Archive for January 2016

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Farewell to the Master Story Teller - Adrian Albulescu

Twenty One years ago I walked into a small dingy room to attend my children's first violin lesson. There sat Adrian with his long, Fabio hair and exotic Romanian accent, patiently waiting to inculcate us with the wisdom of the ages. We never could have imagined the magical lifelong journey we were about to embark on as Lawrence bounded across the room, violin squeezed tightly under his little elbow and bow held outward like a pirate sword. Stopping just short of poking out his teacher's eye, my first reaction was to berate Lawrence for his carelessness. But, as would typify the next 20 years of my life, Adrian looked at me calmly and with a quiet rebuke said "Don't worry Mom. I will handle things from here."

One thing was crystal clear from the very beginning, Adrian was adroit at the art of training the young. How magnificently he conjured up visions of ballerinas dancing en pointe, sylph like across the stage  or drunken sailors stumbling about town on twenty four hour shore leave.  One especially memorable lesson had him leaping in the air like a true Cossack peasant dancer, striking his calves in a rhythmic percussion which he then promptly mimicked with bow and string to the delight of us all. 

I never wanted to miss a lesson. 

Born in communist Romania, he was raised in a world dominated by an iron fisted dictatorship. His parents were well educated and held privileged governmental positions that ensured an upper class apartment and even some luxuries from time to time. At age 12 he was selected to enter an exclusive governmental boarding school where he would be trained as an elite musician who would one day represent the communist ideals of Nicolae Ceacescu on an international stage.  Far from the nurturing arms of his mother and father, he cultivated for himself a deep love of music and math that sheltered
him from the harsh realities of the solitary existence of boarding school.

Many a lesson Adrian would impress upon us the lacsadaisical ways of North American parents with respect to education. He would regale us with stories from his youth about chain smoking professors throwing lighters into the grand piano and demanding an immediate regurgitation of every note it had struck. And if he ever had the audacity to attend class without acquiring the appropriate techniques covered in the previous weeks lessons, the professor would toss Adrians violin into its case and heave it out the classroom door with nary a word. The implicit threat behind this tale was loud and clear. We worked hard never to come to class unprepared. 

In his twenties, Adrian began touring Europe, performing for dignitaries and royalty, enjoying the freedom to travel outside of Romania which was not available to the proletariat masses. However, the party bureacrats ensured his faithful return home behind the iron curtain by never allowing his young wife and newborn son to travel with him. As the Ceacescu reign of terror became more and more ruthless towards its citizens, Adrian was able to secretly acquire fake visas enabling him to spirit his young family out of the country. 

Eventually Adrian settled down in the little village of Chilliwack, far from the pomp and circumstance of the life he had before. He began to teach a motley crew of disciplined Asians and privileged white children in the art of violin. We were assigned to his class in '94 as Suzuki students who would be schooled in the Japanese philosophy of "mother tongue" music training by our Eastern educated Romanian mentor. 

It was a match made in heaven. 

Over the next 20 years, weekly lessons eventually became Tri-weekly (and often more) as the children grew older and more skilled.  I furiously scribbled notes on every word he said in class,  repeating every new tip and technique to my kids in our practices at home. By the time I had filled my fourth notebook with his detailed instructions, Adrian asked me what on earth I was all writing!  He had begun to suspect that I was planning to publish a Suzuki training manual based on his unique teaching methods. Eventually Adrian, ever the suspicious casualty of communism, insisted I hand over my notes.   I did so quite happily since I knew it would engender his trust in my genuine intentions. 

At every lesson we ended up talking philosophy, history, mathematics, politics, education, religion and everything in between. The minute you entered his classroom he made you feel like you were the most important person in his world. It made you want to perform your very best. It made you jealous to share him with his other students. To please the teacher became our top priority. He gave us his heart and we in return wanted to make him proud. That meant more practice. Lots more practice!

Adrian's exacting standards were not easy to achieve. Lawrence, the oldest of our troupe, caught on the quickest.   At six years old he started with a twenty minute session and soon progressed to one hour. Scales and arpeggios, shifting and harmonics all became techniques to be conquered. The more challenging, the better. Adrian loved his courage and in response, demanded even more. Some days were more problematic than others.  If at the lesson, a certain fingering execution seemed impossible to play, Adrian would drive him hard till his face would flush and tears would begin to form. "Be a man!" Came the firm, Securitate-like command "Just be a man and do it again until it works. No tears!"

The girls were treated with the same firm demeanour which was more challenging for their soft countenances. As the grew and progressed to increasingly more difficult pieces, their hormones began to play a bigger part in the scheme of things. When ambitious pieces rife with technical road
blocks were commenced, they often found themselves struggling to hold back the waterworks. One day Adrian brought an empty bottle to lessons planning, he explained, to capture all the tears they cried for safekeeping. When they faltered on a simple scale progression, he would tap his music bag as a reminder of the imaginary gun contained inside which he would be forced to use should they stumble too many more times. 

Adrian's rather unorthodox teaching methods were not for the faint of heart but were most definitely the main source of our many successes. He understood the tools we would need to progress in our technique yet always balanced the lesson with stories of courage, strength, bravery and beauty. He regaled us with tales from history and opened our eyes to the mysterious exquisiteness of God's creation as he saw it in music, science and math. He blew our minds with something new and amazing time and time again.

Over the years it became clear that Adrian paid a dear price for his musical gift. His passionate interpretations came not only from an understanding of true beauty but also from a knowledge of the black heart of man. Adrian was haunted by dark spirits and spent most nights chasing away the shadows by busily composing and arranging music for his students. He was a spiritual man wrestling the ghostly demons that tried gain entrance into his mind most forcefully in the early hours of the morning. For him, pride and lust were the enemies he zealously grappled with day after day. 

Some days he won and some days he lost. 

At competition time his students would inevitably take home trophies and awards. Afterwards, Adrian would joyfully discuss the results, describing the performances like a hockey coach amusing his buddies with the details of an epic game. Suddenly he would pull himself up short and sheepishly say "I don't want to sound prideful but I know that I'm good at what I do."

Adrian's faith in God was something I found most inspiring. From the time he held the Bible up at class for me to swear allegiance on to the many discussions on doctrines and denominations, I knew he was a man who desired more than a dead religion but a new heart for himself.

One of the last stories Adrian told us was about a dream he had one  night. He dreamt he had died and  was standing at the golden gates of heaven listening to an accounting of all the sins he had committed in this life. It was clear from the long, ugly list that he was not worthy to enter paradise. And then suddenly from behind him came a pure quiet voice that said "Here, let ME take those for you."

It is my hope and prayer that some day we may together, all of us, enjoy a front row seat at the heavenly concert featuring the "Totalmente Bene" orchestra, dear Adrian as conductor, praising the saviour who washes us all to whiteness that snow can never capture!