When I play my viola, I go back fifty-one years to Miss Endres’ studio on Regent Street in Madison, Wisconsin. I am 13 again. Her small grand piano stands to the right, ahead are thick piles of edited sonatas by Vivaldi, Corelli and Bruch, and behind me is the sofa where the kid with the next lesson sits and waits.
Miss Endres frowns at me. “You know, I have a long waiting list for my lessons.” She peers into my eyes, her broad mouth in a grim line. “You are honored to have me as a teacher. You are lucky to be in this room– If you do not practice more, I will drop you.”
She respected herself. She drew a line and dared people to cross it. A few years after my first lessons, I sat in her sinfonia as she conducted the Brahms Requiem, back straight, face intense, in her long black velvet gown. All of us leaned forward, straining to give her exactly what she wanted. She commanded. We obeyed.
In the fifties and sixties there were no such women. Our mothers were hopelessly trapped in small hats, sheath skirts and garters. Their aprons strangled them. There was no divorce, many women had three and four babies, and women never, ever jogged along the streets.
Miss Endres lived with a female roommate, although I doubt that they were gay. She was a serious Catholic with eight brothers and sisters. She had been engaged once, she told me, but the boy had been tragically killed. She brought her face close to mine. “I would have been a damn good mother too,” she said.
Later, when I told her I was marrying again, to a Catholic this time, she frowned. “If he’s such a good Catholic, why did he get divorced?” She watched me with pitying eyes. “I hope you find what you are looking for.” Then she brushed it all away with a sweep of her arm. “Now get to it, kid! Your bow change still needs work!”
When she died, I cried for days. I could not believe how few people came to her funeral. She had given me such a treasure – the vision of a powerful woman, secure in her right to dominate and yet anchored in beauty.
I’m old now. I play almost every day. When I put my instrument up and draw the bow, the lovely tone brings Miss Endres back to me. I am both young and old, a girl and a woman, forever. The beauty itself is the blessing. My fiddle sings for her in heaven, and this time, her smile is soft.
–by Jean Gendreau
copyright 2015, Jean E Gendreau