Monday, December 07, 2015

Thank you, taxpayers of Elmira, New York

I was born in Elmira (1951) and called it my home thru High School (go, Blue Devils!).

As part of the Elmira diaspora (I only get there now and then, for the periodic family funeral), I have often felt a noticeable degree of guilt about having benefited from that peaceful, comfortable world that our parents created in the 1950s and 60s, but left when I could and never gave back.

This is my effort to recognize one small aspect of that world, that made all the difference to me.

Her name was Crystal Ewing and tells me she died in 1989 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.  She was employed by the Elmira Public Schools and her job, which was performed with enthusiasm and commitment, made all the difference in my life.

Miss Ewing (as we always called her) traveled around town to all the public Elementary schools, with a record player and a stack of records.  Believe it or not, taxpayers in those days had no problem with their money going to support a regular class for their children, that was simply called 'Music Appreciation'.

Her mission was to open up for us kids, in that pre-Vietnam world of Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet, the world of Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky (I still remember how to spell it, thanks to her), and others, for no other reason than that it was the common opinion of the School Board that it would be good for us.

For me, as a beginning piano player, the depth and complexity of Fugue in G Minor was a revelation.  She would play the recording and ask the class to signal each time they heard the theme.  Around Christmas time, of course, the Nutcracker would appear.  You get the idea.

I think we might have mocked her smiling cheerfulness a bit, but, to me, the weekly (?) hour with Miss Ewing was a great thing. I doubt many of today's kids know much about poor Franz Schubert.

She stuck with the Big Classics, which was fine - it wasn't until years later that I was ready for Mahler and Stravinsky, but I had CONTEXT when I was.

So, thank you, taxpayers of Elmira, New York, in that post-WWII world, who didn't object when someone thought it was a good idea to pay a single woman enough to enable her to have a career insuring that their kids could tell Bach from Brahms.

And thank you, Miss Ewing, for expanding my world, at exactly the right time.

Yes, this is too little, too late.