"The best thing about writing is that there is no right or wrong. You write to express your own thoughts and ideas, and you have complete freedom to tell your story any way you choose."
~Maddie Slack '16
The Water was Sky Blue
Shea Sion '17
You said you were reaching for the
You said you built yourself a pair of
You spoke with confidence, assuring
They said you soared above the
They said you might someday reach the
They spoke this and no more, unable to
Because you went beyond the
As the stars destroyed your paper
When you spiraled down, cursing yourself
Did you notice the color of the
Did they tell you of the fire in the
When tears filled your mouth and you couldn’t
Did you notice that the water was sky-blue?
Eleanor Tucker '21
Is your attention span still as short as the three and half weeks each year
When we saw each other?
Does your tiredness still victimize you every morning
And your energy still radiate from you at night?
Are you still as tall as the metal bunk bed we shared that summer?
Do you still forcefully shush people when they talk late at night?
Do you still relish the smell of the rain
As it hits the rotting cabins?
Do defiant streaks of red still peek through your mousy brown hair?
Do you still ask "why"
Then demand "why"?
Do you still blast early Taylor Swift music from your blue, beat-up, beloved iPod?
Do you still have little labels that you stick on your loose, light clothing?Do you still stay silently sitting
and reading with a flashlight
long after the lights have been turned off?
Do you still introduce yourself while hanging upside down?
swoosh, swoosh, as your hair swings to the ground
like a waterfall
Do you still tell jokes
Even when you know I'm the only person that will laugh?
Do you still sing shamelessly in the freezing cold showers of Camp Harlam?
Or have you moved on from the music, climbing wall and cabins
Of the place that was our home for a summer?
Am I still your best friend?
Olivia Heflin '16
On that 3 am bus ride from the airport to our hotel in New Delhi,
I noticed the fences.
It may be surprising to hear that I took notice of something so ordinary but
There were so many fences…
Metal, tall, short, barbed, ornate
Around every building, around every house
all keeping something out, all keeping people separated
Indian culture is supposed to be more communal than ours
A community where people rely on one another for support
How can it be such an inclusive culture with so many barriers?
The upper class wall themselves in their private abodes,
creating a bubble of wealth
Is it fear?
Is it disgust of the poverty surrounding them?
Is it entitlement, a way to suppress people?
Or simply a barrier for protection?
Does it blind some of the real India?
Is it like the US?
With country clubs and private beaches, schools, and communities,
The US mirrors India, or does India mirror the US?
Anna Haskin '18
If you could live
Till the oceans boil
And the mountains freeze
Where the stars fade
And the sky cries;
If you could see
All that ever was
And ever will be:
The rise and fall
Of distant planets.
The growth and decay
Of entire galaxies;
Would it be enough?
Would it be good?
Would it be satisfactory?
Now the birds are chirping
And the trees are green,
The sky is azure and cloudless
The ground is wet and friendly.
Small flowers sway in the
Early spring breeze.
It will be enough,
It will be good,
It will be satisfactory
To remain here
And enjoy the breeze.
Sonnet 2 - Petrarch Declares His Love
Emily Shiroma '17
I do love her; as if she were divine.
She, a fallen angel from heaven’s skies.
To hold those beautiful features with eyes;
I, a virgin having not seen with mine.
My eyes would indulge on a face so fine;
Seeing her, I am a babe to Baptize.
With her elegance in sight it purifies;
Her unknown face becomes my shrine.
To her home in Venice I shall wander
And sing to her the hymns of my great heart,
And she will bring to me that blesséd face;
And of me, my love, she shall grow fonder,
And we will be wed; her, my counterpart.
I thirst to be in her eternal grace.
Kimberly Kim '17
To my cousins who love me very much,
I dedicate this house of a mushroom.
And with my haircut I had looked as such,
And to me, they would say, “Mushroom, vroom, vroom!”
With my leg kicked up, I would speed away,
Hours we would spend on our little game,
Laughing and smiling, we would play all day.
Now we don’t have time which is such a shame,
But always these memories I’ll treasure,
For my dear cousins remain in my heart.
My love for them, there is no such measure,
But I’ll try my best in the form of art.
No matter how far I find myself roam,
The thought of a mushroom is always home.
Angali Berdia '17
The shadowed clock sits across,
Splitting the seconds consistently.
A loud countdown, each one a loss;
Day rests through the ticking symphony.
She remains reposed in rumination:
Stuck in things that must always be done,
Or not at all, or in variation.
Thoughts enough to trap anyone.
Caught in notions reserved for darkness,
Murderous clicks getting even worse.
Questioning when her night too will be starless
As her mind wraps around the universe-
Turns on her side, eyes begin to retreat,
All there is left for her to do is sleep.
