Over the last 3+ decades I’ve taught hundreds of children to play the violin. I wish I could say that I remember every one of them, but that wouldn’t be true. But there are certain kids that I know I will always remember. Some because of their extraordinary talent (or sometimes lack of talent . . .), some because I taught them for years and watched them grow from little children into young adults, some because of their unique personalities. Graham is one of those students that I will never forget, for those reasons and many more.
I was first introduced to Graham by the Wilson-Leslies, when Graham was invited to hear Sarah play at a recital. He seemed fascinated by the instrument, so after the performance I taught him a very simple little tune. He took to it like a duck to water and began lessons shortly afterward.
Graham’s lessons were always an adventure. Occasionally we would lock in a battle of wills (Graham had a stubborn streak), but more often we would engage in good natured battle of wits. I learned to choose my words very carefully with Graham lest they come back to haunt me. Every January I challenge my students to practice 100 days in a row. Each week I’d ask Graham how he was doing with the challenge and he’d proudly show me his chart with the days diligently checked off. I could see Jen rolling her eyes in the background, but didn’t learn until much later that most of those days Graham practiced a grand total of 2-3 minutes. Graham was a master at obeying the letter of the law while completely ignoring the spirit of the law. It was maddening at times, but the kid was so darn charming I just couldn’t get angry with him. And despite Jen’s joking assertions that it would be OK if I smacked him, I never did. Out of this was born the 2000 and 3000 MINUTE practice challenges. Graham’s enduring legacy to my students . . .
Graham also gave me anxiety attacks on a regular basis. Almost every year he would come to his last lesson before the recital, barely able to struggle through his piece. To make matters worse, he seemed completely unperturbed by what I perceived as his impending doom. And every year he would confidently take the stage at the recital with his trusty green music stand and begin to play. I would hold my breath, mentally playing every note with him. And then, miracle of miracles, Graham would play his piece almost flawlessly. I never knew whether to hug him or shake him, but since touching wasn’t allowed, I did neither. I asked Graham once what happened between his last lesson and the recital that made the difference. He just shrugged and grinned as if to say, “I don’t know what you were worried about.” Several of those recitals were held at the Dixon home. Thankfully, Rob makes a mean mojito which soothed my jangled nerves.
After enduring a several years of this drama, I realized what made the difference. Graham loved an audience. Not in an egocentric way, but because he took so much joy in making others happy. (I remember Jen saying that Graham didn’t understand the purpose of practicing unless there was someone there to listen.) I often talk to my students about offering their gift in service to their audience. I never had that conversation with Graham, but it was something he understood innately. Graham loved his audience and they loved him. The connection between them was electric and it was magical.
There are many more things I will remember about Graham. His wit, his unfailing good nature, the perpetual twinkle in his eye, the sound of his laughter . . . And, sadly, I will also remember that he was taken from us much, much too soon. Thank you, Graham, for allowing me to be both your teacher and your student. I love you and will cherish your memory always. Rest in peace.