In memoriam

One of my voice teachers, Helen Hodam, has died. This is what she looked like mid-life:

She was so cute. This is how I remember her:

She was still cute. She had a petite voice, a warm smile and a twinkle in her eye.

My first voice teacher, Darlene Wiley, warned me she was "persnickety" but a good teacher. And she was right. Ms. Hodam had a very clear goal in mind for each of her students and was persistently resolute in ensuring that goal was present in each lesson. She was also very outspoken and forthright, never hesitating to tell someone exactly what she thought. As a result, she produced some very amazing students.

She was one of the hardest-working and most independent people I've ever met, and I knew her in her 80s. At that time, she kept a full studio at New England Conservatory and would also teach privately on weekends at her home in Coolidge Corner. Each weekday she would walk two blocks to the T, taking it to the Hynes Convention Center stop, and then walk three-quarters of a mile to the Conservatory, no matter the weather. On rainy days, she had a transparent, plastic rain bonnet she would tie beneath her chin. On snowy days, she wore snow booties and carried her narrow shoes in a bag. On cool days, she'd keep her lunch, a yogurt, on the windowsill, where the air was cold enough to refrigerate it until consumption. Most times it was blueberry.

Once, she left her diary in a cab. It was in this book in which she kept all her appointments. It was the same small black book she'd used for years. She was very flustered and visibly frustrated as a result--a rare appearance for her. She told me several times how she had called the cab company, hoping the book had been turned in. It never was.

She was notoriously frugal. All of her students noticed that her weekly schedule was written in pencil in her classic hand on the same raggedy sheet of paper. And when a change was made, she would calmly erase marks and write a new name, sometimes going over it twice when the name was hard to see on the now-grey paper. I am convinced she used the same scheduling sheet for the duration of our relationship.

Ms. Hodam kept a small file on top of her piano that contained folders named for each current student. In each folder were copies of the music the student was working on at the time. Some were suggestions she had made and others were pieces selected by the student. It was with her that I learned how to pick repertoire.

As time went on, friends and I noticed that her memory was not as strong as it once had been. She would begin to confuse students in lessons. She would think I was Claire and then wonder why I didn't know any of the arias she was playing. And play she did, despite the limited flexibility in her fingers. Her reading was quite good and her interpretation was always very musical.

Two and a half months after my last lesson with her she suffered a stroke in her home and fell. Thankfully, a repairman scheduled to work in her home discovered her and help was called. I never had the chance to to study with her again. She never taught again. She spent some time in a rehabilitation center and was then moved to a long-term care facility.

Ms. Hodam always called me her "last coloratura" and I was proud to be so. I still am.


Diana said...

What a touching tribute to a great teacher.

Andy said...

Well said, Alecia.Your words would make her proud.

magickat said...

That was a truly beautiful tribute. It sound as though she made a very strong impact on you. Best wishes.