Dr. Damjana Bratuz
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Wendy Wickwire (BA HONOURS MUSIC, 1972)

A Tribute to Dr. Damjana Bratuz

How I wish that I could be with you on this very special evening of celebration! You have been such an inspiration to so many of us. It would be a treat to hear the stream of tributes flow forth in your honour! In my own small way, I would like to add to these.

I am going to backtrack a bit to the period just before we met. I grew up in small-town Nova Scotia in an atmosphere of healthy unselfconscious music-making (lots of "by-ear" musicians; friendly and encouraging piano teachers, and grandparents who loved to sing.)

When the time came for me to go to university, there was no doubt in my mind as to what I would pursue. Imagine my shock, therefore, when I arrived at the studio of my pre-assigned UWO piano teacher only to find a character I had only read about in books! She was an elderly woman who snarled at every opportunity and who seemed to delight in rapping knuckles! By the end of a year of dutifully turning up for lessons each week, I was thoroughly depressed and discouraged. Like many eighteen year-olds, however, I kept much of this to myself. Who would believe me if I told them that I didn't deserve this?
Ironically, it was the "jury" (those end-of-term trials) that changed things for me. I recall actually looking forward to this as an opportunity to perform my pieces for someone other than my assigned teacher. It just so happened that you, Damiana, were present at my jury and I shall never forget your reaction on hearing my pieces. It meant so much to me, because you had obviously appreciated my small effort to communicate through my music. And, if you will recall, I was no technical whiz, but I did know that I could play the piano with some sense of expression and sensitivity.

Inspired by your comments, I approached you and asked of you would take me on as a student. Much to my delight, you agreed, and what followed was a wonderful period of learning for me.

Piano lessons with "Dr. B." were no ordinary piano lessons! They were all-encompassing. Thy included a systematic exposure to a wide realm of piano literature set in its cultural context. We learned about composers and their works not in abstraction but as part of the larger cultural fabric. For many of us raised in small rural towns we heard weekly about musical figures and events we had never seen. We were told about art and artists relevant to the music we played. We read and discussed philosophies of the arts. We discussed films. This was truly a total learning experience.

Many of us will add that Dr. B. offered us our first taste of cultural sophistication. How many others of us will admit that our initial run to Europe was to see all of these places—libraries, opera houses, museums, concert halls, art galleries—about which we had heard Dr. B. speak? We had to do this, she'd tell us. It was a necessary part of maturation! And while we traveled, how many of us felt the presence of our mentor?

Funny when I reflect back on those few years at UWO "studying music", all I really remember is you. Much of the rest has faded. I even attribute my research in anthropology to you. How else could I have learned to recognize and appreciate our folk heritage, our Canadian indigenous roots? I really think I learned this from you and your special interest in Bartók. So – in more ways than you know, I have much to thank you for.

On an entirely different note, one of the things that I have thought about a lot is your cynicism toward North American culture. As a European woman, teaching in a North American academic institution was never easy for you. When we were young and naïve, we sat and listened to you and tried to appreciate your frustration. But I think that for me it was only years later, as I became critical about the North American way of life myself, that I truly understood your suffering. You were miles ahead of us. Mainstream North America is frightening—especially for those of us who are trying to live a non-materialistic existence. I recall that you were writing about this twenty odd years ago. I hope that one day you will assemble all your thoughts and produce this "Reflections on North America" which only you could write.

Damiana, I do not want to dominate the space on this special evening of evenings. I simply want to say that those three years of stimulation and encouragement set me on a path that I believe I am on today. I believe that you have served as a role-model in a way that no others have. If there were years when I didn't keep in touch as I should have, it was probably because, in a way, that I felt I hadn't quite achieved what you felt I was capable of achieving. You set high standards for all of us. You told us repeatedly that life was short and that we must do our best to bypass the mundane. You clearly did not want us to lead ordinary lives! On this note, I'll close.

Damiana, a big hug from me! And I share a tear too that I am not there in person to wrap my arms around you.
With love and sincere thanks

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