Ode to the Sonnet
Ariana Soltany '17
How could I compare myself to thee?
A well-known writer of poems and plays,
Your work is not usually my cup of tea,
But I’ve mentioned your name in my essays.
For you, it was never a matter of
Counting syllables and iambic lines.
Instead, ideas and themes came from true love
While my words will never make headlines.
How I wish I had your poetic skill,
Writing fourteen lines is hard to do.
Hours have gone by as I sit here still,
I try to write so my teacher can read through.
So here is my sonnet for all to hear
I’m sorry if I offend you, Shakespeare!
Lindley Burnam '17
Light bathes swaying pines in a golden glow
As laughter ripples across the gentle
Water. The distant purple peak’s shadow
In sun is charmingly elemental.
But the seasons change swiftly. That kind peak,
Deserted, grows an angry purple grey.
As leaves wither, turning from green to bleak
Brown, the spiteful wind tears them all away.
That sad land, once warm and cheerful, now dwells
Frigid and leeched. Vicious gusts rip through those
Who dare to venture out, and great crests swell
On the reluctant lake. Who would come here?
But in this harsh place, through which I still roam,
I see beauty because it is my home.
My JFK Buddy
Claire Peng '16
My parents sometimes call me a walking miracle. Perhaps they’re even partially to blame for this nickname and all the times I could not have made it to today. It wasn’t that my parents gave me a lot of independence from a young age by choice; they simply had no other option. And after I proved to be a survivor, they never thought twice again about sending me off on my own. When I was nine, I went to go visit my aunt in Boston. Although my mom lived in DC, she was too busy with work to accompany me, and so my dad put me on a plane from Hong Kong to JFK, and from JFK to Logan. The trip there was fine, because everything happened the way my dad said it would; I got on the plane, got off fifteen hours later after watching an abundance of action movies and eating hard chunks of plane bread, got on the airport train, switched to terminals to domestic flights, and found the gates board no problem. I was on the next flight to Boston in no time. It was the journey back that was slightly tricky.
I arrived at Logan bright and early at 6:00 am. My aunt helped me check in my luggage, and I made sure it was checked all the way through to Hong Kong. I’ve heard people lose their luggage and that was not going to be me. I gave my aunt a big hug goodbye and walked into the security line. I got through pretty quick, putting my jacket in the bins and following behind the adults walking through the metal detectors. I found my gate easily, and sat down in the midst of travellers. I landed in JFK forty minutes later, and I followed my routine to the train, and then the gates board.
“Wait, where’s my gate?” I whispered to myself. The flight from JFK to HKG was not showing up. When the screen changed, there it was.
“Not yet determined? What do you mean? I need a gate!” I felt heat rising up in me, and I entered into a slightly panicked state. My layover was only two hours, and international flights required me to check in at the gate at least an hour before the flight took off.
“It’s okay,” I said under my breath, “I’ll just go through security and then figure it out.” So I went through security, and then checked the board again. Still “not yet determined”. What was I supposed to do? My flight was in an hour and thirty minutes. I had nowhere to check in.
“Are you okay?” I heard someone behind me. There was a middle-aged man looking down at me. He had on a dark polo shirt, some tan khakis, and a backpack. His shoes looked like they were used to for hiking. Why would he go hiking in a polo shirt? He had dark hair and really blue eyes; he looked so different from me.
“Y-yeah?” I stammered. Who was he?
“Sorry, you just look lost. Where are your parents?”
“Hong Kong!” I laughed at his confused expression. He shook his head in disbelief and I shrugged my shoulders.
“Do you know where you’re going?” He looked over the board and I pointed to the flight to Hong Kong.
“Here, why don’t we go ask someone.” He started walking to the nearest flight attendant at another gate, and I followed close behind. He asked her for my flight information as I stood on my tiptoes trying to look over the counter. All I could hear were murmurs and quick exchanges.
“What’s your name?” The flight attendant peered over the ledge at me.
“Your full name.”
“Oh. Claire Peng.” I said with a smile, she was going to figure this out for me!
“Okay, Claire, looks like you’re scheduled for the 10 o’clock flight to Hong Kong. Because we’re having some issues with the gates, we’re not setting a gate for your flight yet. So just sit tight and check the board every ten minutes or so. Okay?” She smiled as if her information was useful to me. I already knew my gate wasn’t set, that’s what “not yet determined” means. I wanted her to tell me where to go, I didn’t want to sit in some café and go back and forth between the gates board and my seat. If that was the case, I may as well plop my stuff down on the floor and sit in front of the board itself.
“Okay, thanks.” I muttered and lowered to my usual height. I bent down in defeat to grab my things and go.
