4. A beautiful memory ... my son, when two, and still not speaking (he was a late talker) let me know very quickly that he no longer wanted to listen to Bach. The Air in G left him in tears. It still does ... I cannot sing Amazing Grace, Lord Jesus think on me, and many other hymns without choking up. The first time when I was singing for Good Friday, I told myself that there shall be no tears during the singing of Stabat Mater. I made it, then came home and cried.