July 1, 2020
At a very early age, my grandson, Julian began to ask me questions. “Nunu”, he asked (my grandkids call me Nunu), “how old are you”? That was soon followed by, “Nunu, how old will you be when you die”? As Julian got older, he often asked other types of questions I could not answer and was obligated to look up, such as: What is chocolate made of? Where does vanilla comes from? The vanilla plant, incidentally, is a member of the orchid family, something I did not know. Thanks, Julian.
Soon, Julian’s world-view widened enough for him to ask how much money I earned, how much my violin was worth, and whether I was middle or upper class. The questions were getting harder and harder to answer. As a child, Julian could not have known that some of these questions were of a personal nature, and ones that no adult would dare ask. But I didn’t mind. On the contrary, I admired Julian for his curiosity and his intelligence.
When Julian was seven or eight, he asked something of a very different nature. “Nunu, are you famous?” I’ve noticed that surprisingly young kids are already intrigued by the glittering qualities of fame. My daughter, Natasha, at more or less the same age as Julian, asked me the same question. Foolishly, I launched into a nuanced description of fame that Natasha almost immediately interrupted. “Daddy”, she said impatiently, “when you die I’m going to call my car Arnold”.
I answered Julian more succinctly than I had Natasha thirty-five years earlier. “I don’t know if you could call me famous, Julian, but I’m certainly well known in my world of music”. This only somewhat satisfied Julian, for he pursued the subject further. “Nunu, do you have medals, awards, or trophies that I could see?”
Yes, I told Julian, I have some of those things. They are squirreled away somewhere in one of my desk drawers. Undoubtedly, I received each one of those competition medals, recording nominations, musical awards, etc. with pride and gratitude at the time.
Most recently, the Colburn School where I’ve taught for the past ten years, presented me with an Honorary Doctorate and the 2019 Richard D. Colburn Award for my contribution to the school. With gratefulness for the honor bestowed upon me, I’ve placed the beautifully inscribed glass plaque in my den where it will certainly reside for some time. But sooner or later, it will inevitably join all the other awards I’ve collected in a desk drawer where they lay for better or worse out of sight, out of mind.
As far as I can remember, Julian was the only one who ever asked to see these objects of recognition. What could I do but open the desk drawer and pull them out one by one for Julian to inspect and admire. The medals for competition prizes were surprisingly heavy, beautifully inscribed, and set in elegant cases with soft padding inside so that they could reside in comfort waiting for the time when their recipient would take them out to caress, admire, and remember the occasions they were connected to. There were multi faceted cut glass awards- Julian liked the way the light was magically altered as it passed through the glass. Then there were certificates for good work, commendations regarding concerts performed for worthy causes, and a rolled up scroll held in place by a red ribbon: the Esther Award. An elderly man had come back stage after a Guarneri String Quartet concert in Los Angeles, and presented each of us with the Esther Award. I thanked the man and told him I had never heard of the Award. “My wife, Esther, passed away several years ago- may she rest in peace”, he said with great feeling. “To honor her memory, I present the Awards to those special artists I admire”. That scroll with its red ribbon has a special place in my heart.
Julian and I eventually put the various objects back in the drawer and closed it. Since then, no one else has ever asked to see them. And why would they? These artifacts of past accomplishments are only of possible interest to me, and even I am conflicted about them. On the one hand, the idea of bringing out those padded cases with their oh-so-impressive medals inside in order to remind me of past glories or to display them proudly to unsuspecting visitors, doesn’t appeal to me. The past is the past. On the other hand, I’m reluctant to throw out these things that chronicle my professional journey as a violinist and musician. And so, they will undoubtedly reside in that drawer till I die, and the problem of how to dispose of them will be left to the rest of my family.
I have an idea based on the ancient Egyptian pharaohs who took objects into their pyramids so they could better enjoy the after life. Why not line my casket (it will be padded, of course, just like those plush medal cases) with all my medals, awards, certificates of achievement, and trophies. I would have the luxury of an eternity to either admire them or figure out what to do with them.
Julian can be in charge of their placement.
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