“Don’t forget your sweatshirt,” The man picked my jacket up and handed it to me, “Are you sure you’re okay? Do you want me to stay with you in case you can’t find your gate later?” The man looked at me sympathetically. I shrugged; I wouldn’t mind a friend to hang around with. We found a coffee shop nearby and while he ordered coffee for himself and lemonade for me, I pulled out my various books and tried to keep distracted from the gate situation.
“Jacqueline Wilson. I’ve never heard of her.” He grabbed one of my books and flipped it over to read the back.
“She’s a British author, and I’m guessing you’re American.”
“Why would you guess that I’m American?”
“Because you don’t have the accent. And also, you called my jumper a sweatshirt.” I said simply and he raised his eyebrows.
“So why are you here alone? Why didn’t your parents come with you?”
“Oh. They were busy.” I looked up from the pages of my book to catch his puzzled face.
“They all work. Well, except for my stepmom. But my baby sister had a doctor’s appointment.” I explained. The puzzled expression did not go away. My lemonade came and I pulled it in front of me and took a big sip.
“So you travel alone a lot?” He asked slowly, still slightly confused.
“Well, only sometimes. But it’s okay, it’s not that bad.” I put my book aside; it was more entertaining to watch his reactions.
“So in Hong Kong, do you go places by yourself?”
“I usually take the train to school, and I go to piano class. Sometimes my stepmom isn’t home so I take my baby sister to preschool. I even buy her cookies and marshmallows when I buy dinner.” I added, making myself sound like a nice older sister when in reality I always get myself a cookie and some candy.
“And you do this every day?” He asked as if I was telling him stories about setting houses on fire.
“Yes, but I’m an adult. How old are you?”
“Exactly.” He shook his head and I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t go to school if I didn’t take the train, and I couldn’t eat if I didn’t buy dinner. I guess I could leave my baby sister at home and not take her to preschool but my parents would kill me.
“Come on, let’s go check on your gate.” The man stood up and I collected my things. I secretly crossed my fingers and hoped my gate would be announced on the board.
“There it is, thirty-seven C. You know where that is, right?” He turned to me. I danced happily on the inside. My gate was finally here!
“No, but I can read the signs.” I pointed to the overhead boards that showed gates and arrows.
“Well, good luck, Claire.” He held his hand up and I gave him a high-five.
I found my gate, and surely, “JFK to HKG” was displayed on the screen above the counter. I plopped my things down only to hear the lady announce time for boarding. I rushed to line up and excitedly handed one of the flight attendants my passport and boarding pass. I was going home! I slept almost the whole plane ride and landed in Hong Kong safely fifteen hours later. When I got home, I told my stepmom about my trip. She was both concerned and impressed by the new friend I made at JFK.
To this day, I still don’t know what his name is.
Stingrays for Days
Hadley Gouldman '16
Owen O'Shea is not fat, just big. He scared the living crap out of me. Until he spoke. He is covered in tattoos. His knuckles read BEHI HANE. The inside of his right pointer finger has a mustache. He has various animals, both marine and land-based, on his arms and legs. One arm has spines while the other has an owl sitting on a book next to a hammerhead shark. On his right shin, just below his knee, lives a steam punk manta ray. And covering his entire chest is a tattoo that took eight straight hours of work, a giant squid surrounded by waves. He won't answer any questions about any tattoos, but occasionally he will volunteer information on one. He proudly sports a full ginger beard and mustache. He has gauges in both ears and wears large sunglasses. He most often wears large t-shirts to overlap his favorite saggy camo cargo shorts that also function as a bathing suit. When on the boat, he wears a buff that covers most of the lower half of his face to protect from sunburn, sunglasses to shield his eyes, and a hat to protect his head. He is over 6 feet tall and most likely weighs over 200 pounds. He has a British accent and uses the most intelligent and scientific form of speaking. Along with cursing like a pirate and creating spunky nicknames for people. Mine is Hadders.
Our first field day he warned us of the dangers of working with stingrays and told us about all of the precautions we must take to ensure that both the ray and our team stay safe. Instead of going out in a boat, we brought our gear down to a beach to catch and sample rays. We quickly spotted a ray and were trudging through the water in an attempt to run.
“It’s intuitive,” he shouted over the wind, “just don’t let it escape!”
Easier said than done. We lost the first ray in chest deep water. Soon enough we spotted a second ray, successfully captured it in the net and led it to the beach. Once there, our research intern, Tina, donned puncture proof gloves and held the tail of the stingray secure while Owen began the process of sampling the ray. This included taking measurements of the ray’s width and length, tissue samples for DNA, tagging the ray for identification, and weighing the ray. This ray was about a foot and a half wide, an average size for a juvenile stingray. The ray turned violent and thrashed around in the net. Tina had a hard time keeping her grip over the venomous barb. As the ray jerked a final time, Tina fell back onto the beach and the barb slashed across her leg.
