Monday, November 21, 2011

Because I have been given much...

It was one of those rare moments when time stands still. I was fifteen. An eighty-something-year-old voice on the other end of the line whispered furtively, "Grant's here."

The whisperer was my amazing piano teacher, Becky Almond. Becky had spent most of her life "concertizing" in New York. One of my favorite things about her apartment was a tablecloth on which she had embroidered all of the famous autographs she had collected over the decades: Arthur Rubenstein, Victor Borge, Leonard Bernstien, Count Basie, Carol Channing...virtually any big name you could think of from that era. This same woman loaned my family a Mason & Hamlin grand piano for me to practice on, because she saw promise (and because she loved my mother!).  "Grant" was Grant Johannesen, international concert pianist. He regularly stopped at her apartment whenever he was in town because he loved her pianos. They had become great friends. Becky had called to invite me to her downtown apartment early the next morning to listen to him practice the piano.

Somehow I got myself to her apartment at six o'clock on a Saturday morning. Becky met me at the door, still wearing her pink nightgown, and held her finger to her lips as she ushered me silently into the back bedroom. "He doesn't know you're here," she warned with a conspiratorial wink. She and I stood silently, leaning against the wall, listening to an undisputed genius work out difficult passages, preparing for his next performance. What I heard was awe-inspiring. But an even stronger lesson was how much Becky cared about me as her student.

It wasn't the first time a teacher had done something unexpected to show faith in me and my potential, but it was certainly the most memorable. Later, she hired Grant to give me a private master class, helping me refine a Beethoven concerto I was learning. She quoted my mother a reasonable price...then subsidized the rest of his fee herself. An amazing mentor.

Since then has come a long line of help to further my education: A four-year departmental art scholarship to University of Utah, a scholarship to Otis/Parsons, a scholarship to Cambridge, a scholarship to the Monterey Bay Watercolor Workshop. And I was helped along and encouraged by so many wonderful mentors.

Fittingly, I find myself in a mentor position now. I teach watermedia courses at Utah Valley University as well as privately. I love working with students -- seeing the light go on, seeing growth and progress. I love their energy and eagerness to learn.

One thing that surprised me about teaching was the number of non-traditional students—mostly mothers going back to school to finish their education. Another thing that surprised me is that this group of students would be among -- almost without exception -- my finest students. They work doubly hard, are extra enthusiastic, seem to appreciate their education more...and also in many cases have the biggest obstacles to overcome. Amazing.

In honor of my favorite teachers and favorite students,  I'm giving back this month. 
You'll want to take a peek at the gadget squished into my sidebar on the left. I'm donating to a scholarship fund for single parents at LDS Business College, and I encourage you to do the same.

And, in honor of Thanksgiving (and avoidance of Black Friday) I'm giving away. I'm once again giving away a copy of the lovely Christmas book I illustrated, What Think Ye of Christmas—not just to you, but to everyone on your gift list (up to ten). This is the deal of the year! Worth up to $100. To enter, you'll want to leave me your gift list in the comments below. (e.g. My sister, my BFF, my kid's piano teacher...etc.) For a second entry, click on the gadget and make a donation of any size to the scholarship fund there. Additional entries granted for Facebook statusing, twitter tweeting, blogposting, Amazon and Goodreads reviews of the book, and liking the book on Facebook (link at left). And one more bonus entry for reading and commenting on the story of how the books came to be, starting with the link in my sidebar titled, In the Beginning....

And finally, I'm announcing last week's giveaway winner: Luisa Perkins. Luisa was the first to respond to last week's post, and I find it so fitting that she was selected by Last week she gave so much, put so much energy into campaigning for Variant to benefit Rob, and now the Universe has conspired to answer that good karma and give back. Luisa is the winner of this giclée art print, currently selling for $95. (Gallery price $190.) Congratulations, Luisa!

"While Shepherds Watched", from What Think Ye of Christmas, by Jana Parkin