Friday, June 7, 2019

Miss Olga

Miss Olga retired last week.

Her name is Olga Radosavljevich, and she taught piano at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Preparatory Division, for 59 years. She didn't think students would be able to pronounce Radosavljevich, so she went by Miss Olga.

I had to look up how to spell it, but I had no problem pronouncing it. In fact, I just tried saying it five times fast. It's been awhile, and I only got through it four times before stumbling on the last one.

Miss Olga was the head of the Prep Department, which is where you went for lessons before being enrolled at the Conservatory. When I was 16, I took lessons in the Prep department, though Miss Olga was not my teacher. In fact, I think, due to my sloppy technical skills, she didn't want me as a student. A year later, at the end of year exam, she wrote "EXCELLENT!" in big letters across the top of the page. "When he first came it was obvious he lacked formal training but he has made an ENORMOUS improvement since" was her enthusiastic assessment. It remains one of my most glowing reviews.

I had studied with an elementary music teacher in our little town for several years. I owe her a lot, too, but it eventually became clear that, to borrow her own words, she was "not suitable for [my] purposes."

In the two years I had in the prep department I studied with a conservatory graduate student and made huge strides. Miss Olga was there to make sure of it.

Of course, Miss Olga's 59 year career only came to a peaceful and magnificent conclusion last week because my grandmother didn't kill her thirty years ago.

Miss Olga gave a master class in which several dozen of us played Czerny exercises for her one long Sunday afternoon. I was apparently the most advanced (I was probably a high school senior at this point) and was held for the end. The first students got a lot of instruction, and as the class dragged on past the four hour mark and the relieved parents left with their charges one by one as they finished taking their public lesson, only I and my family were left. Miss Olga looked at her watch wearily and said that maybe it was time to stop. My grandmother, according to my mother, looked like she wanted to kill Miss Olga.

We stopped grandma in time, and I got to play for her anyway. She was encouraging.

I have a recording of the 90 second etude I played on that occasion. I made the recording a few years ago one afternoon. I imagine it has improved a little since 1989, though I barely practiced it before I turned on the microphones!

Here's to you, Miss Olga. You have a lot of thankful students.

Czerny, Etude in Bb, op. 299 #13

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