Skip to content

Last wishes and little stars

The new year began with a funeral, which sounds sad but ended up being so uplifting. Mary Jane had been Olivia’s violin teacher, first in elementary school and later privately. Last summer, the day before Mary Jane was scheduled to have brain surgery for the cancer that was taking her bit by bit, she insisted on giving Olivia a lesson at her home. A week after the surgery, she called to schedule yet another lesson. At first I tried to insist that we hold off, but then I realized that this was exactly where Mary Jane wanted to be, with one of her students, doing what she loved to do.

When Mary Jane died last week, the school district sent out an email inviting her former students to come to St. Thomas the Apostle Church the day of the funeral and play “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” 10 minutes before the Mass was to begin. We emailed back immediately, saying that Olivia would be honored to play as long as there were other children there with her.

I loved the fact that one of Mary Jane’s last wishes was to have her students play one of the first songs she ever taught them. Not Beethoven or Bach, but a childhood favorite, probably the simplest song they would ever learn, ensuring that even her youngest students could participate.

The morning of the funeral we arrived 30 minutes early, as requested, only to walk into a sea of orchestra students, hundreds of children ranging in age from middle school through college. I was crying before I even helped Olivia take off her coat. What a testament to the power of a great teacher. We left Olivia with her current instructor to tune up and found our place in a pew.

A few minutes later, the children filed in — more than 50 cello players, at least 100 violins and I don’t know how many violas and basses. They filled the side chapel and stood ringing the entire main church. Then Mary Jane’s sister read the letter she left for her students. More tears. “When you can play Twinkle,” Mary Jane wrote, “you know you’ve made progress.”

The children lifted their bows, played the few short lines of the simple song, and then they filed right back out, but the beauty of what we had witnessed lingered long after the last note had ended.

Any teacher who has ever doubted the power he or she has to shape young lives and our world needs to remember this story. Those children didn’t come out to a funeral to play a few lines on their last day of winter break simply because Mary Jane had been a great teacher but because she had been a great person. She loved her students, really loved them. And she loved teaching them, and that clearly came through to those kids who wanted to be there to pay tribute to her.

Now whenever I hear “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” I’ll think of Mary Jane and of her reminder to her students — and to all of us — that sometimes mastering the simplest thing is a sign that we are making great progress.

Rest in peace, Mary Jane. You will be missed.

Be Sociable, Share!
8 Comments Post a comment
  1. I got goosebumps reading this….what a gift to the future!

    January 4, 2012
  2. I read her obit in the paper and knew that you knew her… What a tribute and the Twinkle Twinkle made me tear up.

    Peace and rest for her.

    January 4, 2012
  3. Amy #

    Perfect, those were beautiful words. Thank you.

    January 4, 2012
  4. Michele B. #

    I had my dancers do Twinkle, Twinkle today in class as my own personal tribute to Mary Jane. I’ll probably always think of her now when I do that song. Thank you for bringing a special moment to us readers.

    January 4, 2012
  5. Thank you so much for your kind words about my sister. Reading her letter without breaking down was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I did it for her. She was my first music teacher too. Her legacy will live on in all of those students who now love music because of her.

    January 10, 2012
  6. Mary Jane taught us all so many lessons about love, life, family and faith.

    January 10, 2012
  7. Thank you so much for this. Mary Jane was my Godmother and my mother’s high school best friend. She will be missed.

    January 13, 2012
  8. Amy #

    Mary Jane was my good friend, we were Crane students in the same Basic Musicianship class that ran for two years. She was also one of my freshmen suite mates. I was seated in the pew at her funeral with the rest of our freshmen Suite 222 girlfriends. We were all so moved by Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, none of us could hold back our tears. Even in death, Mary Jane taught us lessons, to honor our students and families with unending love, it is the greatest gift we can give. I would like to offer my thanks to Mary Jane’s students for playing for her that day, it was the most beautiful rendition of Twinkle I have ever heard.

    January 25, 2012

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS