“Play it again, Sam”: Humphrey Bogart (“Rick”), Sean Astin (“Samwise Gamgee”) … and Teresa (again)

It is always available to us, when life deals us a tough hand, to become bitter, cynical and self-absorbed. Sort of like Rick, at the beginning of the classic movie Casablanca. Rick, the character played by Humphrey Bogart, and Ilsa, played by Ingrid Bergman, had fallen in love, several years earlier, in Paris. At the time, Ilsa believed that her husband had been killed trying to escape from a Nazi concentration camp. But soon after Rick and Ilsa had fallen in love, with the German army on the verge of capturing Paris, Ilsa learned that her husband was in fact alive and in hiding. She left Rick, disappearing without any explanation, to tend to her ill husband. As the story progresses, Rick eventually emerges from his bitterness and provides a phenomenally inspiring example of what it means to act in a completely selfless way.

And then there is the inspiring character Samwise Gamgee, so beautifully crafted in the J.R.R. Tolkien book “The Return of the King” (The Lord of the Rings, Part Three), and so magnificently played in the movie by Sean Astin. Samwise’s passionate declaration, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you,” has been a phenomenal inspiration to so many people!

But what about “real life?” Have you ever known anyone who contended with difficult circumstances in the sort of inspiring way which we associate with the greatest of our fictional characters? We can’t say we’ve ever known anyone we’d describe like that … but only because the heroes and heroines of fiction pale in contrast to Teresa. And, when it comes down to it, they pale in contrast to Josh (Teresa’s husband), too.

We blogged about Teresa earlier (see “Great piano teachers: Franz Liszt, Robert Hamilton, and … Teresa” … if you haven’t read that post, well, please do read it!).

For those of you who have wondered “where we’ve been” … we haven’t posted anything to this blog for a number of months … well, we just haven’t had the words to express our grief at Teresa’s passing, or the full extent of the (still-inexpressible) esteem we have for her, which has, for us, re-defined the word “awe.” And for us to write about anything else before writing about that … no, that’s been completely out of the question.

The cancer finally took Teresa, on the 16th of August. But until it did… Hers were not the sort of “difficult circumstances” with which our fictionalized characters must wrestle. What she had to deal with, physically and emotionally, was, to say it plainly, horrific. Her family was visited by this horror-beyond-measure, as well, of course, as were her friends. At one point, our Dad said to Josh that he could not imagine what Josh had been going through. Josh replied that he had been forced to imagine. Almost an impossibly painful task, to hold Teresa’s hand and care for her every step of the way, during her two full years in Stage Four of cancer, as Josh did. But, as Josh would of course agree, Teresa’s burden was monstrously worse.

The thing about it… Through it all, Teresa used every available moment to love and take care of those around her. (I wish you could talk with her piano students, and the parents of her piano students… She taught as many of her students as she could until one week before she passed on!)

Teresa seemed to see each next moment in life as an opportunity to give absolutely everything she had to others. We saw her talk with child after child, giving each her complete attention. In the presence of the opportunity to bring her kind and loving encouragement to the person in front of her, she over and over again forced aside the constantly searing pain which often kept her awake at night, screaming in anguish. Every time we saw her do this, it was as though the sun was rising in all it’s glory, and every vestige of darkness simply ceased to exist.

What an extraordinary role model Teresa has been for us, including as musicians! It’s the smallest of examples, but… One evening, at our then-“regular” venue, Teresa discovered that, two weeks earlier, Johnny had begun to play George Gershwin’s marvelous “Rhapsody in Blue.” She immediately asked Johnny, who was sitting at the piano, having just finished playing a bit of Beethoven for everyone, to please play “Rhapsody in Blue” for her, saying, “I love that piece!” Johnny laughed, and said he’d barely begun to work on it. He said, “I’ve only worked on two or three pages of the 31-page score, and couldn’t play more than about a minute for you!” Teresa responded, “Would you please play that much for us?” Now Teresa, having been a piano teacher for many years, knew perfectly well that classical musicians have a rule, pretty much a hard and fast rule, which is that pieces are not to be played in public before they are “performance-ready.” And one especially does not play a barely-worked-on piece in front of a large audience! (I mean, in the living room for a family member, maybe, but…) Teresa said, “That’s okay, play as much as you can for us.” Now… Teresa’s physical condition was so bad… Though none of us talked about it, we all knew that, each time we played for her, it could be the last time. But she wasn’t making the request for that reason. She was deliberately teaching us a hugely important lesson. She wanted us to know that, from her point of view, it didn’t matter at all how “perfectly” we might play something, but rather that, in every moment of our life, we should give people everything we’ve got right now! Johnny responded by playing his heart out for about a minute. (It was one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen a musician do! As to the mistakes he made … it was amazing to us to see that nobody cared!) For the next many months, Johnny always went to the venue prepared to play however much he could of “Rhapsody in Blue,” because he knew Teresa would ask him to. And she always did. (You can imagine what this did to Johnny’s practicing of the piece! It truly spiked his motivation … he worked so hard to make sure that, whatever percentage he managed to play, it would be as beautiful as it could possibly be … “beginner’s mistakes” notwithstanding!) It was amazing to see the way in which not only Teresa, but the other members of the audience, embraced this process! Sometimes, Johnny would make a pretty flagrant mistake, and he’d just laugh out loud … and the audience, delightfully, would join in the laughter. There was lots of talk about all the progress Johnny was making. And then, the unexpected happened, truly a miracle from our point of view. Johnny was asked to play “Rhapsody in Blue” with one of our State’s finest professional orchestras, The Symphony of the Southwest! The request was, among other things, truly funny, because the “solo piano” version of the piece, which is what Johnny had been playing up to that point in time, is different from the piano-orchestra version, so it was, in many ways, “back to square one.” So, in the months before Johnny soloed with the orchestra, Teresa encouraged him to play each next section of the “new” version for people at the venue. This culminated in over 120 of the “regulars” from the venue, including Josh and Teresa, attending the orchestral performance! (A wonderful video was made of that performance, and Johnny also recently completed a gorgeous video-recording of the solo-piano version. We’ll be posting them here, and on YouTube, as soon as we can.)

