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Monday, August 26, 2013

How a World Renowned Concert Pianist Played Piano for Me

Refica Elibay, concert pianist
 Last Saturday night, I had the most improbable experience.  I was sitting on my friend’s porch enjoying the view of the ocean, a glass of wine and the pleasure of visiting with some Mainland sojourners.  This month, I am fortunate enough to be the guest at a former bed and breakfast on Martha’s Vineyard.  It is twelve-bedroom affair with balconies and jaw-dropping views of the Vineyard Sound. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman walking while talking on her cell phone. She seemed to put on her brakes as she drew closer.  Finally, she stopped altogether.  As she crossed the street, I rose to greet her. Over the past four years since the B & B reverted back to private ownership, there have been frequent inquiries from former lodgers hoping to secure a room.  After a standard exchange of greetings, the woman asked if I was the owner. I explained I was a guest of the owner’s, but offered to be of help if I could. She introduced herself, her name rolling off her tongue too fast for me to retrieve it. She went on with her tale. She was a concert pianist who had stayed at this B & B for one week, six summers running when she was performing at the Katherine Cornell Theatre.  The Katherine Cornell Theatre offered her legitimacy, gravitas.  I was cordial and invited her in to see the place.  
She expressed joy to find that there had been few changes to the place that meant so much to her.  And the piano!  A Charles Norris of Boston (circa 1920) baby grand, the piano upon which she had so often practiced, was still in situ.  “Would you like to play?” Her face beamed with joy. Her answer was to simply sit down and, well -- play. She spied my music for Pachelbel’s Canon arrayed on the piano.  “You, you stand here,” she pointed to a spot slightly beside her to her left. “”Better for you to see my hands,” she said. With no more than the initial glance at the music, she launched into her own variation of the Canon. The woman brought a magnificent talent to that one hundred year old keyboard. Something inside of me let go. Tears rolled down my cheeks. 
Her method of instruction, which at first, seemed one of madness, was to play a piece then drill us on what it was, who was the composer?  And who was Lizst’s sister?  Then she would demonstrate an element of technique that would enhance anyone’s playing of the piece. Her didactic approach was engaging and somewhat daunting at times. Who did write Bolero.? And O Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring? From memory, she spilled music.  Her instruction included a thorough explanation of the importance of yin and yang in musical expression. Her one most important lesson was that, “ See, watch. Do you see how I don’t play the music? The music plays me.”
We brought her a glass of wine, and though she preferred red, she agreed to accept the chardonnay.  
Somewhat zany, but completely brilliant, this woman intrigued us. My friends had to take their leave, but not before we all exchanged names and contact information. No emails, she doesn’t do computers.  Finally, I saw her name Refica Elibay.  She played a bit more and then just the two of us settled on the sofa with cheese, crackers and crudites.  Refica regaled me with stories of her life. Born in Turkey, she has studied music since she was seven.  Her mother, a Russian ballerina, and her father, a Turk who specialized in animal husbandry, had three children. They sacrificed mightily in order that Refica and her sister could have the training they needed. Today, both sisters are concert pianists.  Refica lives in New York City, teaches and performs as engagements come up. Her sister is associated with a Berlin orchestra in Germany.  Though they see each other just once a year, there is a bond that exists between them that was forged by history and their love for music.  
Refica was a sensational conversationalist.  The clock seemed to fly from 7:45pm to 10:45pm in a matter of minutes. My yawns could no longer be suppressed. It was past my bedtime. I packed Refica a bag of food to take back to her room in a near-by B & B. Our discussion had run right through the dinner hour without our having noticed the exception.  Restaurants stop serving at ten. Refica was particularly grateful for the brownies that I made that afternoon.
I insisted on taking a few photos of her, and I have a short clip of her playing a song made famous by Judy Garland.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPEpJxo27yc&feature=em-upload_owner#action=share            Refica playing a song popularized by Judy Garland.

Can you name it?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taVYJgrr3JI          Judy Garland singing the song.

Cheers from Refica
The song? I'm Always Chasing Rainbows.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Rolls Royce and the Hayling Brothers