“I’ve been barbed,” she said. Owen quickly moved into emergency mode. He instructed one member of our group to hold the net with the ray, another to run to get the medic. His voice stayed steady and soothing as he asked if everyone was ok. He directed his attention to Tina and methodically poured hot water over her wound to denature the venom.
“Just a laceration, probably no venom in your system, you’ll be ok, Tina,” he announced. After making sure Tina was safely in the care of the medic, Owen turned back to the terrified faces of his student team. “All right, let’s continue. I’ll hold the tail, and one of you will need to do the sampling. Come on now, someone step up,” he said and waited until one of the boys volunteered. Glancing at the rest of us, he noticed me standing farther back.
“Are you ok?” he asked me.
“Ummm… yea. I’m just a little freaked out,” I managed to stammer.
“That’s ok, you just need to keep writing down the measurements as before. How’s everyone else?” He received nods in return and turned his focus again to the task at hand, quickly wrapping up the sampling and releasing the ray.
After that, field days ran more smoothly. Our team got into a rhythm. We had a new intern, Chris, after Tina’s injury because her mistake had taken her off of our research team. Owen decided to implement a new system of securing the barb of the stingray to protect from any accidents happening again. Along with Owen and Chris, there were six students: Leo, Cam, Robert, Ellie, Maddie, and me. We fell into our roles easily. I was in charge of the kit that held tags, vials for samples, scissors, tag applicators, measuring tapes, a scale, and gloves. "Hadders, could I have the scissors?" he would ask, and as he extended his hand while he spoke, I was one step ahead, slapping them down across his outreached palm. He would smile and return to work, pleased with my efficiency.
The boys all enjoyed spotting rays off the boat, leading the charge to catch them, and performing parts of the work-up. Maddie, quick on her feet, placed herself most often in a position to herd the ray into a net and transfer materials from me to the ray during a work-up. Ellie could be in any of the field spots but could also record data and analyze it back in the lab. Owen would push us out of our comfort zones occasionally and make us do a job we hadn't before. He wanted us all to understand the importance of each job in the field. He had the girls take turns leading the group out in the water and carry nets, while he asked the boys to help with more work in the classroom.
Owen made a point of having every person lead a full work-up of the ray, meaning that we would direct the rest of the team in taking measurements, tagging, taking tissue samples, and weighing the ray. All three boys did this early on in the semester, but the girls were more hesitant. Ellie took on the job halfway through before Maddie or me. Ellie used this moment as fuel for her bravery in the rest of the semester and this proud moment led Maddie to follow quickly behind Ellie. By that point, the rest of the students routinely performed the work-up, but I was still terrified.
After Tina got hurt, I kept my distance from the menacing creatures we studied. No one in the group had taken notice to my subtle avoidance, except, of course, for Owen. I couldn't hide from him in our one-on-one mid-semester conference. He called me out and told me I lacked confidence. He didn't exactly force me into something I didn't want to do; rather, he challenged me to stop taking the easy way out and perform an important part of our research. His request was completely reasonable. It made me re-think my fear. He had calculated carefully, and it paid off. It took me a while to get more comfortable with the rays. He suggested that I work my way up to leading a work-up on my own by taking smaller steps. I started by holding the net for the ray while another student sampled them. Then I moved on to taking a tissue sample by myself. Soon I became more comfortable handling the rays and performing small parts of the work-up.
The first time I touched a ray, I was still hesitant. Owen asked me to assist another student by kneeling in the water in front of the net and placing my hands on the stingrays back to keep it calm. I placed a hand on either side of the spines running down the middle of the ray’s back. I leaned forward slightly in order to put more of my weight into keeping the ray still. I could feel the tight muscles of powerful wings below me as I held the stingray against the sand. I knew I couldn’t be hurting her, but I would not have wanted to be pinned by a creature three times my size either. She fidgeted briefly below me, causing me to lean into my hands before settling beneath my weight. I lessened the pressure and kept my hands resting on her back. Her skin was smooth, but not slimy, and her tense muscles had relaxed, allowing me to feel her strength. It was amazing to feel how powerful she was and know that just the presence of my hands kept her calm. This was my first step in getting more comfortable with stingrays.
