Sometimes it’s a bit painful to look back on life and recognize a potential missed opportunity—a treasure overlooked. As an adult, I know intellectually that there is no way to change the past. My thoughts however lingered recently on what I didn’t know as a kid and how a lack of knowledge could have shaped my future.
It all started with Ansel Adams. The Hyde Museum in Glens Falls was exhibiting the photographic works of Ansel Adams. Having only a few days before my job got busy again at the farm, I decided to do some research on the show and take myself to the Hyde for an afternoon. Heading straight to the museum’s website, I realized that there was more than just an Ansel Adams exhibit. The museum had brought together a large body of painterly photographers known as the Photo-Secessionists and curated a show of oil paintings titled Winter Light. Looking over the array of exhibits clinched my decision to drive over to the Hyde immediately.
Visiting the Hyde Museum is always a bittersweet experience for me. Enjoying many hours of my life looking at this impressive collection, ducking in and out of rooms and fantasizing about living in the original house is the sweet part. Yet, I often feel a little saddened by the state of affairs of the neighborhoods around the museum, specifically the paper mill with the spewing of smelly biproducts from the smoke stacks and the rundown condition of some of the housing near by. In my mind’s eye, the entire Warren Street corridor is thriving with middle-class homes and businesses, and I hold out hope that the rebirth happening downtown will eventually encourage some sprucing up around the Hyde.
Today, while poking around on the Hyde website, another aspect of this extraordinary gem came to mind, The de Blasiis Chamber Music Series. The Chamber Series was started by the de Blasiis family of Glens Falls when they began inviting local and national artists to perform at the First Presbyterian Church on Glen Street. Later, the series moved to the Hyde Museum and it continues to thrive there today.
First Presbyterian Church of Glens Falls
The crowning jewels of the de Blasiiis family and the Concert Series were Giovannina (Gio) and Virginia (Ginny) de Blasiis. To me, they embodied musical genius and refinement. Ms. Virginia de Blasiis was a fine violist and her sister Gio was an equally accomplished pianist. Ms. de Blasiis was my violin teacher at Jackson Heights Elementary School, and she taught every violin, viola, and cello student in the entire public school system.
Ms. de Blasiis introduced me to the violin and was an infinitely patient woman. The best and most formative memories that I have of Jackson Heights Elementary School revolve around music: playing in the orchestra, eating lunch with fellow violinists and Ms. di Blasiis every Friday for extra lesson time and occasional moments of actually picking up my teacher’s instrument and playing it. In fact, during this period of my life, I loved music so much that I wanted to become an orchestra conductor.
Jackson Heights Elementary School
What I knew about Ms. de Blasiis when I was a young student was very limited. I knew that she had a really amazing sounding violin. I knew that she had a musical family. I knew that she must have practiced a lot because her calloused fingers tips and left mandibular bone indicated years of dedication. And I knew when she played the violin it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Having no reference point for any of these attributes, there was no way for me to know what it meant to study with Ms. de Blasiis, until today.
While looking over the de Blasiis Concert Series website, I came across a biographical statement of Virginia. This is what I learned:
Ms. de Blasiis studied at the Curtis Institute, The Juilliard School, and Skidmore College. She was concertmaster of the Vermont Symphony, played with the Schenectady and Glens Falls Symphonies, and taught in the Glens Falls school system.
Even a few years ago, this information might not have packed such a powerful punch. However, by witnessing my stepson, Christopher, preparing and applying to conservatories all over the country, I have come to understand what it means to attend Curtis Institute and The Juilliard School. It means that you are among the finest musicians in the country—the top of the heap!
Taking this one step further, to study with a graduate of Curtis and Juilliard is a serious privilege. Parents who wish to pay big bucks to help their son or daughter pursue a conservatory experience seek out teachers like Ms. de Blasiis. And here she was. The cost was nothing to play the violin in our public school and receiving her instruction was just part of the package. I can’t help but wonder what she thought about teaching a lot of violin hacks (myself included).
Although mostly, I wondered what I could have accomplished musically if I had practiced more and appreciated the opportunity before me. The thought stings. Unfortunately, this is how life is dealt out. Children have no way of understanding the depth of potential in a scenario such as this. Likely, most adults (parents) don’t even have a reference point to know the value of a conservatory-educated music teacher. I must accept with some small level of regret that I missed that boat, and it isn’t coming back.
As I walked the grounds of the Hyde Museum after viewing the glory of Ansel Adams and all the spectacular exhibits inside, I felt lifted up. I see now that Ms. de Blasiis is just like this great institution. Virginia was an island of beauty, artistry and genius surrounded by the grit of everyday life. And, like the Hyde, she continues to inspire through the de Blasiis Concert Series and enrich the lives of those who seek cultural nourishment here in our hometown.