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Laurie Niles

Op. 1, No. 1

August 24, 2007 at 6:03 AM

"I think I found my first blog," I told Robert, lifting a paper from the large bin of old high school and college refuse that I was trying to sort through. The three pages of dot-matrix print, attached with a paper clip, were punched with holes for a three-ring binder and slightly discolored by time. I'd marked the assignment "self feature," something I'd written for a journalism class at Indiana University, in 1990.

I'm Sure You Will

"Have a seat, Laura," Elliott Galkin said without looking up.

I tripped over the chairs cluttered around the table in the spacious meeting room as I made my way towards him. This 10-minute interview would tell him whether or not I should be accepted into the graduate program for music criticism at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

Galkin sat calmly. He did not look much like the strong, handsome, middle-aged man pictured in the brochure I had received two months before. No, he was a shriveled old man who looked like a bullfrog.

Nevertheless, I was intimidated. Galkin's list of accomplishments was overwhelming. He had founded the Music Critics Association. He had written a book about this century's most prominent symphony conductors. He had founded the only graduate program in music criticism in the United States. He was an expert in his field. Now he was going to read my essay.

I pulled up a seat. Galkin shuffled through the manila folders in front of him, looking for the one with my name on it. He found it at the bottom of the pile. As he pulled out the essay that I had written, I was suddenly aware of my lack of wisdom and authority.

My accomplishments didn't quite compare with his. All I could remember at this critical moment was that I had worked at Disney World the previous summer and at McDonald's the summer before that.

Sure, I knew a little about music. I had played the violin for as long as I could remember. At Northwestern University I studied music. I devised an undergraduate program in music criticism so that I could learn to write about it. But this man knew more.

My essay was about Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Cliché. Galkin had probably heard the piece five hundred times before I was even born. I wanted to grab my paper back and say, "No, really, it's nothing. Never mind," and run out the door. But I couldn't turn back now.

He leafed through the pages of my essay. He nodded, shook his head, furrowed his brow and occasionally said, "Hmmm." I sat on the edge of my chair, paralyzed. Every muscle in my body was tense.

"What do you mean by 'magnificent simplicity?'" he asked, raising an eyebrow.

"I, umm...well," I responded. I was mute.

"And what note is that pedal tone in the last movement?" he asked. "Do you have perfect pitch?"

"Well, uh, not exactly," I said. "Is it a C?"

"Mmmmm," he said, shaking his little bald head.

I began to feel thoroughly stupid and miserable. I had to fight the tears that threatened to betray my distress. Then my temper flared up.

"Maybe I don't have perfect pitch and I don't know everything I should, but I want people to hear about music," I said, gaining courage with each word. "I know I can do this. I am here because I want to learn about music criticism. Isn't that what this program is for?"

Galkin finally looked into my eyes.

"That's the best thing you've said all day," he said.

"And I will work hard," I said, and I meant it. This was a deal. I would not let this man down.

"I'm sure you will," he smiled, "Goodbye."

Two weeks later I received my letter of acceptance. Three weeks later Elliott Galkin passed away. I didn't enter his graduate program, but I haven't forgotten my promise to him.

From molly moriarty
Posted on August 24, 2007 at 12:59 PM
Hi Laurie, What a neat blog. And what an experience!! Very cool, and I know that Prof. Galkin knew that you kept your promise. Thanks for sharing!! Keep up the good work, Molly
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on August 24, 2007 at 2:31 PM
There was an old English professor and I admired his writing. I knew what he looked like, and one day I saw him on campus and I introduced myself. He asked what I was doing. I think I'd just come from a robotics lab or something, and he said "So, you have artificial intelligence."
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on August 24, 2007 at 2:47 PM
I can't remember any of the rest of the conversation, but it was mostly my head swimming, like you describe.
From Kristin Mortenson
Posted on August 27, 2007 at 3:32 PM
What a great memory. My sister actually got her master's from Peabody in the criticism program with Galkin. She was there in the late '80s.

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Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine