BRIO CON ATTABOY IN THREE MOVEMENTS – Marilyn Armstrong

Brio, frisky in music or maybe lively? All my Italian I learned playing the piano, but brio always meant lively and energetic to Mrs. Nelson and she was my forever piano teacher.

She helped me love music beyond my capabilities. She believed in me with a wholeheartedness no one else ever did. She was always sure I could do it, even when it was obvious I could play it, but I would never play it well.

Dr. Herb Deutsch

No one else ever believed in me like she did. She was sure I could be great. The truth was, I could be good, but not great. Unless I wanted to work terribly hard to be a lounge performer, great was beyond my grasp.

Nonetheless, I so much wanted to not disappoint her that she attaboyed me right into a university music major in college. She was sure I could be The One.

As the years marched on, I enjoyed studying music, but I was never fully immersed in it. I remember the day I had a long, kindly conversation with one of my professors. He was a great guy, one of the two men who invented the Moog synthesizer (that’s a “by the way”) – Dr. Herb Deutsch. He also wrote a special piece for Owen when he was born.

He sat me down under a tree on the main quad and he said: “You can’t do this because you want to make your piano teacher happy, you know.”

How did he know that? Maybe I wasn’t the only one? “You have to want it, need it, not be able to live without it. You’re doing well. You pass everything. But I don’t think your heart is in it. Music is an all or nothing engagement. Either get fully into it, or find out where your really want to go.”

He was right.

I hated that he was right. I loved that he was right.

And I didn’t have far to travel to know what I really wanted because writing was always it. As soon as I could form words, I knew writing was me.

I never stopped loving music, but I changed to a Social Science major where a lot of writing was part of the job. Had the college been more flexible, I would probably have gone on for a masters or more and possible stayed academic. It was too early for that degree of collegiate flexibility. Flexibility would arrive ten years later, long after I had graduated.

But in the meantime, a huge thanks to Mrs. Nelson and Dr. Herb Deutsch who pushed me until I became what I needed to be.

I hope every kid finds a couple of teachers who know just how and when to give them the attaboy they need … and a pushy little brio to help them step lively into the world.

THE INSIDE STORY: Herbert Deutsch and MIND & MACHINE

RDP #86: BRIO
FOWC with Fandango: Attaboy

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

23 thoughts on “BRIO CON ATTABOY IN THREE MOVEMENTS – Marilyn Armstrong”

    1. I’ve been trying to remember her first name and I can’t because I was such a kid. I don’t think I ever USED her first name. We didn’t call adults by first names back then. They were always “Mr or Miss or Mrs” whoever. That sure has changed!

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      1. I vividly remember Miss Gerallimo, my 3rd grade English Comp Teacher. I can see her more than 60 years later. She was lovely. I was completely smitten. I never knew her first name.

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        1. It was amazing and a bit discouraging. I didn’t think I’d ever be that good — and I wasn’t. I really have tiny little hands. Jokes about hiz nibs aside, my hands are very small. Piano was not the best instrument for me. Flute or violin or something that would fit in a smaller hand would have worked better, but my mother liked piano.

          I loved the piano, but a lot of material was physically impossible for me. I didn’t have the stretch and most of my favorite music was written by men with a good solid 10-note reach. Chopin, Beethoven, Lizst, et al. I was better at Bach (both of them), Mozart, and some of the pieces by anyone which was more notes and fewer chords. I was limited.

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                  1. I think that music touches a certain part of the brain that nothing else does. It has been used for people who have had strokes and brain damage.

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  1. You were lucky in two directions: You had Mrs. Nelson, who, if nothing else, gave you the love of music, and Dr. Deutsch, who took the time to see, really see, what you coudln’t/wouldn’t see for yourself.

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    1. Herb was so kind and gentle about it, too. I don’t know how many teachers can see that although you are doing well, you aren’t really involved. He could see that I could do it, but it wasn’t really my thing. I’m sure I would have eventually worked it out — how could I not? — but this was probably YEARS sooner than I’d have figured it out on my own. I didn’t remain a music major, either and that was very important. I got into learning that meant a lot more to me. I moved on with more than a little help.

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  2. A touching, beautiful tribute to those inspiring and well-meaning teachers. I have a great number of memories of my violin teacher. It was a Miss Nina Barrensheen (forgot how she wrote her name) and she must have been over 90 when I went to her. Already I shouldn’t really have learnt the violin, the cello was ‘since forever’ my choice instruments but a friend of my parents ‘built’ me a violin (probably in a sausage roll making evening class but still…..) and I nearly learned to hate the instrument before I loved it…. Lessons were not inspiring at all, I was terrified of her but it seems I was a good pupil as she told my parents that she loved teaching me. I only started to play the cello at nearly 50 yrs of age and I had one of the most inspiring teachers when I lived in England. Said teacher was a hugely talented and well loved local musician, whom I heard once playing alone in a room where his Devon Baroque Orchestra he had co-founded was giving their first concert since their foundation. I had NO idea who the guy was and as I worked in the same building I just went, listened and asked him if he knew somebody to teach me, a (more than mature and) very modestly talented newbie. He smiled at me and said: Yes, in fact I do. I will teach you.….. That was the day my musical life II started….
    I had ‘hired’ the co-founder of the Electric Light Orchestra which was hugely popular in the 80th (of course I didn’t know anything about this) and to this day I wonder how I could have so brazenly asked this wonderful person about teaching me, the little nobody….
    Sadly, after we left England to return (briefly) to Switzerland, I got messages from many of our friends telling me in shock that while this wonderful man, Mike Edwards, was driving to a local charity event where he promised to play for free, a freak hayball of some 600kg was rolling down the steep hill on which the hay was collected and the artist as well as his car were squashed and killed instantly.
    You made me (once more) thinking of this inspiring person to whom I am eternally grateful for having met him, drank countless mugs of tea, remade the world and yes, sometimes taught me a never ending love for the Baroque music and J.S.Bach and love and kindness towards ‘your neigbour’…. Where Nina terrorised me (gently mind you, I was just really a shy teenie, not something you could say now), Mike inspired me.
    I also had a wonderfully inspiring language teacher, who also taught singing, and other subjects at high school. He was also extremely good-looking – contrary to his co-teacher with the difficult subjects to teach (such as geometry, math, etc). I adored the first but learnt more from the 2nd. In retrospective I greatly admired both of them and I was truly saddened when they left this earth.

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    1. Teachers so rarely get the credit for their work. The good ones do it as much out of love as from “work” ethics. Mrs. Nelson didn’t need to love me, but she did and I loved her back. I probably would have quit studying years earlier had I not been so fond of her. And many teachers in college were wonderful, though I particularly remember Dr. Deutsch because he and my first husband sometimes hung out together. And he talked to me. I got into college very young — just 16 — and it’s pretty hard to know the direction of your life to come at that age and stage. You need to have people who understand learning help you find your way. There were others, too, mind you, in other departments. I think no one is ever successful without at least a few mentors along the way.

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