A teacher and friend | AspenTimes.com

A teacher and friend

Tony Vagneur
Aspen, CO Colorado

We’d just gotten settled into the routine of first grade, down at the old Red Brick building, when upperclassmen began the inevitable sniping at us. “Yeah, elementary school’s not too hard until sixth grade. Then you’ll have Mrs. Frost. She’s tough.” There was no way around it and you might as well get used to the idea.

As I recall, sixth grade wasn’t all that bad and I even remember a couple of educational lectures that Mona Frost laid on us, one about the differences between the Arctic and Antarctica. The main lesson I learned was to never be intimidated by reputations of toughness in people, for somewhere in “toughness” was “the best” and that knowledge has served me well since.

But school wasn’t where Mona and I worked the magic of our relationship. Through convoluted discussions and thought processes now forever gone from memory, Mona Frost became my piano teacher. Some of the best-looking girls in school seemed to take lessons from Mrs. Frost and I seriously believed that she taught a “jazzier” type of classical music than I was getting with the previous instructor. I was thrilled to be her pupil, but the conversation wasn’t quite over. The only slot she had open was on Saturday afternoons, and that only because she had made an exception to her rule of no lessons on the weekend. It wasn’t quite working out like I’d envisioned, a bad-news addendum, really, but after all my positive thoughts, there was no choice other than to accept. Not enough Saturday for skiing and piano lessons both, though.

Actually, it worked out very well when I practiced, which was about half the time, her unforgiving demeanor encouraging me more than anything, or I’d have practiced even less. She thought I had talent, although she only mentioned it once, but her actions spoke louder than words would ever allow. As a seventh-grader, I was given the honor of playing the solo for eighth-grade graduation, a grace traditionally saved for the freshman girl pianist with the most talent. On the piano.

However, Mona Frost was a realist of the highest degree and knew my limitations. As summer approached, she offered that there was an annual scholarship offered by the Music Associates of Aspen to the most promising Aspen high school piano student. Mrs. Frost said that she would recommend me (and she was the one to do the recommending) for the scholarship, based strictly on talent and ability, even though I was a little young. But, of course, she followed that up with, “We both know, however, that your practice routine is suspect, as is your dedication to the piano. It would be a shame, Tony, to offer this scholarship to you, unless you can convince me otherwise.” We talked it over for the shortest time, me feeling quite honored actually, to even be having a conversation of such magnitude, but also thinking how appreciative I was that I’d be able to continue moving cows and putting up hay during the summer months. We parted friends.

We never had another conversation, she and I, but thankfully our paths did cross back then. She was a large influence on my life, an unlikely star really, and I kept tabs on her ever after. An Aspen native, she went on to become what I’m sure was a reluctant principal of the elementary school, became a 1995 inductee into the Aspen Hall of Fame, and undoubtedly touched many more lives.

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She died a couple of winters ago, and as I sat (at her funeral) in the back of the Community Church, an institution in which we both had a long history, I marveled at how, on such a sunny, Saturday afternoon, Mona Frost had once again beckoned me down from the mountain.