When we captured our fiftieth ray, it was also time for me to do the sampling. Owen glanced in my direction. With a signal nod he informed me that I should step up to the plate. “I’ll do it,” I offered timidly. We had brought the ray into a shallow flat where the water stayed the same level for an area the size of a football field off of the beach. The sun shone brightly over the crystal clear blue water and the wind was blowing just enough to counter the heat of the sun. I knelt in the shallow water in front of the ray. As my knees dug into the sand, I could feel the individual grains. I nervously put on my gloves. I measured the ray easily—she remained calm and didn't move as I gently placed the measuring tape over her rough, sandpapery skin. “Total length 1030 cm,” I announced as I finished the last measurement. This stingray measured over a meter in length, more than half of my height. I took a deep breath. Next I had to take the tissue sample from the pelvic fin. I put the clamping scissors on a portion of the fin and closed them tightly into the poor animal's flesh. “I promise, I don't want to hurt you,” I murmured to the ray.
“It's ok Hadders, she’ll be fine,” Owen reminded me. With his reassurance I cut the small sample of tissue off of the fin and cut it in half for our two samples. “Perfect size,” Owen complimented. I smiled, I was actually doing well. Now came time for the tagging, the part of the work-up I dreaded the most because it seems the most violent and painful for the ray. I glanced up at Owen, unsure of what emotion registered on my face, but hopeful that he would understand. Whatever he saw, he knew it meant something. “You know what, Hadders, we actually need to use a nylon-headed dart, and only I can put that in. You can tag next time.” I let out a sigh of relief. He knew I could do it, but he didn't push me, knowing I was close to the edge.
Owen frequently told us we were his favorite group of Island School students. We always turned our work in on time, and he assured us that our written work outranked that of some graduate students. He bragged to his colleagues about our group’s professionalism and our ability to give scientific, yet plain English explanations of our work. We all enjoyed our time spent together both out in the field and working in the classroom. We talked in British accents to remember the scientific names of stingrays, like the spotted eagle ray, aetobatus narinari, because the way Owen said them sounded prettier than an American accent. When we stayed in the classroom for a day, Owen would lighten the mood of our tedious work by randomly blasting a heavy metal song from his favorite band, Pig Destroyer. Or he would repeat phrases in an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, like “I’m going to grade your papers.” As the end of the semester approached, we focused on our final presentation and interactive booth for an environmental convention. Owen watched over us as we worked, but lent little help because he claimed we had earned the title of professional scientists and could create a presentation on our own, if we worked together. And we did. For the final presentation, we created a power point and practiced what we would say in order to explain the scientific process in simpler terms. When creating our booth, we made interactive games for local Bahamian kids. For this presentation, we worked on raising awareness of the real facts on stingrays. We were all proud of the work we accomplished and the team we got to be a part of.
I knew saying goodbye to everyone from Island School would be difficult, but we all had to say goodbye to Owen first. He came to our graduation the night before he left. He had only ever been to one graduation at Island School. We were special. After our graduation, the research advisors prepared to go home. We all found Owen and circled around him. Ellie, Maddie, and I were already crying at this point from the sadness of leaving. Owen stood in the back of the room so that he could get the best breeze, but his long sleeved, button-down shirt still stuck to him with sweat. "You guys don't have to hug me," he said laughing, but at the same time Ellie and I wrapped our arms around him. Maddie joined in, and soon the three boys followed. Being the closest to Owen, I looked up into his face just in time to see him wipe away a single tear. Owen doesn't cry. At least he didn’t before us.
Skye Worster Weaver '20
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.
My mother tells me my grandfather named me. It was his gift to you when you were born, she says.
My parents hadn't known what they were going to name me. Minerva, they thought, or maybe Athena, like their own little goddess. But my grandfather had insisted, name her Skye. Like the island off the coast of Scotland. The little Isle of Skye.
Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar, Thunderclouds rend the air;
Baffled, our foes stand by the shore, Follow they will not dare.
Skye is an old name, given to the island by the Scots who lived there. It means sky, and the island was a bridge between our world and the heavens. Some say that Scotland was once united under a warrior queen, Skye, who fought off the Saxons and Irish. But that's just an old wives tale known only to the few who still believe in it.
Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep,
Ocean's a royal bed.
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep Watch by your weary head
My schoolmates tell me my name is like a little joke, because my parents are pilots who fly through the sky all the time, and because I have grown tall like I want to reach for them as they pass overhead on their ways to places my schoolmates and I will never go.
They have never been to Skye, my grandfather has never been to Skye. I have never been to Skye, even though it's the birthplace of my name.
Our little joke has been told so many times that's it's gotten old, like my favourite pair of worn out shoes.
Many's the lad fought on that day, Well the Claymore could wield, When the night came, silently lay Dead on Culloden's field.
My first memory is of the Skye Boat Song playing on a CD meant for little kids. I used to ask who the "lass born to be King" was, and my parents would always recite the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie, who led the Scottish fight against the British and who bravely fled to the Isle of Skye to escape them when the British won. It never made sense to me how someone could flee and still be brave, because a brave person never gives up or runs away from the battle and leaves their soldiers behind to die in his name.
