Over the past few days, thoughts of one particular person have been recurring to me making me realise how much I miss this person and what a big change he brought in my life. As I penned my thoughts in my personal diary,I thought I should blog about him too.
As the title of my post says, he was someone who built me and shaped me in several ways. I’m talking about my music teacher, Mr.Cleophas Antony. Almost all of his students call him “uncle”, only a few call him sir. He was beloved Cleo uncle to me. He was a virtuoso not just in one instrument, but many. These are the instruments I have seen him play- piano, guitar, violin, cello, but I bet there’s more that I don’t know of! He reigned as the western classical music King in South India.
He was also an excellent choir master.He not only taught music but English too. One of the reasons why I developed a profound love for English was listening to uncle speak. My dad was taught English in college by him and I always think dad was lucky to be his student. When I hear all sorts of stories about his English classes, I either stand amazed or burst out laughing. Uncle was humorous enough to tickle people’s funny bone every once in a while.
Here’s a photo of uncle, in the front row playing violin and his daughter next to him playing the cello.
After his teaching profession ended, his life was ALL about music. I was his piano pupil. When he played, his fingers would just dance on the keys. I can sit there forever watching him play! But that doesn’t happen all the time, my turn would come and usually I’ll have a long list of mistakes pointed out! Later he went on to train me in singing too. Now, I get to have piano and singing lessons! So you can imagine all the fun times I had in class. That doesn’t mean he was always joking around, when it comes to music, he’s all strict and strives to bring out perfection in his students.Should admit, I wasn’t good in piano.
I used to sing in my school choir but that was all. I just sing with everybody in chorus, never thought I was solo material or anything. So when asked if I would join the church women choir, I was happy about it, because anyway I will have several people singing with me. After that, I also became a part of the Tirunelveli Choral Society that was led by uncle. For some reason(that I still cannot fathom), uncle thought I should try out some solo parts. I really wasn’t that good. When he’d ask me to sing something, my voice would sound so not good that the others girls used to giggle.(Now, they were all little girls, most of them in their school years, so they probably didn’t know what they were doing). It used to hurt. Sometimes I’d get so angry at uncle for making me go through such embarrassment. When I couldn’t take it anymore, one day I went near uncle when no one was around and told him, “Uncle, you know I can’t sustain notes, you know my range is not good, you know my voice always sounds nasal, then why do you still make me sing alone? I can’t do it uncle, please.” Uncle did not even listen to me. He kept saying, “No.no.no. we’ll practice.” Sigh. After a few minutes of giving it some thought, he said, “Yes there are singers far better than you in our choir. Maybe you cannot sing like them ever, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. You have a unique and strong voice which I’m fond of. Just give it a try. I believe you can.”( We didn’t speak in English, we were speaking in our native language Tamil, I just translated it for you.) That was really amazing to hear. Here was this man who believed in me even when I didn’t. Wow.
So just as he said, I kept trying. The first solo he gave me was one verse(the last one) from O Holy Night. I was really scared to death. Two other girls sang the first and the second, so you can imagine the tension building up as the song advanced. After I sang the first two lines of the verse, my nervousness began to settle down, not bad I thought. Just then I started sensing that the piano sounded different. As the alto singers were getting weaker, uncle played the alto notes to guide them. OH.MY.GOSH.I completely blanked out and thought I’ll never sing the lines right if he doesn’t start playing the melody. I don’t know how it happened. But I finished the verse. In the right tune. Once again uncle proved he believed in me, he believed that I would manage though I was a novice. And manage I did.
After that he kept training me, encouraging me and telling me that I got what it takes. This character of him just made me love him all the more. From then on, God amazingly used me in several occasions to bring praise to Him through song. Everytime I sing , in group or solo, I remember Cleo uncle, his efforts to make me believe that I could sing. Every singing opportunity just humbles me more and more. You can read about one such experience here.(it’s a link, click on the word “here”)
There’s one other incident I would never forget. Cleophas uncle and Ruby aunty were celebrating their wedding anniversary and he had invited all his choir singers for a special dinner. He told us all during one of our Sunday practices, but after that he also went about inviting everyone personally. I was practising on the piano when he came, gave me a warm hug and told me “Kandippa vanthurunga chellam” which means “Do come for sure, dear”. That was totally unexpected. That minute I looked at him not as a music teacher but like a loving grandfather.
When my parents broke the news about his demise to me one morning, I screamed, not just cried, screamed. I couldn’t take it. I was planning to go visit him the next week, so I kept feeling guilty for months that I should have gone earlier. To see my dear jolly good fellow lying there in silence was agonising. I wanted to hug him and tell him how much loved he made me feel and how much of a difference he made in my life. I never told him. Wish I did. Tears break out as I type these lines. It’s been five years almost. I miss my uncle so very dearly. But the memories I’ll always carry in a special place in my heart.
Here is a video of Cleophas uncle playing Chopin. Look at him enjoying the piece. When you see this, you’ll know why I said his fingers dance on the keys!