Mom’s elementary school music teacher Mr. Jeppesen hosted a music open house to which he invited all the children and their parents. One by one the teacher brought each child, including Mom, a 4th grader, to the piano where he sat. “He was an older man, shorter, kind of hunched over. He was a very good pianist, and he was very kind to me,” Mom remembered with fond appreciation. Jeppesen plunked a few notes on the piano, and asked Mom to sing them. The teacher then told Mom and her parents that she should play the violin. Her father, Wallace, agreed, and took Mom to the music store to buy a very used violin, still at considerable expense for the struggling family. Mom was a slight child, and the music store employee suggested a half-size or three-quarter-size violin. Wallace said they would take a full-size violin, which is what Mom learned to play on, and grew into. “We lived way out in the country, with no cultural advantages,” Mom explained about her joy to be playing the violin. Sometime later, when Mom needed a better violin, Wallace found her one. This is the violin she grew up with, played at the University of Utah, and took to Brazil in 1972 when she and Dad led a group of about 100 Church missionaries for three years. At the end of their mission, they packed the violin in a shipping crate with other belongings, but upon opening the crate in New Jersey, the violin was gone. The family pooled resources for Mom to purchase another violin. With that instrument, she played in several community orchestras, including Highland Park (NJ), Bound Brook (NJ), Washington Square (NJ), and Murry (UT). Covid-19 canceled rehearsals and concerts, and put an end to Mom’s public career. She pulls out her violin once in a while, like during the Christmas holiday. My granddaughter’s parents suggested Lila might like a violin, so I made one for her out of a cracker box, a yard stick, packing tape, spray paint, thumb tacks, and string. And she loved it. Pretending to stroke her strings with a red soda straw, Lila stood entranced as Mom played her real violin to her little great-granddaughter. Mom just may have inspired another generation of Baker violinists.
To prepare for the musical program at our church’s Christmas services, Mom’s friend Tamara organized a church orchestra from neighborhood musicians. Mom has played the violin since elementary school, and plays still. She played in the Murray Symphony, a community orchestra, until age 80, when Covid-19 ended all rehearsals and performances for a year and a half. The family loved supporting her at concerts, cheering and taking photographs. At age 82, Mom has decided the rehearsal schedule, the walking, the sitting, and the ornery conductor are just too hard, and she resigned from the symphony. But she is thrilled to be part of the church Christmas orchestra. Tamara and her husband Mike pick her up for rehearsal every Sunday afternoon at 3:30. “They are just so nice,” Mom reported. Tamara delivers Mom the music she needs, and looks carefully after her. Mike helps her walk to and from the car, and carries her violin. I am so happy for Mom to be playing her violin again in an orchestra, and to exchange greetings and rub shoulders with people she loves. And I am so grateful for kind people in the world who make all the difference, as Mike and Tamara are doing for my cute, sweet, 82-year-old musician mother.
(Photo features Mom in her red coat, at the last concert performance of her career, in December 2019, with Dad and admiring family and friends.)
On summer evenings as the desert heat dissipated, we would open all the windows in the house to let in the fresh, cool air. As I sat on the porch, or weeded in the garden, or fed the hens, the sounds of Erin’s violin would pour gently from her window, hovering above the quiet countryside. Her music was like the smell of perfume from a Purple Robe Locust, or the flash of blue from a Western Bluebird, or the taste of ripe mango. I haven’t heard Erin play her violin for several years due to her being away at university and missionary service. But I can still hear the music in my memory and feel the soothing sensation of my mind and body loosening their many knots. I miss her playing. I miss her. This poem brings Erin and her music back to me.
Notes dance through the window:
cheerful young notes
tip-toeing prettily upon the air,
swirling soft, slow pirouettes above
Fall sunset’s deep-green grass;
a blanketing balm
come to rest upon
a tired brow,
a twitching muscle,
an anxious heart.
Youthful hand and hopeful heart
send the bow searching the strings,
like a songbird upon the breeze,
like a breeze along the tree branch,
like tree roots through the earth.
Bring me through.