Dandelion Break
26 Apr 2012
Inside the Classics

We’ll get back to Judd’s post-premiere thoughts soon, I promise – he’s in the one of the busiest stretches of his season at the moment, and I told him there was no hurry. Hopefully we’ll have more from ItC’s favorite composer by early next week. I’ve also been too busy to blog, though for the happiest of reasons. Last week’s Bruckner 8 with Stan and this week’s Daphnis-fest with Mark Wigglesworth are both wonderful programs, but flatly exhausting both physically and mentally. Oh, and also, I got a new dog this past weekend, and that turns out to be physically and mentally exhausting as well.

In the midst of chaotic stretches like this, I often think of a comic strip I couldn’t get enough of when I was a kid: Berke Breathed’s hilarious, thoughtful, and occasionally subversive Bloom County. Breathed’s characters were fanciful and frequently silly, but they also lived in the real world, with all its attendant worries, fears, and complicated issues. And sometimes, when those pressures became too much for one character or another, a “dandelion break” would be declared.

It’s a wonderful concept, and as much as I loved the idea as a kid, I wish it occurred to the adult me to take dandelion breaks more often. Instead, like most adults, I tend to just soldier on through my most difficult days, occasionally grumbling about how busy I am to an equally swamped co-worker or family member.

But this past week, I was delighted to have a dandelion break thrust upon me when I least expected it. Arriving at Orchestra Hall last Tuesday, I found a bulging manila envelope waiting for me at the stage door, courtesy of our wonderful education and outreach coordinator, Mele Willis. Inside were literally dozens of handwritten notes, cards, and drawings, all addressed to me.

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This outpouring came from a wonderful bunch of kids at Westview Elementary in Apple Valley, Minnesota, where I’ve been an annual visitor for a few years now. As part of a great nationwide program called Read Across America Day, music teacher Lauri Torseth invited me to come and read a book about the power or music to her Westview kids, and maybe play a bit of viola for them as well. I don’t have kids of my own, so the chance to spend time with elementary-age kids was at once exciting and a little intimidating.

I shouldn’t have worried: from the first time I visited, the kids made me feel at home in their classroom. They immediately grasped the message behind the book I read and spun it out into a great discussion on everything from what music is good for to why it’s important to be nice to other people even if you don’t know them.

This year, after we’d read and talked about Mole Music, I hauled out my viola and played a bit of Bach, who I find to be the perfect composer for measuring an audience, regardless of age. Do they sit transfixed, or do they fidget? Lock their eyes on you, or look restlessly around the room? Even though the piece I played lasted several minutes, these kids were focused. And when I finished the Bach, the room exploded with requests: could I play Star Wars? Could I play the happy birthday song? Could I play…? I complied with as many requests as I could (Star Wars, even without trumpets to back me up, was by far the biggest hit – my standing as a musician clearly rose several levels with the kids when I was able to play that famous theme on command,) and eventually, the teachers in the room began gently asking if anyone had any questions that weren’t requests for me to play something.

Hey, thanks, Makayla B!

I only spent about 45 minutes at Westview that day, and quite honestly, I didn’t really think about it again until that envelope dropped into my mailbox. But it couldn’t have showed up at a better time – I’ve been rereading the cards almost every day (especially the ones that tell me I’m good at the viola!) It truly is amazing how a simple affirmation from a kid can make one feel worthwhile.

So thanks to all the kids in Mrs. Berger’s and Mrs. Lyrek’s classrooms down there at Westview, and thanks to Lauri Torseth for inviting me again! I feel like I’ve been on a dandelion break for a solid week.

<January 2020>

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