He didn't leave, Grandpa told me when I asked him. Not forever, at least. He promised he would come back to defeat the Britons, didn't he?
Burned are their homes, exile and death Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath Charlie will come again.
I tell myself I have to live up to my name. To become a warrior queen. Or a pilot, or a Prince whose loyal subjects are waiting for to come home. Or a bridge between two worlds. Or someone like my grandfather was before he forgot why he named me. Or a bird on the wing.
Or I could just be me. A little Isle. A girl who tells jokes like worn out shoes. Who still believes the old stories. Who is waiting for her Bonnie Prince Charlie to come home.
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.
Listen to Anne-Sophie read her piece!
Sounds of Music
Anne-Sophie Fratzscher '16
Ding Dong. The sound of the bell echoes through the huge entrance, ricocheting off the dark windows. I stand at the top of the stairs, peeking out from behind a grey column. Creak. The heavy front door slowly opens, and a woman with artificial red hair stands before my mother. "Hello," she says in a strong accent – Russian, I think. "I am here to see, um, what’s her name?” She looks through her little black journal. “Sophie?"
"Yes. My daughter, Anne-Sophie. Come in." My mother replies. She looks up, seeing me shaking at the top of the stairs in my black Mary Jane shoes and plaid dress. “Anne-Sophie, please come down to greet your new piano teacher, Mrs. Balk.”
“Yes, Mother,” I answer. I slowly creep down the stairs. I remember my mother’s advice from earlier: “One foot in front of the other, just as we practiced yesterday. And make sure to stand straight and have a friendly smile.” I cautiously walk down the stairs. I am perfect. One step, two steps… twelve steps. Okay, only a few steps left. Boom. I trip on the fifteenth step and tumble down the remaining stairs onto the wooden floor. My Mary Janes litter the carpet. My dress crumples on impact with the floor, restoring the wrinkles I had meticulously ironed away.
I look up from the folds in my dress. I have an audience. The red-headed lady glares at me, silently judging my clumsiness. "Poor agility," she notes to herself. "May need some additional guidance."
I walk up to her, trying to smooth the wrinkles from my dress. "Hello, I'm Anne-Sophie."
"Sophie? Hello, Sophie. I'm Mrs. Balk. Mrs., not Ms. Come.” She speeds down the hallway, her cloak flying behind her. She stops in the living room and turns to see me still standing in the foyer. “Now."
I sprint to the living room as fast as my short legs will carry me. No need to be proper anymore – my first impression has already determined my course. I see her standing by the piano, waiting. Oh, I forgot to get her a chair. I rush to the kitchen, get the finest-looking Chinese wood-engraved chair (which also happens to be the heaviest), and I drag it to the glossy upright piano. I place it to the right, as I have practiced for the past week, before going to stand behind the bench.
She takes off her black cloak and drapes it onto the small chair. "Sit down," she commands. I sit on the floor. "No. On the bench!"
"Oh, okay!" I try to get onto the piano bench, but my legs are not long enough. Oh, if only I were older and had longer legs. I jump up, landing on the bench with a plop. "Okay, I'm ready."
The woman looks at me, especially at my short chubby fingers. "Short fingers and long nails -- poor for piano playing." She examines me again, before commanding me to play a middle C.
Middle C? Okay, so it must be in the middle the white and black keys, but which one is it really? I start to count the keys. “One, two, three, four.” I get to ten. What comes after ten? I really wish my Papa had taught me how to count to one hundred. I eyeball the keys, and I choose my weapon. Clank.
"No, no, no, no, no!” She shakes her head, muttering comments in Russian to herself. “C not D!" she shrieks.
I try again. This time I hit a combo of A and B. Her face changes to match her hair – steam could easily have come from her ears.
“Okay. Let us start with theory first.” She looks disappointed – apparently, unlike many of her other students, I am not a born piano prodigy. She reaches into her cauldron-shaped bag and pulls out a little white machine with a black circle and line. “This is the note-reader. It will teach you to read music. These lines represent…” I zone out; this woman is not worth my time. “…and this circle with a line attached is a music note. A quarter note actually.” She proceeds to pull the string to move the note down to the bottom line. “This is a C. And the note between this line and the second line is a D…” She goes on to name all the notes.
After half an hour of explaining, she begins to quiz me. “What is this?”
“No! What did I tell you! This is a D because it is between two lines!” She begins to write comments furiously into her book while muttering to herself, “I must tell her parents of her poor attention skills.”
Honestly, what could she expect? I was a four-year-old who had just mastered writing letters – did she really expect me to master note-reading in an hour?
After a few more misses, she looks at me with a wild glare. “Ok, one last try. What is this?”
