Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Mr. LaRatta: In Fond Remembrance

I have been truly remiss in updating here, and it is with great sadness - and happiness - that I reflect on the life of Mr. Tom LaRatta. After sharing his music, his wisdom, and his awfully funny wisecracks with all of us lucky enough to know him, he is resting peacefully. 
Before my full-length recital -
Mr. LaRatta made me believe I could do it!

It was because of Mr. LaRatta that I learned to believe in myself again, as a pianist. It was he who encouraged me to embark on a Master's degree in Fine Arts at Notre Dame de Namur University, to expand my world in analysis, musicology, and performance. Those whom I admire greatly and have learned so much from have also been nurtured by Mr. LaRatta. These individuals include my mentors Dr. Michael Schmitz,  Mr. Thomas Hansen, and Dr. Robert Hartwell; they are academic leaders and wonderful pianists. 

What I find so special about Mr. LaRatta is that he met you where you were at. He did not seem to have preconceived notions about who you were; if you wanted to learn, he would help you, and guide you in a way that worked for your personality and current state of being. 

As his student I was constantly challenged and at the same time, I felt incredibly nurtured. He was a close friend, a dear uncle or grandpapa. My biggest fear was to disappoint him. I wanted to work hard, not only because I wanted to make beautiful music and to become ever stronger, but also because I wanted to make him proud. 

He never said anything for the sake of filling in silence, or simply to make anyone feel better. He might have said certain things to make you feel better - because he cared - but it would absolutely be constructive. I always came away knowing what I needed to work on, or what to think about. 

I often hear Mr. LaRatta's voice - probably daily, now that I think on it - and not only when I'm practicing. After all, he taught me so much about how shifting one's perceptions about the many challenges and interesting situations in life can make all the difference. 

When I'm troubled, I hear him say, "Take a paper bag, put all your troubles in there, and leave it at the door. Do what you need to do, then you can pick up the bag on your way out. It'll still be there!"

When I feel that I lack confidence, I remember what he would say to me when I was nervous before performing. I see his face, looking very serious, as he asks me: "Have you practiced? Do you know what you're doing?" I would nod mutely. His expression would blossom into joyous amusement, and I would hear his raspy voice chide: "Well, then go DO it, you Goony-bird!!" 

So much of what Mr. LaRatta taught us transcends every part of life. I will always be grateful for what I have learned and continue to learn from him. I am honored to have to known him ... even if it was only for a little while. I look forward to continuing to remember and to share his wisdom, generosity, and droll humor with anyone who would understand and benefit from his gifts. 

Thank you, Mr. LaRatta. It was my honor and pleasure to have learned "Ducks On a Pond" from you! =D