Wednesday, April 8, 2009

mrs tripp

my piano teacher, mrs. linda tripp, died yesterday.

she was like a grandmother to me. she molded how i grew up, since i knew her when i was a quiet, unsmiling 8 year old, to the day i graduated from high school (and then some, on the occasional visit). she pushed me to become better than i knew how to be. she kept me modest and appreciative of talent, of which i had some but not alot, and gave me the gift of music that so few people can have. we also shared other things - her son was also a phi sig at mit, back in '67, so it's like we are brothers in a strange way.

i don't even remember the last thing i ever said to her. i took two girlfriends to meet her, both now ex's. i played the violin at a piano performance even though my strong suit is definite not violin. i played my personal favorite song (beethoven's moonlight sonata) in my junior year and her personal favorite song for me (claire de lune) my my senior recital, making many old ladies tear up in the process. at the time i didn't quite feel as emotional as they did - to me it was just a part of growing up, i knew that my last concert was supposed to be grand and emotional and i played the part. then and now i knew that it wasn't like rachmaninoff's last performance. that was a story she always told me, though i can't remember if it was rachmaninoff or some other grand russian pianist - "even among those great big russian men there wasn't one who didn't have a tear in his eye", she would say in her spunky 90 year old southern accent.

she'd always remind me how i'd walked in the first day, "knee high to a duck" and with a great big scowl on my face. there was the first day she said something, i don't remember what, that supposedly made me smile for the first time, and it had been like a year since i'd started. there were the songs i'd played technically well, but which were "about as interesting as a piece of dried toast." and she'd always remind me of that quote, i think it was one of her favorites.

many of my parents' friends started taking their kids to her after i joined. i was a beacon of asian achievement amongst our little circle of immigrant families, and i was mrs. tripp's first asian student. she's a very open minded person and she'd love to learn about chinese culture, she'd sometimes refer to the young asian students as "the little Chinese". She'd pronounce my father's colleague, Dr. Liang, as Lee-ong with the most southern accent possible, and you could easily imagine her as a southern belle growing up in a very American family in the 20's. she'd always tell the story of how when he first took his son to the piano lesson, and saw the photo book my mom had given her of pictures of me, Dr. Liang immediately took the book and sat down on the floor and started flipping through it. She got a kick out of that story.

i hadn't visited or called the last two years or so i'd been home. each visit would have lasted hours - sometimes it tested my ability to keep conversing, to stay awake, to keep showing interest. but when i left it was always a mix of relief and happiness that i could have spent that time with her, at least making her happy, and at least keeping me grounded in the world i grew up in. she'd say "bobby, if you ever dare change, i'm going to come after you with a bat." there were some times when i knew i had changed, but didn't want to say it, and wanted to become the same person i was when i left for college.

i guess she's gone now. i had always wondered if she'd continue teaching piano forever. i think i got the best years of her teaching - she was still able to play along on the keyboard when i started, and she gave me the wisest advice when i grew up.

i wish i could have spent some more time with her, maybe with my camera. but i guess i'll have my memories, and what's left of my music.

there's a website, "days with my father", that i read today (thanks to christine) that's just as emotional. it makes you think about death, and being with people as much as you can. sometimes i find myself going through life interacting as little as possible - in the gym, i'm in my own world with earphones. in the office, i eat at your desk and read reddit. at taekwondo, sometimes i stretch in a corner, sometimes i focus on my kicks instead of other people, and after practice i don't get to say hi to everyone. maybe not any time soon with anyone here, but one day, we all realize that each moment to talk to someone had flown by and maybe, if you're lucky, you are left with a pictorial that only makes you wish you could be with them again.


RuBP said...

a very touching entry, Bobby.
- Jess

christine hsueh said...

keeping your music alive would be the best tribute to your teacher. i know it is to mine. :)