Curatolos coda: Teacher returns for annual recital
ASPEN Heidi Curatolo doesn’t remember much from her stay at Aspen Valley Hospital in December.Curatolo, who suffers from the gastrointestinal condition Crohn’s disease, had a raging fever as she recovered from surgery – her 10th, this one to repair scar tissue from previous operations.But it didn’t surprise the 29-year-old Aspenite to learn that what she apparently had on her mind was her violin students.”When I was really sick and didn’t know if I was going to make it – high fever, speaking gibberish – one of the nurses told me that kept talking about how I had this concert for my students, and I had to be OK by May,” she said.The recital for Curatolo’s violin studio will, in fact, take place – at 2 p.m. Monday (today), at the Aspen Chapel. But even after she recovered from December’s surgery, and despite her wish to be well enough to lead the performance, the concert was not a given. Curatolo landed in the hospital again in January – and February, and March. Last month, however, her strength began to return. The timing of her relative wellness and the fourth annual concert for her students seems no coincidence. Curatolo says 99 percent of her motivation to be healthy comes from the 30 students – ranging from age 5 to adult – who make up her studio.”I think that’s what’s been keeping me going,” said the Brooklyn native, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 1998, a week before beginning her first summer as a student at the Aspen Music Festival. “It’s very rewarding to see my students do what I did as a kid, and feel good about themselves.”Curatolo has gone to some lengths to keep her students on track. She listens to them play over the phone, and gave one lesson in her hospital room, while she was hooked up to an IV. In January, her doctor released her from the hospital so she could perform with several students who were playing in the Symphony in the Valley’s Young Artists Concerto competition.But Curatolo adds that, even when she was unable to be there for her students for weeks at a time, her students have been there for her – by practicing and improving. She credits the parents of the younger students, and her own practice of playing with the students during the lessons, rather than just lecturing them. She also believes that her condition motivates the students.”It makes them want to do it more, probably,” she said. “We accomplish a lot while we can, because they don’t know if it’s going to be a long time before the next lesson.”Curatolo is pleased with her students’ progress. One, 11-year-old Sylvia Tran, has been playing just three years, but was recently accepted into the Aspen Music Festival’s Passes & Lessons Program, which provides local music students with tickets and instruction. Three – Jaynie Muir, 11; Courtnay Edwards, 9; and Daly Maron, 12 – will attend the Suzuki Violin Institute at Beaver Creek next month. (Monday’s concert also will highlight Maron, playing the Bach Double Concerto with Curatolo.)Curatolo moved here six years ago, to take a job as a math teacher in Aspen and Basalt schools. But after two years, her strength was sapped, and she quit that job to focus on teaching violin. She never imagined the studio would grow so big, but she considers it a blessing – even a life-saver – that she is able to devote herself to an occupation that is so rewarding.Curatolo’s condition adds a certain depth to the relationship she has with her students. The parents often bring her food; several students have expressed a desire to go into medicine. Sylvia Tran’s mother, Mei-Ying Tran, set up an account at Alpine Bank to help pay Curatolo’s bills when she cannot. (Today’s concert is free, though donations for the fund will be accepted.)”We’re really a family,” she said. “I never have to be strict with them.” Despite how her studio has grown, and her precarious health, Curatolo is still taking new students. The agreement always comes with a caution, but Curatolo holds out hope of making all her lessons.”I always tell the students they’ve got to be prepared for these hiatuses,” she said. “It’s periods of doing a lot of work, then periods where we don’t work much.”And we never know. Next year might be a year with no problems.”Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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