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93-year-old Holocaust survivor Cornelia Vertenstein gave her last piano lesson on Feb. 1, 6:30. She He was not well, so he arranged for a ride to the hospital.
Settled in pneumonia, and families gathered, feeling the end of a quietly extraordinary life.
She Began teaching at the age of 14 in war-torn Romania. She Did not stop for 80 years. Finally, suited to the epidemic, Ms. Vertenstein gave lessons at FaceTime from her home in Denver.
After her condition worsened this month, she focused on her life’s work.
“Don’t be sad if I die,” he told his daughter Mariana. “I led a productive life while helping children.”
Near her hospital bed hung a copy of a New York Times story about Ms. Vertenstein, connected to her students through technology, which was published last May. It was on the front page, which had a large picture of him sitting on the piano, dressed in clothes, looking at the camera with folded hands.
Ms. Vertestine died on February 12. Count me in mourners, because I wrote that story.
I have never met Ms. Vertenstein in person; Our interviews took place on FaceTime and over the phone. But she left a lasting impression on me and many others she never met, seeing how wide and fast her story spread. This sparked an invitation to the “Today” show (he refused) and inspired a German telephone commercial, among other things.
His family teased him for being a celebrity, but he was uncomfortable with the attention.
“She said her daughter, ‘I just want to teach.’
With most of the stories that I have written, I remember having more reporting experience than what was published. My mind sees Ms. Wernstein’s smile. I still have it in my phone, a scangrab from one of our conversations.
I remember the first time I interviewed him, there were technical problems. I was late to connect on FaceTime. Staggering with my phone and laptop, I just called her. She Forgive my audacity.
I remember telling her during my last conversation that I would go to meet her the next time I would be in my hometown Denver. I still have a family in Colorado, so I try to go there several times a year. This was the last spring. Certainly the epidemic will subside, we thought. But I haven’t been to Denver since.
I also remember how this story came about. In late March, the epidemic Smoothie was living, I was searching for fresh story angles. It may be that the exponential powers of social media are put to good use.
“I am entertaining ideas, a community brainstorm,” I wrote on Facebook. “Know something the world should know that hasn’t been read and seen before?”
The first reaction came from Jackie Jorgensen, whom I met in 2015 when her boyfriend (now husband), Kevin Jorgson, climbed Yosemite’s El Capitan’s Don Wall with her climbing partner Tommy Calwell.
“Mind if I share?” She wrote. “I’ve got some weird weird friends.”
Other people also shared. Poured into thoughts. Most were the type who became acquainted last spring, about the serene acts of heroism – sewing masks, volunteering for food banks, engaging with needy neighbors.
In the end, I only changed one story.
This suggestion arose, in the 90s about a Holocaust survivor who lived alone and taught piano seven days a week. Unable to welcome his students to his home, as he had been for decades, he conducted lessons using FaceTime. And now the reverberation of spring was approaching.
The author of the note, Yvette Frampton, was a Facebook acquaintance of Ms. Jorgson. She had three children among dozens of Ms. Vertenstein students.
Soon, I was one of those students who was virtually involved in scheduled meetings.
Ms. Wertstein coordinated her teaching program and our conversations about the iPad’s battery life – always an idea, because the piano had no outlet. For example, if she has an opening between 2 and 4, she asks if we can speak at 3, so that her device can charge at the counter an hour earlier.
Students considered Ms. Vertenstein to be a little intimidating, at least at first, with her precise standards and strong accents. (English was one of the six languages she spoke.) She The type of teacher who appreciates parents and until they grow up, students cannot.
With me, however, she was talkative and sociable. She Spoken candidly about her life and her heartache. She I had patience with probing questions. His mind was sharp, his memory was clear.
All lives are worth more than a few paragraphs, but this one in particular. The faster I landed it, the faster I fit a newspaper word count.
“Children don’t know much about Ms. Wertestine’s past – as a teenager during the war she used to wear yellow stars, stones were thrown at them, the fists of fascism were transformed by the barbarism of communism,” she said last year. wrote .
This was only the reference for her piano lesson.
“It is very painful to talk about,” Ms. Wertenstein told me. “Besides, why should I tell such sad stories to those children?”
There is no way to know how many children entered her home for decades, learning Bach Meenu and Hayd Sonatas before walking out with a hug and a sticker and a sticker, or, perhaps, a life lesson altogether. Not even
She Certainly not allowing social-distilling protocols to be achieved through one-on-one piano lessons. Ms. Frampton and others helped teach Ms. Vertenstein to use FaceTime. Recruits performed on the zoom from dozens of living rooms were intriguing before the matrix of family members. But they worked.
Last May, Ms. Vertenstein hoped that she could soon welcome her students back to their homes. This never happened.
Her last student, it turns out, was Maggie Frampton, 14, featured in online singing last May. It was before FaceTime before school, two Mondays in the morning. Maggie later told her mother that Ms. Wertenstein was not feeling well. (Ms. Vertenstein’s family said they did not have COVID-19 and had recently received their first dose of vaccine).
Now Frampton’s children are among the 30 current students of Ms. Vertenstein in search of a new teacher.
“Some naive part of me thought he would live forever,” Yvette Frampton said.
It is also unclear whether Ms. Vertentine’s three pianos, including Chickening & Sons, which she and her husband bought for $ 600 in 1965, two years after landing in the United States, and two grand pianos were mostly used by older students or those. Were reserved for the people. To rehearse concerts or recruits.
On Tuesday, in a cold and foggy Colorado afternoon, family and some friends attended a graveside funeral, as others watched online. The rabbi quoted Plato’s musical “giving the soul the universe, wings to the mind, the flight of imagination” – the same line that Ms. Vertenstein had chosen for the program to sing last spring.
Before his small, plain coffin was lowered into the earth, alumni notes were read. One recalled how Ms. Vertenstein never liked the word “practice”.
You don’t practice, she will say. You make music.
She Sporadic text everywhere.