A Rolls on a Vineyard summer day

         I had an unexpected privilege yesterday.  I was neither hoping for it, nor expecting it, but I met two remarkable brothers. Recently, my friend, George Colt, wrote a rather magnificent book about the undeniable strength and pull of fraternal bonds. Whether they are in tact, frayed or divided, those bonds serve to propel men on to their destinies. Never was this as clear to me until yesterday when I met the Hayling brothers.
This story started with George Colt’s reading of a passage in his book at a book signing in Northampton, MA. He had written about Thoreau and his brother. It was the first time I had thought of Thoreau in a way that didn’t include a caption such as “Author, Civil Disobedience” or “Philosopher, Naturalist and author of Walden.” George’s account of Thoreau spurred me on to Amazon.com, where I bought Thoreau’s book, Letters to a Spiritual Seeker.  After ordering it, I found myself checking my mailbox on Martha’s Vineyard with keen alacrity. When I opened my mailbox yesterday, I found a yellow slip indicating that I had a package. I called at the General Delivery window. In seconds, I had the book in my hands.At least, I supposed it was the book.
          I couldn’t open the mailer in which it was sent. It was virtually tear-proof. I had no scissors and brute strength seemed to matter little. I suspected my arthritic hands were part of the problem. Jamming the envelope into my beach bag, I headed to my favorite spot on State Beach.  As I drove, I found myself remembering words of praise about the book. By the time I arrived at the beach and had parked the car, I was determined, absolutely resolved, to open that mailer.  I told myself that I would not allow myself to get settled on the shore with the waves licking at my feet until I had that book in hand.  Just as I set off toward the wooden walkway that wends through the sand dunes, I saw two gentlemen pull up in a convertible. I had them in my sights in seconds flat.  They looked strong, they looked fit. Maybe they could open the mailer?
After a brief introduction and explanation, I recruited their help. With a minimum of effort, the envelope was opened.  The men and I exchanged first names and started to walk down the ramp to the beach.  We chatted. I learned they were brothers and long time/part-time residents of Oak Bluffs.  I commented on the cap one was wearing. It reminded me of my father’s Navy vessel cap from the Korean War era. Curious, I asked my new friend, Les about it.  I was blown away by his answer.  He had served in World War II. He was the youngest Tuskegee Airmen recruited. ( He went on to tell me that 200 young men had been identified as candidates for flight school. They took the required tests, and only six of them made it. He was one.) The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilots in the U.S. Armed Forces.  I read about their history extensively when I was researching my novel, A Growing Season, which was set primarily in 1944.  I wanted to hear more about Les’s experiences, but his brother, Bill, jumped in. It turns out that his older brother (by one year) actually served in the Korean War because he was in Medical School during World War II.  He had completed most of his training when he was called up to be a Battalion doctor during the Korean War.  When the war was over, he returned to the States to finish his medical training.  Bill became an ob-gyn.  Over the course of his career, he calculated that he has delivered as many as 8000 children.  
These men were intelligent, charming raconteurs.  I would have liked to chat for an hour.  However, after a few hot-footed moments on the hot, sandy beach, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t help noticing with what enthusiasm and speed they dove into the Vineyard Sound.    I dove into Spiritual Letters instead.  It was easy to lose myself in Thoreau’s words.  It is the kind of reading that is dense and meaty and deeply satisfying. So enraptured was I, that I did not hear Les’s approach. He came over to ask for my contact information. He had some material he would use when he gave public speeches about his experiences during Black History month, and he wanted to send them to me. I promised that I would leave my business card in his car before I left.
After a couple hours of sun, surf and Thoreau, I was ready to head home. Remembering my pledge, I dug my last business card from my purse.  I wrote a brief note on the backside and walked over to their convertible to leave the card on the car’s console.  It wasn’t until this return trip to their car that I noticed that it was a walloping beauty of a Rolls Royce.  My esteem for 86 and 87 year old Bill and Les Hayling rose yet another notch. They were living life large and enjoying all it had to give them. 
Remembering my camera was slung over my shoulder, I held it up to my eye, took careful aim, and shot. I hoped to capture the hood ornament, the Spirit of Ecstasy. 
The Rolls Royce Spirit of Ecstasy
It was a hard photo to take with the sun glittering and dancing on the highly polished surface of their car.  These brothers, both individually and together, were part of our American history. I stood a little taller and felt a little prouder that men such as these brothers had crossed paths with me.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Path of Inquiry


   Early in my professional life, I worked for a company called Human Factors East.  It was based in California and the founder, John Thompson, wanted to have a satellite on the East Coast. Based in Massachusetts, Human Factors East was a company that provided leadership training both at the personal and corporate levels.  Working for Human Factors East was formative for me. There were three avenues in which I saw myself learning; the interpersonal level, the entrepreneurial level and the spiritual level.  It was a two year intensive training in relationship and life. 
     The basic training we offered consisted of three days. One, sometimes, two trainers would run the workshop of sixteen to thirty attendees. The process was carefully orchestrated so that participants would have a glimmer of self-awareness, fall into a morass of self-doubt, and rescue themselves by discovering the power of Forgiveness.
It was powerful and moving. On a few occasions, we lost attendees because it threatened them to look so closely at their own “stuff.” My job was to fill these workshops with attendees.
Another program that was run by Human Factors was the Leadership Intensive. It was an eight-day residential program that delved deep into attendees emotional and spiritual reservoirs. I attended an Intensive in Shelburne, Vt..  It was hosted at Shelburne Farms,originally a Biltmore Estate built on Lake Champlain.


     There was a strict routine imposed upon participants. No contact of any sort with the outside world.  No alcohol or tobacco. Organic food only.The day began with a run and Tai Chi, followed by breakfast.  We were in session until lunch. In the afternoon, we would have a break for boating, hiking, tennis, or swimming.  After about three hours, we would return for a session. Dinner was served, followed by an evening session. 
     This was work. This was powerful stuff.
How do I know it was powerful? Because it changed me. It was the first time I understood at a visceral level that I had a direct relationship with a Higher Being. It was with the breath-taking vistas of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks as a backdrop.

     After the Leadership training, I took on more responsibilities with the trainings.  It was heady stuff to work with people whom I genuinely liked and cared about doing something I believed mattered.  I felt the sincere gratitude of the trainees at session’s end.
     As a sales person, I was dogged, persistent and marginally successful. Just not successful enough. As the economy shifted, small business owners were less willing to send their employees to training programs for soft skill.  Individuals did not want to part with their money. Human Factors East wasn’t making enough money to support all the players.  HFE disbanded. 
     It was about two months of daily newspaper searches and callbacks and interviews before I landed a new job.  I was bringing something far more valuable than my marketing skills and aptitude as a trainer to my marketing job at a bank. I was bringing the belief in myself as a leader. 
It is time for the big reveal. It turns out the answer-of-all-answers, the big Kahuna, the Truth, the Way, the Ruby Slippers were there all the time.  Resident within each of us, no matter our past or our plans for the future, is Spirit. Call it what you want. It is in direct connection with a Greater Being, the Source, Allah, God -- again just names.  When we can tap into our core beings, we are nothing more than an expression of our strength, power and goodness.  Leadership begins with a follower of one.  We must follow our hearts. 
It has been about 30 years since I did that work; it marked me for life. Equally battered and blessed by life's ride, I am still on a path of inquiry.  Only recently have I considered sharing it with others.