Introducing Maud Powell

         By Willa Jean Dellinger



Retired School Teacher Willa Jean Dellinger Introduces Maud Powell to Students in the City of Maud's Birth, Peru, Illinois


I was a bit apprehensive returning to the classroom since my retirement, but armed with my notes and the cast of Maud's right arm and bow hand, and buoyed by Karen Shaffer's words that “Maud will be with you,” I re-entered my world of yesterday.

My mission was to awaken young people to the legacy of Maud Powell. With great pride I was representing The Maud Powell Society and knew that Maud's message needed to be heard before the July dedication of her statue, so beautifully sculpted by Father Joseph Heyd of St. Bede Abbey.

Maud's story proved to be captivating to the students. They sat motionless as they listened with rapt attention. Grades K-5 in the two Peru elementary buildings – Roosevelt and Northview – showed great interest, joy and sympathy as I related Maud's life and career.One second grader said, “You must have been Maud's best friend to know so much about her.”

Indeed, I often feel 128 years old and now I must look it! To myself, I thought how fortunate I would have been to have lived during those years and shared in Maud's musical talents and great wisdom.

The children felt very special being citizens of Maud's birth city. Many lived near the Maze home where Maud once spent the night. Their eyes glistened as they learned of her Peru carriage ride in a blinding snowstorm in February 1908. Their faces reflected sadness that she had few close friends, joy that she once rode a mule down into the Grand Canyon, amazement that she practiced three to four hours a day on her fiddle, and awe that Maud cared not what others thought of a girl playing the violin! Even the boys were impressed.

Several already knew about classical music and could name a few composers as well as instruments of the orchestra. Some of the students played with the local Suzuki Strings. In fact, three of Northview's fourth graders, Steven Hammers, Maria Jaimes, and Mike Bernal gave a mini-concert to each classroom just before I gave my presentation. Their program was excellent and enthusiastically received. Steven Hammers gave a short talk on the violin, then played three classical selections for one of the classes. He patiently displayed and explained parts of his instrument and how each worked. At age nine, he proved to be a wonderful teacher. Maud would have been proud!

As in other schools, I was greeted with great warmth and enthusiasm by the principal and teachers at St. Joseph School. Sculptor Heyd supplemented my presentation with an explanation of his plaster cast of Maud's arm and bow hand. The children loved it! During my own presentation that day, it seemed that dear Maud decided to make her presence known as a brief, unseasonable snowstorm made its appearance just as I was telling the students of the snowstorm in Peru the day of Maud's concert at Turn Hall in 1908. Yes, Karen, you were right. Maud was with me.

I wasn't certain if junior high students would be as receptive to Maud's story as were the younger students. But Peru's Washington Junior High put me at ease as the social studies teachers warmly ushered me into their classrooms where the students displayed great curiosity and excitement. They listened attentively and showed a keen interest in Maud, her violin, the tours she took, her death, classical music. The exchange we shared was heartwarming and fulfilling. A real bonus was being able to give the presentation to the students of two of my own former students – teachers Kelly Hogan and Mary Jo Sonnenberg. It was an emotional but wonderful day for me.

I reached over 1,000 students of all grades at each school. Many were excited upon discovering that their own birthdays were on or near Maud's. They thought it was “cool” to have an uncle tell stories of his exploration of the Grand Canyon and to have parents who invited musicians, educators, writers and other interesting people to their home. One child was saddened that Maud had “only a brother ? Yuck!” (The boys laughed good-naturedly.) They seemed to enjoy the program in its entirety. Finally, they loved the passwords – K-5 – “Fiddle-dee-dee” (Maud's boat) – 6-8 – “Guadagnini” (Maud's favorite violin).

And so I now have a proud new identity – “the Maud Powell lady” – as the children continue to approach me with our passwords. It might be the supermarket, the post office or the library. Even as they skate, ride their bikes, or walk their dogs in the neighborhood, my heart skips a beat as I rejoice at the sound of their voices calling to me: “Fiddle-dee-dee, Mrs. Dellinger!” or “Guadagnini!” Peru's children are, without question, the pride of our community.

But as much as we'd love to claim her and keep her as our own, Maud Powell, Peru's famous little girl, belongs to the world. Future plans of mine include sharing Maud's remarkable life with neighboring communities. I look forward to meeting new teachers and students in Peru's environs. I encourage both active and retired teachers across the nation to assist in this extraordinary and rewarding endeavor.

I sincerely hope that each of you reading this will also, in your own way, great or small, join us and help create an awareness of Maud Powell and her legendary life and art among your families and friends, and in your communities.

Fiddle-dee-dee and Guadagnini!

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