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Stephen Sondheim had a great musical in the 70’s called “Company .” It is still one of my favorites, even though it is quite dated in some ways. I am surprised that no one (that I know of, anyway) has made an updated version of the musical, because the music and lyrics (all by Sondheim, including the book) are still fresh – particularly in these “metro-sexual” days. Seems it would be a perfect fit. One of the more memorable songs from that musical is called “Sorry-Grateful,” and the lyrics are as follows:

“You’re always sorry, you’re always grateful,
You’re always wondering what might have been,
Then she walks in.
And still you’re sorry, and still you’re grateful,
And still you wonder, and still you doubt,
The she walks out.
Everything’s different, nothing’s changed,
Only maybe slightly rearranged.
You’re sorry-grateful, regretful-happy,
Why look for answers where none occur?
You’ll always be what you always were,
Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.

You’re always sorry, you’re always grateful,
You hold her thinking you’re not alone,
You’re still alone.
You don’t live for her, you do live with her,
You’re scared she’s starting to drift away,
And scared she’ll stay.
Good things get better, bad get worse-
Wait, I think I meant that in reverse.
You’re sorry-grateful, regretful-happy,
Why look for answers where none occur?
You’ll always be what you always were,
Which has nothing to do with, all to do with her.
Nothing to do with, all to do with her.”

This song came to mind – at least some of the lyrics, especially the title – as I wrestled with grief recently. I am writing this post partially as a memorial and partly as self-recrimination (sound familiar?). In the past week I learned or was reminded of the deaths of 3 people who were extremely important to me earlier in my life, particularly in regard to music, and whose influences remain as fresh as ever. In addition I was able to re-establish contact with another who is still wonderfully alive, and as always, a dear mentor.

First, sometime 5 years ago, I was told that my Jr. High School through Sr. High School music teacher had died of an unknown form of cancer. I now remember being told, but at the time I was very ill myself, and my opportunity to communicate with his widow to offer my condolences and to share my wonderful memories of him with her in a timely manner was lost. It completely fell off the short-term memory screen in my mind, and was relegated to the back burner, (how’s that for mixed metaphors?), and the terrible memory of his death has come back to me as though it were yesterday. His name was John Hanulik and, as I told his widow Marie in a recent letter to her, he virtually saved my life, especially in Jr. High School. If I had not had this adult in my life at school (in addition to my own parents and brothers at home), I am quite certain I would have become one more in the teen suicide statistics. I was a target of some very cruel mental and emotional (and some physical) peer abuse, and I allowed it to hit me very hard. I had never up to the time before I entered Jr.High School, experienced anything anywhere near to that severity. Things before that time, that I would have referred to as “teasing,” i.e., in reference to my size or weight, were elevated to a very abusive level and it included not only other students, but teachers and other adults at the schools as well. John Hanulik, and the music room were my only places of refuge in the school. Without him I would have been completely devastated. Almost my entire personality and my ability to interact with other people was dismantled piece-by-piece, and it was years before I was able to begin to put it all back together, though in a new form. I will say; however, that since that time I have come to know that I would not trade that experience for anything in the world (nor would I wish to repeat it), because it created in me, with God’s help, a sensitivity to the plight of others that I might never have been aware of, nor responded to. I am so sorry at the loss of Mr. John Hanulik. I am so grateful for the time I had with him.We always think we will have more.

Early this past week, I heard that Mary Collier, my voice teacher and vocal coach that I had all through college, had died in England, on the Isle of Wight. She was originally from England, and though always “veddy, veddy British,” was never in the least bit stuffy nor stiff. In fact, she was a riot, and I used to love teasing her – saying that she was the one who got me started smoking while I was in college. I figured that if she could still have the magnificent soprano voice she had and be a smoker, why couldn’t I do the same with my adequate alto? (In truth, she had nothing to do my starting that habit, which I abandoned 34 years ago!) She was extremely encouraging as a musician and friend, and seemed always to have the time for her students, managing to help you feel that you were her only one. She had several. I regret that over the last 20 years or more I failed to make contact, or get in touch with her. It was about that time that I had heard, erroneously, that she had died. All that time wasted, when I could have told her, especially since leaving school, what a huge impact she had on me those 4 years that has continued to this day. I loved her very much and she will always have a place in my heart. I am so sorry at the loss of Mary Collier. I am so grateful for the time I had with her. We always think we will have more.

While in college I also had a wonderful piano teacher, Michael Steinberg, (click on this link for reference to one of his recordings, this one of some Chopin), and had a huge crush on the wonderful – and handsome – man. He was always very kind to me, knowing in advance that I was definitely taking piano (at which I was barely adequate) as a requirement for my vocal performance major, but he nevertheless was able to teach me so very much. I learned to play several things from him, and how to use my own sensitivities, and to bring them to the music I was playing. I remember in particular working on a Brahms Intermezzo, Opus 118, No. 2. Beautiful piece, still a favorite of mine, and he made it for me even more beautiful. He used to entice me with offers to take me with him on a tour of Italy, with him as accompanist, and me as vocalist. His enticements weren’t for real I don’t believe, but they were certainly a wonderful fantasy. No wonder I had a crush on him! He had some good and some bad times at UConn, where he taught, and later moved on to other schools. I understand he recorded all the Beethoven Piano Sonatas for Elysium Records, but I have not found them on line…would love to have them. A friend told me, while in discussion on-line about Mary Collier’s death, that Michael Steinberg had also died, several years ago. Once again, this was hard news to take. I am so sorry at the loss of Michael Steinberg. I am so grateful for the time I had with him. We always think we will have more.

The “triple whammy” of these deaths has sort of bowled me over this week, and I have spent a great deal of time, not only lost in memory, but crying quite a bit too – mainly at my regret at not maintaining relationships with people I care so much about, and not telling them when I am with them, while they are still with us, how much they mean to me. My prayer is that I have learned a great lesson: that I will always take the time to tell people, in a meaningful way, how highly I regard their help and encouragement, how much I enjoy their friendship, and indeed, how much I love them. I always think I’ll have more time. With these dear people I did not.

I cannot close this posting without mentioning one of the people who is still with us, and to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. Mr. George Weigle was my high school choral director as well as being the choir director at the church my family was a part of, the UMC of Westport, CT. He is an extraordinary man, now in his 80’s, who, when I talked to him on the phone last week, sounded exactly like he did over 41 years ago! He gave me the best advice on, and was a great example of, choir directing. I send him my love and gratitude for all he has offered and for the wisdom he has imparted, not only to me, but to so many, many music students over the years. It was so wonderful to speak with him, to share some memories, to hear his voice, still so strong and forceful. I am so sorry that I have not stayed in more regular contact with him. I am so grateful for the time I have had, and hope to continue to have, with him. I know now, that I will not always have the time.

So much time wasted, so much sorrow.

So very much gratitude.

I wish you all enough