Yesterday marked a special event in my life–a rekindled tie to an Oberlin Freshman dorm mate made possible by Anita, my 92-year old, 4-hand piano partner. A twenty-year donor/subscriber to Philharmonia Baroque (PBO) a celebrated Bay area-based orchestra, Anita had placed its glossy program brochure on the coffee tray right at our mid-point playing break.
Naturally, I scooped it up with alacrity, perusing the list of personnel for potentially familiar names dating back to my years at the NYC H.S. Performing Arts and the Oberlin Conservatory. Surely shrinking degrees of separation in the music cosmos could produce common life intersections.
An assortment of memories were swirling about: “Connies” (Obies enrolled in the Conservatory), whizzed through congested corridors of practice rooms, taking interspersed breaks in the office-like sprawl of the Oberlin “Con” Lounge: They sipped coffee, tea, or soft drinks before a second stint in an ID secured white cubicle. Respites from sanitized modules with flimsy sound barriers always attached feelings of trepidation.
Connies feared folksy employee, “Ida Mae” who combed unoccupied practice rooms, busting lounge potatoes for concocting devious tricks to “reserve” them. These maneuvers included creating blockades of heavy black music stands to obstruct views of empty rooms staged to be “taken.” The crowning detail of deception involved inserting plastic photo ID in an intentionally narrowed glass column: AKA “see” no evil.
Ida Mae, known far and wide to most Con loungers, interacted with many of these absentee squatter’s rights ILLUSIONISTS, some of whom eventually graduated from the Oberlin Orchestra and found their way to Philharmonia Baroque or other ensembles and music groups around the country and world. Who knows? By that time, they’d purged themselves of Con-era, adolescent driven monkey business forging straight and narrow paths to viable musical careers.
Amidst a blanket of these Oberlin memories, both good and bad, I pored over the PBO String Section listing, suddenly springing upon a familiar name: “Sandra Schwarz” violin.
Immediately, I retrieved an image of a youthful “Sandi” swishing down the second floor hallway of Oberlin’s May Cottage, (Freshman year) wearing her signature beret, playing snatches of gypsy violin music interspersed with time-honored Classics. With a sparkling personality infused by a mixture of Mexican and European roots, Sandi had made an impression that defied the passage of time. (A five decade interval, to be exact)
The only challenge that remained was certifying Sandra’s identity, and it proved to be within easy reach as the result musical connections I’d made since my 2012 Berkeley arrival.
David v.R. Bowles, a Grammy nominated recording engineer, whom I had interviewed for a blog in 2013, is the partner of PBO Conductor, Nick McGegan, and Lisa Grodin, a PBO violinist who graduated Oberlin in the 80’s, was among my contacts when I assisted a piano student in finding a reputable violin teacher. All these “leads” pointed me in the direction of Sandra Schwarz, Oberlin class of 1968 with a Thai brunch eventually followed. It would spill into a final PBO rehearsal and performance of the season at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church! (April 29, 2018)
A gush of memories poured out over Asian food— one of which had eluded me during delectable spoonfuls of shrimp, chicken, pineapple and brown rice. Would Sandi have remembered May Cottage’s pet squirrel monkey who bounded one from chair to chair one afternoon into the unwelcome lap of a plump and proper visiting Dean of Women? As it happened, the white-haired matron with a tight bun and stern look, instantly recited Oberlin’s Code of Conduct, fleshing out a particular paragraph that referred to “uncaged” animals. From that unplugged day onward, the adorable pet, who’d become May’s mascot in residence, no longer romped freely through the Cottage. (But what fun while it lasted!)
In the course of our reunion, Sandi and I shared reflections about some of our favorite Oberlin mentors, including Eurhythmics guru, Inda Howland and Music History professor Richard Murphy. I shined a light on Walter Aschaffenburg who was an amazing Theory teacher and prolific composer while we both traced our individual personal and professional paths since Oberlin graduation.
Sandi had been a member of the Dallas and Baltimore Symphonies, feathers in her cap, while she added a rich memoir of chamber music experiences. I traced my path to back to NYC after graduation, with a life transformed by emigration to the West Coast and Online lesson-giving.
To top off a wonderful afternoon that needed no further embellishment, I had been given a free ticket by Anita to PBO’s last subscription concert of the season.
So we sat together in a pair of perfectly located seats, savoring a menu of gorgeous works that included a choir, vocal soloists and an amazing Forte-pianist.
Ludwig Van Beethoven, Mass in C Major, Op. 86
Luigi Cherubini Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn
Beethoven Fantasia in C minor, Op. 80, “Choral Fantasy”
Sandi, embedded in the string section, popped up at Intermission to greet Anita who’d ignited our reunion. At that instant I snatched a photo, keeping an endearing memento of a joyful day!
LINK: Philharmonia Boroque Orchestra