Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Mrs. Vischer Gave to Me

Mrs. Vischer was right out of a Victorian novella, a Nancy Drew mystery. She could have been cast in a Shirley temple movie yet she was less cliché and far more real. In fact seldom have I seen her portrayal in film. It would have to be foreign, perhaps a young Margaret Tyzack for Maude Vischer was as Teutonic as her name dictated; tympani, brass, a little strings thrown in (for good measure?), all minor and then some major to minor chords with a goodly assortment of B and F flats.

She was no symphony, not even a pretty scherzo but she was a good steady beat, a little too forte at times and always running up and down the pizzicato scales of life. Her teachings were one long crescendo after another.

She was I suppose a good Bach fugue, a cantata.

By nature she was drawn to music but by calling, to impart, imbue and infuse it into as many children she could find who were pliable, talented and with backbone enough to roll with her baton punches—aimed not at us but stabbing the air, commanding attention and all before snack time, no mean feat for any grammar school music teacher.

Marilyn remembers her always with her ‘basket’ in tow; the deeply curved dark woven giant seashell stuffed with maracas, sandpaper blocks, tambourine, mini cymbalines and orange, blue and green pegs to whack to the beat of La Cucaracha. I was too fixated upon her personae to remember her paraphernalia. She cut a lasting impression, one long Kodachrome slide show. I remember her always in vivid rose tones.

She attempted a perm or had hair with a slight frizz to the ends. It was ‘dressed’ like Ethel Mertz’s or Spring Byington’s on December Bride and though she was no more than in her thirties gave the distinct impression of a matron, a womanly woman like Hildegard of Bingham.

Maude Vischer, whom the non-musical kids dubbed ‘vicious’ was known for flare-ups, not hurtful or abusive, she merely boiled over from her desperate attempts at Beauty. How to get thirty ten-year-olds to sound like Christian madrigals piping “When Alan-a-dale Went a Hunting” ? And oh, those Francophile moments she went over the pronunciation of, “On the Bridge at Avignon.”

Sur le pont d’Avignon

L’on y danse, l’on y danse

Sur le pont d’Avignon

L’on y danse tous en rond

She never let you slide. Heard every nuance and heart the nuance you forgot to remember. Even used a metronome to no avail to tick-tock home just how to stay in accord. One and two and three and four! Baton raised, dress sleeve stuffed with under the cuff with starched hanky all a tremble, pagan nostrils all a-flare with red spider veins like a map to some rare land and off we would follow. Deep breath and...

Here we come a wassailing

among the leaves so green

and we are little children

who n’er been seen….

Parents tittered, younger siblings wriggled, older siblings paced whilst Mrs. Metz took her rightful place in the center of the modest auditorium to bring forth the maven who made it all possible. It was like a whole other dimension took over, the world stopped and it was only our school, our auditorium that was lit up just like on the GE commercial, where the entire village below glittered in an animated fly-by.

My parents seldom showed but the ones I loved did and all our hard work before those starving ten o’clock recess practices paid off. It was her finest hour; she was electrified with pride and excitement. You would have thought we were at The Met or Carnegie Hall and she was presenting The Master Chorale. In our red choir robes on the risers we sang and followed her lead to the letter.

She wore customary holiday corsages, red and green bells holly and ivy and crimson berried hawthorn things. Even her legs tapered like a Steinway baby grand’s in black pumps with the old seams down the back. Her lipstick; red. Her silver rimmed glasses; sometimes. Her spirit stalwart.

Maude Vischer gave to me the truth of a mage, a sorceress, a Morgan Le Fey for she could conjure up the best in all of us. And I and Marilyn and Chris were the ones she expected the most from. And we gave it. We delivered.

We didn’t dare not.