Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Reflections on a Christmas recital

My mother taught piano lessons. In 1930 she had her own radio show in Monongah, W. Va. Under her tutelage, I mastered “Chop Sticks,” “Heart and Soul” and just about any doo-wop melody. Years later, I was the darling of every dive bar in the Pacific, wooing the bar girls and providing a respite for sailors and Marines while singing and playing “Angel Baby.”

Philosopher Thomas Carlyle said, “All deep things are comprised of song.”

We all have regrets. One that’s recurring for me is a disappointment that I never learned to play the violin. In the Fleet Marines I’d often travel through Singapore. I would spend hours at the Raffles Hotel there, sipping bourbon and sitting where Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling wrote their masterpieces. I’d listen to a children’s orchestra of violins playing Bach, Mozart and Paganini.

The violin is captivating, especially for the wanderer. Writer Edmond de Goncourt tells us, “A poet puts up a ladder to a star and climbs it while playing the violin.”

My daughters play the violin in the LCHS Orchestra and take lessons from Amy Herrick. Last week Amy orchestrated a Christmas recital for her prodigies. There were more than 80 children, parents and friends anticipating a production of classical and Christmas music at the home of Meghan and Kirk Broberg.

As I walked to a corner in the back of the room, I noticed a little wide-eyed girl named Sydney Blake. I asked, “Are you nervous?” She nodded pensively. Regardless, she was there to play. I stood adjacent to a nativity scene. I counted eight nativity scenes in the room. The spirit of Christmas was all around us.

I took note of Carissa Rayer, the youngest and smallest protege. She wore a red dress, sat pensively and barely filled half a chair. As she got her cue, Carissa approached the stage with poise and began to play “Twinkle Variations.” She had a moment’s hesitation, but stood her ground, undaunted. Amid the stare of endless eyes, she played on. Here was a special child.

I waited for Sydney Blake’s performance. My expectancy regarding the evening rested with her. Would she work through her anxiousness? She played with confidence and commanded the stage, performing “Twinkle Twinkle” with gusto. I watched her mother intently. The depth of the observations of Sydney’s mother and her facial expressions fascinated me as she beamed with pride over every note Sydney played. There is joy to Christmas, and I saw it in Sydney’s mother’s eyes.

Coleen Thatcher, a professional accompanist, guided the children through their respective performances. Hers was the alchemy that brought the children’s music to the expected crescendo.

My favorite piece, played by Jennifer Treptow, Anna Allen and Michael Herrick, was “Minuet,” by Boccherini. Throughout the spirited rendition of this composition, I noticed Jennifer’s intensity. The music obviously evolved from her soul as her head and body swayed to the vibrancy of her performance.

Throughout the evening, the children were eloquent. Their fingers were dexterous. Their bows vigorously struck each string, prompting a fusion of power and concentration, thus creating the alchemy of sound. After each child’s performance, he or she would execute an elegant bow.

During the recital, Amy Herrick’s eyes were riveting. Her gaze brought a subtle assurance, “You can do it; you will shine.”

There’s more to teaching than teaching. This was more than a recital; it was a step toward growing up, taking a chance, and exposing the fragile vulnerability and awkwardness of childhood.

The little proteges then attacked the cookies. I read the euphoria in their eyes. It said, “We did it!”

After the recital, I played “Chopsticks” on the piano with Coleen Thatcher. I felt as though I was back at Lucy’s Tiger Den in Bangkok.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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