The Page Turner

It's called The Green Room. It's big. The kids looked really tiny. The girls were wearing fancy dresses. Jacob was wearing a seersucker suit. Beyond adorable.


It was my student's Mother's Day recital. Somehow, though the room is big and they are tiny, the children played like real musicians. They bowed and smiled and even enjoyed themselves. There were challenges: a forgotten chord or two, a bra strap slipping slowly down an almost teenager's arm while she played something fast and flashy, a teacher (that would be me) who had a little trouble remember the first section of an accompaniment to a piece that she wrote a two weeks ago. (So many notes in this head by now.)

They were wonderful. Such an array of personalities.

After the student recital, I played a recital with my friend, the soprano Julia Hunt Nielsen. She was glorious. I was just fine. Together we were pretty spectacular. There is something to be said for just making the music myself instead of always trying to get someone else to do it. I love to teach, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it's nice to get rid of the middle man and just play. No nerves any more. Don't have time for any of that nonsense. Enjoy the music and the chance to share it. Life is too short for anything else.

This was the first time my daughter, Evie, was able to turn pages for me for a recital. She's ten now and quite a seasoned performer herself. The San Francisco Girls Chorus will do that to a girl. It felt like a rite of passage: I'd never let myself hope that she would be such a fine a musician that she could turn pages not only for songs (the lyrics help keep track of where you are) but for a Russian etude by Liapounov. Lots of very black notes flying by like lightning. It was impressive. The page turning, I mean.

If you're feeling like a guilty pleasure, try watching the movie The Page Turner. It's a 2006 French film about a young girl -- just about Evie's age, who becomes obsessed with a concert pianist, infiltrates her life and ruins her career. It's a revenge movie about a ten-year-girl. No, I am not worried about Evie and me.  There's room for both us both. But I'll be extra nice to her, just in case.


Kudos to Iliana, age five, who apparently performed under duress. (She ended up in the Emergency Room with a 104 degree fever and pneumonia.) The things we do for art.

The Good Ones are Allergic to Garlic

They're both allergic to garlic: Bebe and Dave. That's Bebe Neuwirth and David Kessler. Yes, that Bebe Neuwirth. And yes, well, that David Kessler. Probably. (There's another one who you might have heard of, but this one is more important.) I didn't know he was important when we met.

He showed up at my door like any other piano student, a stunningly grey-haired-dignified-yet-hip Robert De Niro. Dave played some Bach for me. We spent most of his first lesson discussing ornamentation. He knew more than I did. He still does. He needed me, though. I play better than he does. I could help him make the music he could hear in his head come out of his hands. That was twenty years ago.

Over the years, I became more than fond of Dave. I started to love him. I think the love started in 1999. He had taken time during a trip to Paris to visit a designer boutique. He brought me back my favorite baby gift. It was wrapped in an oh-so-French-baby-blue cake box. Inside was a delicious three-piece ensemble sewn of a mother's dreams of her adorable, perfect, baby boy.

Dave was a good sport a few years later when said boy, then a 3-year-old, ran into the room during Dave's lesson, picked up an end table and hurled it across the room. It just missed Dave.

His comment:

"Well, I didn't think I was playing that badly."

We continued the lesson.

We started to have my adult student get-togethers at his beautiful Victorian home. Tidbits of information trickled out. He was a forensic psychiatrist. Sometimes he would come straight to his lessons from visiting an inmate at San Quentin. Most of his cases involved murder. No wonder he wanted to play some Brahms.

I broke my rule; I went to his house to give him his lessons. He had gotten a rare form of leukemia and his immune system was compromised. I couldn't imagine him coming to my home: land of child-born germs and table-throwing.

He recovered completely. He resumed coming to my place.

The movie Milk came out. Dave started telling me about his life in the 70's in San Francisco. He had known Harvey Milk. In fact, he had spoken at Harvey's memorial service at the Opera House in San Francisco.

The prosecution had asked Dave to testify as an expert witness in the trial of Dan White. Dave had declined because he was afraid the defense would have said that his objectivity had been compromised. He wonders to this day if the trial would have ended differently had he testified. The Twinkie Defense wouldn't have held up. I'm sure of it.

This week, on Dave's 80th birthday, twelve of Dave's closest friends surprised him with dinner at Masa's.  Dave loves good food.

For my second course I had:

Composition of Early Spring Vegetables

roasted purple and white cauliflower, cipollini onions, brussel sprouts,

baby spring leeks, rapini, maitake mushroom "cream", pine nut "dust"

But I digress.