Back to the movie Casablanca The famous mis-quote from the movie is “Play it again, Sam!” But Teresa always understood, on the deepest level, that before a person can be asked to play a wonderful piece again, well, they’ve got to learn to play it for the first time! And before they can even do that, they’ve got to get a lot of work “under their belts” … learning to play such things as scales, and to take on all the “beginning” technical things which a young piano student must learn. She had a commitment to teaching young students, and she did that for all of her adult life. And… Just as she asked Johnny to give everything he had, even though he’d just begun… She gave everything she had to her students, even realizing that she was quite possibly reaching the end of her time here on the Earth. As I said above, she kept teaching as many of her students as she could, contributing every last drop, until one week before she passed on.

Although Teresa simply didn’t talk about death … she figured that, while she was alive, every moment should be spent on life, which left no room for “side conversations” about the possibility of her demise. But she did say one amazing thing to our Dad one evening… Grinning, she said, “IMAGINE! Piano lessons, in Heaven, with BACH!” By now, I’m guessing she’s had a whole series of those lessons! It will be a great pleasure, some day way into the future, to hear her play again! And… Hopefully, while in Heaven, she’ll manage to give piano lessons to Dooley Wilson! In case you don’t know who that is… He played the role of Sam in the movie Casablanca, so he was the one who Rick and Ilsa, in turn, asked to play “As Time Goes By!” But… While he was a fine actor and singer, Dooley Wilson was a drummer, and couldn’t play the piano at all! Which was why, in the movie, the camera never went to his hands at the piano! (How hilarious that, in the scenes which are no doubt the most iconic piano-related moments in the movies, the actor who appeared to be playing the piano, didn’t play a single note!) But… IMAGINE… Getting to teach Dooley Wilson, in Heaven, how to play “As Time Goes By!”

And… What a profound comfort, and source of ongoing happiness, to Teresa, to be able to look down and watch Josh continue to teach piano to her students, as well as his own, here in “real life!”

Teresa, we love you dearly, and we miss you more than we can even begin to say. We thank God for your presence in our lives, and for Josh and Rebecca and Joy and Angela’s presence, and Priscilla’s, too, and for all of your other family members and friends who have become dear to us, as well. And we are thankful for the knowledge that it is more than your memory which lives on, and continues to accompany and inspire us.

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  1. Comment by Joy Wilson:

    Thank you so much for thinking of my mom and for posting this beautifully written piece about her. You have brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my heart. I miss her deeply too. Thank you for sharing your experiences of her.


    Posted on November 26, 2008 @ 8:20 pm
  2. Comment by Derek Cronin:

    Watching others touch the lives of those around us in such a profound way is an amazing opportunity. I did not get the pleasure of meeting Teresa, but with the love that these memories were shared in, I feel as if I was right there in the audience laughing with and cheering for Johnny. More importantly, I can see Teresa shining as a person and delighting in her student. Music is such a powerful gift to give and now every song her students play will be a tribute honoring her. Thank you for sharing from the heart about Teresa.

    Posted on November 26, 2008 @ 10:13 pm
  3. Comment by b r o n w y n:

    teresa wilson is an inspirational mother, artist and musician and her three beautiful daughters will carry on her legacy. the wilson family is constantly in my thoughts and prayers. i will always think of teresa when i wear the handmade necklace she gifted to me the christmas i spent in arizona with my “family” blessings and peace.


    Posted on November 28, 2008 @ 7:09 pm

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