Thursday, February 9, 2012

A life too short

On Sunday I will be attending a benefit concert in memory of Wallace Leung. He was my son's violin teacher for 7 years. 7 years.

Wallace was cool. He was a gifted conductor and teacher. He loved soccer. He loved AC/DC. He didn't fit the picture one usually has of a 'classical' musician. My son and he had an incredible bond that went beyond teacher-student. I think if Wallace was still alive he and my son would have been good friends as adults.

Wallace taught at the school I now teach at, and the school my son attended from pre-school until Grade 11. I still remember the day I was walking down the hall, and Wallace was walking towards me. He was a handsome man. A sharp dresser. I was about to speak to him about my son's dedication to his violin and his practising. Something I felt was unusual for a 10 year old boy. Before I had the chance Wallace asked if he could take my son on as a private student. And so it began.

We would drive over to Kitsalano weekly to Wallace's apartment. I would sit and mark papers, or read, or just listen to their lesson. It was so lovely. So poignant in hindsight. Their relationship was so true.

Then Wallace moved to a very funky apartment in the old part of the West-end. Sometimes I would drop my son off and go walk on the beach, but mostly I sat in the dining room and listened. Wallace would often tease my son that he needing to stop tapping his toe while he played. Wallace would comment that perhaps my son should be a fiddler. Little did he know. Little did he know.

My son entered a few concerto competitions under Wallace's tutelage. My son played in the youth orchestra where Wallace was the Musical Director. The violin and classical music were a huge part of my son's life. Wallace got him a partial scholarship to attend a classical music camp. That was the beginning of the end.

Something profound happened to my son at that camp that August. He wouldn't talk about it. His drive for the violin had shifted. As a mother I knew something was wrong. So, I phoned Wallace.

Wallace was getting busier and busier. His conducting career was taking off. He was becoming well known in Europe. Kyle was meeting with him once a month, or so, for lessons.

After our phone conversation Wallace asked me to bring Kyle over to his apartment so they could talk.
And they did. A young 16 year old man, and his mentor, a young 33 year old man. And they made plans. Plans for Wallace to stick by him, and support him, in whatever musical direction my son chose. "You can do anything" Wallace told him. "You can go anywhere in the music world, and I will help you get there." My son had been wounded at that music camp, but with Wallace could have started to heal.

After their talk, Wallace asked if we could drive him somewhere - he had an appointment. We did. I let him off at a corner, at a red-light. He was heading to New York to spend Christmas with his fiance's family.

It was the last time either of us saw him.

On the plane to New York he became ill. He thought it was a bad cold. He ended up in a New York hospital. He went into a coma. He died a month later of viral meningitis. It was over.

My son and I attended his funeral, and the reception afterwards. We had never met the young woman that Wallace was engaged to. She was an opera singer.

At the reception, my son, my 16 year old son, went up to her, to share his grief, to acknowledge hers. He said "This wasn't how it was supposed to be. He and I had plans". She said, "I know, he and I had plans, too." And they both wept. And I wept, as I am weeping now. A life too short.

My son has remained in contact with her over the past 10 years. There is a benefit concert on Sunday. My son had composed a piece of music for Wallace that was released on my son's last album. He had sent it to her. She asked that it be played at the benefit concert. My son would not do that for just anyone, but he will do it for her, and for Wallace.

And I will be there. I will bring kleenex. Even after 10 years the tears still flow for all the things that died, all the plans that stopped, all the possibilites that ended that fateful day in January 2002.

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