About 8 days ago, I found out that my childhood voice teacher, Maria D’Albert Matyas, had passed away. I was sitting in a Starbucks listening to a training call from Michael Bernoff waiting to go to a movie screening with a friend of mine when I received a call from my mom.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news….”
As she told me that she had heard from Maria’s husband earlier that she passed that morning, I sat there just weeping. The woman who taught me how to sing was no longer with us. Had it not been for her and her husband’s insistence, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today; they heard me singing in church (as I’ve been told by other parishioners, “rather loudly”) and cajoled my parents to sign me up for voice lessons with Maria, which I started at the ripe old age of nine or ten as a boy soprano.
I didn’t really know it was unconventional until I started sharing with my friends what it was I was doing afterschool every Monday afternoon. Turns out singing Italian arias in the female voice range isn’t exactly most kids’ idea of a good time.
It wasn’t until I went to DePauw that I realized what I had been doing with Maria; as I was taking lessons from her, I honestly had very little clue what was going on. It was much through sheer repetition of vocal exercises and repertoire that Maria managed to instill discipline and develop my instrument. I often wonder what kind of student I was; she must have had some kind of saintly patience to deal with me in those years. When I got to DePauw (on a partial music scholarship, another credit to her) and I actually started taking my study seriously, I started to pick up from my own voice teacher there, Dr. Jay White, that there were many things that Maria had taught me that I had no understanding of until Jay reflected them to me in a different way.
Unfortunately, when I decided to leave Chicago to go to DePauw, my relationship with Maria changed; given that she mentored and taught me through some very formative years of my life, she felt a sense of ownership about my progress. With that, though she may have never admitted it, she was a little resentful that I flew the coop to go to college elsewhere. I’d visit occasionally when I’d be home on breaks, or take a lesson here or there, yet our relationship was fundamentally different. With what I know now, I realize that we had grown apart, and neither of us was fully willing to accept the other person for where they were or who they had become, instead holding on to the ideas of the other we had developed and being frustrated that we didn’t stay that way.
In the last two or three years, Maria’s health wasn’t great, and on the few occasions we saw each other, our interactions were relatively stilted and mostly one-sided. She’d speak and I’d listen, my heart aching a little bit with each conversation, knowing that we just weren’t seeing eye to eye with each other. I always knew she wanted the best for me, that she loved and cared for me dearly, yet she wasn’t willing to let me to attempt life my own way, usually critical of my choices and career path. She referred to herself often as my “second mother”, and, in a lot of ways, she was; familial love manifests itself in many different ways, not always in the ways we “want” or “prefer”, yet always from a place of love and good intentions.
The woman who almost literally gave me my voice is gone; I know confidently that I would not be the actor, Catholic, friend, teacher or human I am today without her direction and tutelage, so I know she isn’t truly “gone”. She lives on in my life, in the lives of the many voice students she had over the years. When I sing, it is because of her and it is with her, and, for that, I am infinitely grateful.
Rest in peace, Maria, may you sing with the angels, my darling.