Before I can see her reaction, she gets up and marches to the kitchen, insisting on speaking with my parents. I hear the words “lousy,” “incompetent,” “no potential,” along with angry shouts from my parents. Apparently, as I learned years later, she questioned my parents’ child-rearing methods. When she returns to the room, she asks me one final question. “Do you even want to learn piano?”
Of course I didn’t. My musical parents had insisted on me following in their footsteps, and they picked the strictest teacher they could find. I knew to keep quiet and respond in a kind way, but in that moment, I could not hold back my anger. “No.”
“Then I will not come back.”
“Sounds wonderful. I look forward to it.”
She looked at me, her scowl changing into a look of surprise. She definitely did not expect me, a quiet, introverted four-year-old, to ever say those words. And with that, she stomped down the hallway, opened the door, slammed it closed as she left and drove off in her little red Prius.
I felt somewhat relieved – my afternoons would now be rid of that red-haired figure, and I could play with my friends. That was, until the following week, when she returned, this time with a forced smile on her face. And she did so for the next twelve years.
I hated every second of the 624 hours I spent with her, and, as soon as she left, I would hide my music notes. That way, whenever my parents asked me to practice, I could tell them I didn’t have the music and that the terrible Mrs. Balk had taken it. They believed me, for the first few years at least. Somehow, even without practicing, I mastered piano. I still do not know exactly how.
At some point in those twelve years, I decided to “expand my horizons”, in other words, to fulfill my parents’ “master two musical instruments before leaving home” requirement. This time, I insisted on participating in the selection process. We went to the Levine School of Music, where we searched for the most suitable time-consumer for the rest of my life (or my time at home, at least). I had my heart set on the flute or cello, but, being part of a long line of violinists and therefore destined to continue the tradition, I began to learn violin. This time around, my parents looked for a strict teacher, but not the meanest one. We narrowed down the choices to three nice professional violinists: one middle-aged French lady, one Russian lady, and one man of unknown ethnicity. I got the final word this time. I picked Florence, the kind-eyed French violinist. I never wanted another Russian teacher – Mrs. Balk was enough for two lifetimes.
Two weeks later, on a warm fall afternoon, I drove to Georgetown with my parents to meet her. She lived in a small, baby-blue and white, four-story townhouse. As we rang the doorbell, a lovely tune resonated through the house. Ode to Joy. When the small wooden door swung open, a friendly smile emerged. “Good afternoon. I have been expecting you,” Florence said in a gentle voice with a touch of a French accent. “Come in.”
We walked through the small door into the narrow hallway. On the right side appeared a kitchen with barely enough space for a table. We continued straight to the music room, the only room in the house with a high ceiling. The skylight emitted warm rays of sun as I unpacked my small quarter-size violin from its blue case in the white room. I stood proudly by the music stand, or as proud as I could, being a shy seven-year-old.
“Okay. Let us start. What do you know so far?”
“I can read music from a few years of piano? Is that enough?”
“Great. Let me just show you how to play those notes on a violin.” She played the lowest string – a G. Then she placed her fingers down at increments to go to the next note. A. B. C. D. E. F. G. A. The music flooded the room. It was beautiful, like a singing lark. “How about you try?”
The following sound was the most horrendous noise I have ever played on any instrument. It sounded like the screeching violin at the beginning of a horror movie, but magnified by a few hundred times. I almost stumbled back from the horrifying sound. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“No problem! You actually sounded quite good for a first try– you had a deep sound and a good bow usage. Let’s try some other notes.”
We progressed through all the notes before playing the game I was all too familiar with: Matching. “Play an A.”
Screeching sound of A
“Great! Now E.”
Even more horrifying sound of E
“Wonderful!” We went through all the notes before I left with a large smile on my face. I never knew learning music could be so much fun! As soon as the car door opened, I would jump out and run to practice my new pieces: “Silent Night”, “Oh Tannenbaum”, “Witches Craft”, to name just a few. I practiced day and night to the dismay of my parents, who would become all too familiar with the screeching violin sound. Every Wednesday, I cheerfully entered Florence’s house and learned for an hour (or maybe two? Music teachers do not seem to be very good at counting time). Then I would play my variations of scales and pieces for hours on end at home before I memorized every last dynamic-marking or emphasis in the piece.
I studied with Florence for five years before she moved to England. In those years, I learned more about violin than I have learned in my twelve years of piano. Even after Florence left, I stilled felt passionate towards violin and continued with a new teacher. Although my progress in violin was only slightly faster than my progress in piano, I enjoyed and still enjoy picking up the glossy-brown wood every day. In these past ten years, I have met wonderful musicians and attended beautiful concerts with perfect harmonies and balance. I aspire to become as great as my name, Anne-Sophie Mutter, and to enjoy many more evenings creating music with my friends. Maybe one day I will even be able to participate in a famous orchestra. Well, that all depends on my playing, and my first impressions. Hopefully I won’t trip next time.
