A couple of days ago most children, whether young or adult, honored their mothers. It’s a special day that allows us to express what we sometimes don’t do on any given day. I suppose that’s why my own mother prefers not to celebrate Mother’s Day. I’ve never pressed her for her reasons, but, as the eldest of her five offspring, I can’t help myself in writing a little something to, at the very least, recognize her.
From my earliest memories, Mom was always the one to jump into new experiences with passion and abandon. As a youngster, I never knew what we were going to be doing or discover together as a family as there was no one direct agenda. Mom’s “free range” path of living life to the fullest has shaped me in so many positive ways.
When I was 10 years old, Mom and Dad decided to invite a couple of pianists to stay in our home in North Bennington, Vermont, to study piano with our family. The two pianists blended with our family activities from practicing the piano and preparing for informal concerts to grocery shopping, cooking and doing recreational activities. Who knew that that this little experiment back in 1969 would turn into the international piano camp that is still going strong 46 years later?
Since then, piano camp has moved from North Bennington’s house of eight rooms to the 42 room (counting every nook and cranny because we even use closets and the laundry room as practice rooms equipped with linens, washing machines and the obligatory acoustic piano) large gray mansion in Old Bennington, VT. Piano camp, back then, was held only in the summer for children but now has grown to include monthly ten-day programs for adults as well (it was the parents of the students who came in the summer who begged us to provide an adult camp for them as well). Nowadays, you can expect to see 26 adults and 44 children between the ages of 7 and 16, attend the piano camps. www.sonatina.com
Piano camp simply evolved through the years with some nips and tucks in streamlining the daily schedule into this thing that means so much to our alums. I’m lucky that I can carry on the vision that my mother, Rosamond van der Linde, so unexpectedly created.
But, there are so many other things that Mom gifted me with. Never one to have hurdles prevent her from trying, Mom would always jump into new experiences with optimism and positive energy. Here’s a short list of Mom’s influence that still make me say “wow!”
1) Mom brought our entire family to Holland for two six-week stints during the academic year so that we could get to know our paternal Dutch heritage and meet our relatives. We also toured all over the country, visiting every possible cathedral so Dad could hear (and often play) the various pipe organs, Flentrops, specifically. She persuaded our local public schools to accept our trip as part of our education by suggesting that our journals function as our homework, our walks around the country as our exercise, supplemented by the completed assignments that were given to us in advance of our trip.
2) After Mom and Dad were asked to translate a German children’s cookbook by publishers in NYC, Mom was chastised by her two eldest, that she didn’t know how to write for children and therefore we were a better fit for the project. We were only 10 and 8 years old. Mom not only heard us, she encouraged us to continue the project. We matched new recipes to the illustrations and then she informed the publishers that she had other authors in mind for the final outcome. We were introduced as young authors and eventually captioned in a Boston Globe photograph with “Is James Beard nervous?” from a book convention we attended. This never would have happened if Mom didn’t fully believe that we were capable of such a crazy idea.
3) At age 14, Mom prepared me to audition for the Juilliard Pre-College Division program, held on Saturdays n NYC. She felt that I needed to see what was really out there in the piano world as there were not many of us classical pianists in the state of Vermont. I, together with two of Mom’s composition students, and, eventually, my younger sister, Erica, were accepted into the program. Transportation became a problem as our parents couldn’t commit to weekly trips to NYC and the bus and/or train options were simply too expensive. Mom suggested I drive at the young age of 15 with my Junior License which was legal, except for driving out of state at night. Oops! Now, as a parent myself, I’m not willing to suggest this to my young sons. I drove the 4-hour trip 30 times per year every Saturday for 2 years straight.
4) Mom’s teaching style was all about having fun. Not only did she teach all of her own kids pianos, she had a huge studio of local students. Rather than isolate us from our friends when it was our lesson time, she’d invite everyone in and we’d have a group lesson full of highly energized educational games using homemade equipment like wooden spoons for tapping rhythmic patterns. These lessons (and many others) from way back gave me a solid foundation and reminded me that learning styles are not always considered equal. Mom was so innovative in this regard. The amazing thing is that she herself did not start learning the piano until she was well into her teens! Yet another feather in her hat for doing something exceptional without fear. In 1998, when I bought the house and business from Mom, she came to work for me! How rare is this role reversal thing?!
5) Mom believed that being out in nature was an important part of shaping our youth. Her keenness for this is still carried out in her daily life. Our family spent years camping on Martha’s Vineyard and then when that got too crowded for our tastes, we spent summers on a tiny piece of property on Deer Island, Canada (next island over from Campobello). Here we swam, sailed, camped, read books, worked on cursive and Irving Adler math books (he lived in our neighboring town of Shaftsbury, VT), cooked food on open fires or the small green Coleman stove, went fishing and boating, and moved three walls of a house down the road onto our property. I think it was the biggest (and oddest) thing that had ever happened on the island. To this day, my brother, Tiaan and his family, own the adjacent property as Deer Island became his home away from home after all the trips we made as a family.
6) Mom and Dad bought a piece of property on the island of Saint Eustatius in the Caribbean back in 1987 and spent all their winter months there until Dad’s death in 1996 from leukemia. After that, Mom continued to spend time there, constantly improving the property, enjoying being one with nature, hiking, swimming and getting to know almost everyone on the island. This year, Mom is selling the property and while it isn’t always easy to let things go, she is quick to say that she got almost 30 wonderful years out of the property. I admire this attitude.
7) Ok, one more thing to add to this list. In addition to no mention of Mother’s Day, the other word that is verboten is “retirement.” Mom, simply put, doesn’t do retirement. Nope. Instead, she’ll continue to live her life to the fullest, enjoying her time however she wants to. Only now, it won’t include coming to Sonata Piano Camp, as she has done regularly since I bought the business in 1998. Her commute from her new home in FL is simply too far. She may pop in for a visit here or there or she’ll be the first one to log onto the livestreamed master classes but your favorite Duet Coach won’t be in the teaching chair by the side of the pianos in the living room.
I can’t thank Mom enough for the gift she has not only given me personally, but, to all of the pianists who have come through the doors at 5 Catamount Lane. You’re the best, Mom! You remain my inspiration. Happy Mother’s Day and enjoy your retirement. Ha! This is my blog so I can say it!
Love from your eldest daughter, Polly