Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Perils of Memory

In the next few weeks I'm going to continue the exploration into the European side of the family by adding some sound files so you can hear my aunt and uncle, Guido and Silvia Roetter, playing the piano. This part of the story cannot be told without music because it is essential to it, it is the base on which it was built.

They also need a wikipedia page so that means I need to get people involved who knew them, who studied with them, and who can help edit this growing project that I haven't even started yet. Here is the page of one of their friends who also spoke and played at my uncle's memorial service. He is part of their story too as are hundreds of people who knew them, who were part of the music culture, all aspects of it, in both Las Vegas and Trieste.

For the last year I've been working on a book about their lives, but it is a slow going project because so many of the people who knew the stories are now gone. Many of their students are scattered all over the world. It is my hope that this blog and the wikipedia site will serve as a gathering place for information that can then be added to the book.

For now I'm writing short stories from each memory. It is my solution to the lack of precise dates and memories. Fiction maintains the integrity of the story without having to be exact in what is remembered and how the story was told.

As with many worthwhile projects, this one will take time to complete and because they had so many students and friends, it will be a project that grows throughout time.

So, if you knew my aunt and uncle, please do leave a comment and I'll see how I can weave it into the fabric of two very remarkable lives.


Anonymous said...

Sylvia was one of the most influential people in my life. I still think about her often. I was the worst piano student she ever had....I know because she told me. During her last few months of teaching I was one of the lucky ones she continued to work with. I was playing a reduction of Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor......well, not really playing it but, trying to get through it. She stops me and then preceded to bang her head against the piano and tell me, "You are killing me with your piano playing." Then we both broke out into laughter.

Sylvia liked me because I love opera. She always took time out of my lessons to coach my diction and give me background information on my arias. It was the most valuable information I've ever received. I'll never forget when we sat by the piano and she taught me about Vissi d'arte. Although, I will most likely never sing it she felt she needed to teach me about Tosca. The words were her words. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

A few weeks later she was in the hospital. I went to see her with my dad. She was so weak and fragile but, still laughing telling me I would never be a concert pianist (she knew I didn't practice)! I brought my arias with me. We went over what to do in each of them, she translated, and we spoke them. It was great. The next day I left for Italy. She told me I would love Taormina best of all the cities I was going to. She was absolutely right. That afternoon was the last time I saw her.

I wanted to remember her as my crazy little piano teacher who made me laugh. She told me she hated old people once. She was never old. She was this crazy free spirit. She loved me and I loved her. When she died I felt like a piece of me was gone. I carry her words with me all the time. She used to laugh at me before I sang an aria and say, "You can't sing that unless you have a beard." I would sing them for her and she'd touch my chin and say, "Well, you must have a beard." It was just the silly things like that made her such an endearing person

Some Crazy Bear said...

Thank you so much for capturing my aunt so completely with your words and memories. It is because of stories like this that I keep adding to the book I'm writing about both of them. The more I dig into their lives, the more I begin to understand that people like them never really die. They leave so much behind in their students and in the people that had the good fortune to be part of their lives.

And no, you weren't Silvia's worst piano student. I was. But you know, a couple weeks after she died I got an old upright piano that's a hundred years old. I picked up some baby music and you know what? I could play it. That's how good a teacher she was.

Mara sent me a cd of some of their concerts she put together that were made from old tapes, some from in the 40's. I'll be putting a few tracks up soon so their remarkable talent can get the audience it deserves.

Thank you for sharing your memories.

Anonymous said...

Sylvia was my first piano teacher (other than my mother, who was a close friend of hers). I started with her in the middle of the 4th grade, and by the end of the 7th grade, she had somehow gotten me to the point of winning the Nevada Music Teachers Association Junior award to go on and compete in regionals. Then my family moved away, and we gradually lost touch with the Roetters, until I reconnected as an adult and met Sylvia and Lianna in Trieste one summer (I think it was 1990). We had a wonderful 3 or 4 days together.
Some of my memories: wonderful, unfamiliar smells from their kitchen as I had my lessons. Schmidt finger exercises. Guido calling me "the little professor" and telling me that I scared him when I was present at one of his performances. Sylvia hovering over me to make sure that every finger was even, yet relaxed. The way that she would open her eyes wide before saying something outrageous. Much laughter at lessons, even when we were doing serious work. In Trieste, going out into the Adriatic on Sandro's boat. Watching Fellini's Amarcord together, which they kindly got in a subtitled version for me, as they laughed uproariously at the Italian. Discussions about Italian traditions and mores as we drove out to Grado for dinner. My distress 10 years later at visiting Las Vegas and phoning her house, only to be told that she has passed away 6 months prior. A very special time, a very special teacher, a very special human being.

Some Crazy Bear said...

You reminded me of the most familiar sound in the Roetter household other than music: laughter. It's a wonderful heritage that we still manage at least a few times during phone calls. And I still adore Fellini movies.