Listen to Rupa read her piece!
Learning How to Speak
Rupa Nallamothu '16
Blue. That color was all I saw when I first came to the United States. Blue water, toys, candy wrappers, and clothes were everywhere. Although there were other colors splattered around, these bright florescent blues seemed to catch my attention the most. For the first few minutes, my eyes had to adjust. In India, brown was the dominant color. Brown eyes, water, and tea were abundant. Brown to Blue. The adjustment was painful.
When I came to the United States, English was my foreign language. In pre-kindergarten, we took three language classes, Hindi, Telugu, and English--the dreadful one. Hindi class was fun because there were endless stories to read. In Hindi class, the ancient alphabet combined into words just like a puzzle. The language is organized by sounds. Telugu class was less enthralling. Everyone in the class spoke it every day. We hardly learned anything. It might as well had been called singing class because we just sang mantras.
However, English class was terrible. The teacher would write letters in cursive and print. We were supposed to memorize every single drawing. We had to bring a sentence every day to class. Each day, each of us would struggle to even muster up the courage to stand up in class and say a sentence. My friends’ sentences were usually very simple. "I rode in the riksha". "I ran to school". "I had idli for breakfast."
My sentences always came from my grandfather's newspaper. My grandfather was a stern, forty-something-year-old man. His height varied daily. Some days, he would stand at his full height, six feet and five inches, when he was angry. Other days, his height seemed closer to five feet as he bent down to inspect his environment. He used to always swear, calling me a “Doonga pilla,” as he chased after me. The PG translation of “Doonga pilla” is “you little brat” in English. I would run as fast as possible to the barn and hide in the attic to avoid his punishments. He had no patience for childish antics and believed that mischievous children eventually become unproductive members of society. Similar to a lot of politicians in the state government, his job followed him home. “English is knowledge, knowledge is power. Therefore English is power, ” he used to mutter to me, in English, after humoring my long rants about the English class. Usually, I would reply, confused, “ Qua,” asking him what he meant. He always held me to a higher standard than I ever did or even could begin to comprehend. Every night, he used to make me sit outside on the porch with him and read the newspaper. That’s when I would pick my sentence.
The next day at school, I recited, "This coming Monday, Tripathi will make a million ladoos to accommodate the number of visitors.” My body always trembled as I stood up to face the class. I struggled to sound out the vowels. "O” was the hardest.
Speaking was bad, but writing was worse. English grammar was so weird. In Hindi, all of the words seemed to flow together. The words were as fluid as water in a waterfall. I never thought about the tenses or categorized words. But not English. We used to chant "Verbs. Nouns. Adverbs" before class. English letters just seemed so cold to me. The brief and curt sounds seemed to pierce me.
English also caused me personal pain. When I was four years old, my grandfather enrolled me in a private school. My grandfather cryptically said, “You will understand when you are older.” Unbeknownst to me at the time, private schools were the only schools that could teach English well. However, even if I knew that at the time, I doubt that I would have cared. All of my friends in the village went to public school. Now, I could only play with them in the evening. I couldn’t laugh, cry, or yell at them anymore throughout the day. I loved them. I was ripped away from my friends. I cried bitterly the day he enrolled me. English was ruining my life.
Yet, two years, later, when I came to America, I could barely understand anything. My knowledge of English was pretty good for an Indian child, but nowhere close to that of an American's. I had no idea what everyone was saying. I managed to notice that the flight attendant said “y’all” a lot. What does “y’all” mean? In India, I was only taught British English, so “y’all” was a new concept. I assumed that it was some kind of accent.
After I settled into my new life, I had to find default words to use whenever I needed to respond to a question. My grandfather used to always say, "Kith and kin.” So, for the first few months, whenever someone asked me a question, I replied, "Kith and Kin.”
My mother used to ask, "What do you want for breakfast?"
"Kith and kin," I replied, cheerfully. My mother always frowned before composing herself. My dad used to scold me.
After six months, the second phase of my journey to learn English began: the Silent Phase. According to my mother, I became mute. I was speaking two and a half languages simultaneously. My brain was adjusting to maintaining my knowledge of English, Hindi, and Telugu. During this phase, I observed and heard everything. I heard the different sounds. I saw the different shapes that the mouth forms as people sound out words. I learned.
Finally, three months later, I spoke. I was hungry and needed my mom to pour cereal into my bowl. I ran to my mom’s bedroom, woke her up, and said, " Mom, come here, please. I need food.”