Dave's cousin, Helen, brought along a copy of a People Magazine article from May, 1979.  It featured Dave, then 48. His coming out made history. He was the first president of Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, the nation's first formal organization of gay doctors. If any of you are relieved that being gay is no longer classified as an illness, thank Dave.

I showed the article to my daughter, Evie.

"Mom," she said. "Can I have this? I want to put it up on my wall."

I love that she's proud of him. I am too.

Flying Kites in the House

I have a new student. She is six years old. Her name is Eva. (Pronounced Ava, and not to be confused with my daughter, Evie. Or Anya, whose babysitter is named Eva - pronounced EEva.  There was one year when I had three girls almost the same age named Elisa, Elise and Aliya. They all had long, gorgeous red hair. I think my tombstone will say, "Never called any one of them the wrong name. But I digress.)

Eva is in the Piano Town Primer. I turned the page to the piece, Kites for Sale. She immediately grabbed a pencil, jumped off the bench and started running around the room "flying a kite" using the pencil as the string. When I finally got her back on the bench, she was very interested in the art. It shows a man selling kites for $2 each.

She eyed the man suspiciously.

"Only $2 for a kite? Those won't be very good kites," she said. "Because you really get what you pay for, and that's not enough to pay for a good kite. You should pay more, like maybe $10 or $20."

I reassured her that things are kind of magical in Piano Town and that the kids would be able to get a wonderful kite for only two dollars.

She learned the piece and loved it. Maybe not as much as she loved Purple Paint. When I asked her if she wanted to play that one again with me playing the duet she said, "Yes. I want to play it 30 more times." We settled for five.

My husband drew all the art for Piano Town. Late in my teaching days I really appreciate him. Without him, there would be no $2 kites to inspire a world of wonder.

Raining in the Basement

Meg came over last night for a quick cup of tea.

She came to pick up her daughter, Molly, one of my piano students. She's also one of my daughter, Evie's, favorite playmates.

The girls do not like their playdates to end. As a last ditch effort at getting Molly to stay longer, they went downstairs to the basement to play with the rubber band ball Molly had made.

"Mom, Mom, there's a huge flood downstairs! You have to come RIGHT NOW!"

It had already been a very long day. I didn't want a flood. I didn't want a leak. It was raining hard outside. All things were possible.

It was raining in the basement. There was water everywhere. Books, papers and furniture were soaked. I ran back upstairs to try to figure out where the water was coming from. It was obvious.

There was a half an inch of water covering the guest bathroom floor. The toilet hose was leaking. A lot. I tried to turn it off. It wouldn't budge. Molly tried. Evie tried. Meg tried. Well, maybe she didn't but even if she did it wouldn't have moved.

I called my landlord. He said to try turning off the hose. When I said that I'd already tried that, he said that he would call his father, (conveniently located next door to me) to come and take a look. Ten minutes later his aged father, Paul, showed up, wrench in hand and dutiful wife in tow. She speaks no English and is always worried about something. This was an excellent opportunity for her.

Paul got it to turn a bit but it was still dripping. There was much conversation about whether the previous, "Drip, Drip, Drip..." had now become "Drip......Drip.......Drip....." or whether it was now "Drip...............Drip...............Drip..............."

I'd finally had enough of the Drip Conversation. I phoned my landlord and told him I was calling a plumber. At least I thought I was.

Meg grabbed the phone book. "Look, Di," she said, "Plumbing, 24 Hr Emergency 7 Days - right here on the cover of the phone book!"

"Sounds like just what we need." I dialed the number.

"Hello, I need a plumber right now!" I said.

"I'm sorry, the earliest we could get someone there is 9 a.m. tomorrow morning."

"Excuse me? Your 24 hour service isn't really 24 hour?"

"Yes, I'm sorry for the inconvenience. I can have someone there in the morning."

"I'm sorry, too, but that won't do. Can you recommend someone else?

"No. I guess you could look in the phone book."

Hmm....that what was I just did.

Meg was undaunted. "Here's another one, Di. Mr. Rooter says they will come 24 Hours A Day! 7 Days a Week!"

I called.

"We can have someone there between 9 and 10."


"Of course."


And that is how Mark the plumber came to be at my house for two hours last night. He was kind and patient, both with me and my overly concerned landlord. They had a lovely conversation about the rarity of the toilet in question. He fixed the other toilet while he was here. Why not take care of all of it at once?

When he finally left at almost 11 p.m. I was exhausted. But my toilets both work and it's not raining in the basement.