Helen lived like a phenomenon of nature-like a great geyser, involuntarily pouring out all it had to give.
-Gerard Reuter, oboist
If there were ever a success in life, it was Helen. She will always be "all about the music."
-Nikhil Hutheesing, family
She was innocent, adventurous, all-loving, all-trusting- she has forever enriched our family.
-Vivek Hutheesing, family
That beautiful radiant smile of hers-Each time we think of her, it is with joy and tears.
-Gerald Robbins, pianist
Such an amazing woman and friend, I can still see vividly Helen's beautiful, innocently smiling face and her sparkling eyes
-Anne-Marie McDermott, pianist
Helen was a major, major part of the happiest day of my life. You (Ajit) made her happiness and personal fulfillment so very, very complete.
-Pamela Paul, pianist
She lives on in the hearts of those who loved her.
-Sonia Gandhi, family
There were moments when her playing was so exquisite that the violinist and the violin were one. And we were oh-so fortunate to witness that.
-Stephen Gates, friend
Lord Byron wrote "The music breathing from her face." It is as though he knew Helen, for the music truly breathed from her face.
-Barry Romeril, friend
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.30(d)|
Read an Excerpt
THE SHADOW OF HER Smile
A Love Story Dedicated To Those She Loved and Those who Loved Her
By Ajit Hutheesing
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Ajit Hutheesing
All rights reserved.
In the End
Helen Elizabeth Armstrong turned in her bed restlessly. It was early in the morning—especially for Helen. She had not slept well and felt that the event scheduled for later in the day deserved a more rested contribution from her. A few days earlier, Helen had complained about pain in her shoulder and neck, not altogether unusual for a concert violinist, especially one who had started going to a gym to get supervised physical exercise. "It must be the weights," she'd said as she walked around the house the day before. Her physician in Washington, Connecticut, had prescribed some strong painkillers without examining her. That night, she had come to bed with an ice pack and asked me to massage her upper back and neck. It was the first time she had felt so uncomfortable—but she fell asleep quickly, and I stopped icing and caressing her back, believing the pain might not have been too severe.
There was much to do on the following day to prepare for the salon concert to be held that night in the beautiful Greenwich home of Robert Perless, a well-known sculptor, and his wife, Ellen, a poet. Greenwich was Helen's second home and my first. Staging these salon concerts in Greenwich had been a long and hard labor of love for Helen and me—but a happy one since Armstrong Chamber Concerts (ACC), Helen's nonprofit organization, had acquired a reputation for its high standards of chamber-music performances in some of the nicest homes in Greenwich. The concert that night was going to be different from others. For the first time, a Salon Concerts Committee of devoted friends was formed to assume responsibility for making all the arrangements for the cocktails and dinner. Although Helen and I were relieved of this arduous task, Helen was eager to make sure that the evening would be yet another spectacular event. She was, after all, a perfectionist when it came to organizing chamber-music events, and today was going to be the climax of a sustained and dedicated effort spanning twelve years since she had first launched her salon concerts in Greenwich.
Energized by the prospect of a great concert in a beautiful location, Helen strutted among the tables and chairs, checking the setting for dinner and the surprise CD recording that was to be introduced to the audience after dinner. She had to consult the piano tuner and videographer, and she wanted to make sure the lights and music stands were just right. These tasks must have overshadowed the pain in her shoulder, for she was everywhere, bestowing her trademark smile on everyone involved. Comforted by the state of affairs, she left the concert venue and went back home with me to practice, rest a little, check the music and her violin, and do what musicians do before they transport themselves into a world that few others know or can imagine.
At 5:00 p.m., Helen asked me to drive with her to the Perless home rather than have me arrive there later, as I often did. She seemed pleased that the evening's activities were about to begin. I offered to drive, but she chose to sit in the driver's seat and said, "Love you, love you"—she always said it twice. As we succumbed to the beauty of the evening unfolding before us, we talked about the sequence and substance of the speeches we would give.
It was her routine not to attend the cocktail hour and to retire to a spare room to warm up before every concert. However, on this day, a few guests had arrived early, and they caught Helen standing in the large glass-and-metal-walled living room where the reception and concert were to be held. These guests gravitated to her, and she engaged them with her familiar and sprightly greeting: "Hi there!" The musicians—Gerald Robbins, Gerard Reuter, and Mark Schuman—arrived, and it was time for them to go to their rooms to start warming up for the concert. It was normal for Helen and the other musicians to remain in their rooms as the cocktail hour unfolded and one hundred guests mingled and waited for the concert to begin.
I was busy greeting new arrivals and making sure the videographer and his microphones were in place. The concert was being recorded for future transmission on TV. I asked Robert and Ellen Perless why they had their own video camera ready to shoot when there was a professional videographer on hand. Robert said, "Ajit, I want you to sit in the armchair directly across from where Helen will be performing. I am not recording just any concert—I want to record a love story."
I smiled and wondered, Is it that obvious? At every previous concert, friends had commented on the glow of admiration on my face—and they knew that it came from my profound love for Helen.
As was my practice at concerts, I went to Helen's room at 7:45 p.m. to ask her whether she was ready to have the guests seated and for the concert to begin. She said, "I'm not feeling great, but let's begin, and I'm sure I'll be fine once the music starts." When Helen played her beloved Guadagnini violin, she was always transformed from a casual, smiling, easygoing personality to a serious, committed professional musician.
A burst of applause broke the hushed silence of the audience as Helen walked down the broad steps into the sunken area of the drawing room. The videographer commenced his task of recording the main event of the evening, and Robert Perless positioned Helen and me in his viewfinder. She was dressed in a blazing magenta gown, looking stunning with her perfectly styled blonde hair gleaming in the twilight pouring through the giant windows and her dimpled face smiling broadly. I sat across from her, always transfixed by the change in personality of this brilliant violinist as she glowed in anticipation of the music she was about to perform. There was some humor as the musicians and I struggled to make the light on one of the music stands work—before giving up.
As always, Helen began the concert with a short opening speech. She spoke of the joy of having a music organization that had matured with the help of wonderful friends; the beautiful home that Robert and Ellen had so graciously provided; her love for the Schools' Music Enrichment Program her organization had executed in many private and public schools, which these salon concert series supported financially; and the musicians who had for so many years been a part of her extended family. As always, she ended her comments by looking at me and thanking me profoundly for my many contributions to ACC. Then it was my turn to speak briefly about Helen's dedication and the huge impact that ACC's educational programs had had over the years on the lives of thousands of children. I stressed the importance of these salon concerts in raising funds for the many schools that participated in ACC's programs.
And then the music started. J. S. Bach's Trio Sonata in C major filled the room, and Helen's smiling face turned serious, concentrating on performing this beautiful piece. As the first movement entered its concluding phase, Helen protectively clasped her precious violin to her chest as she fell rigidly backward. Suddenly the music stopped, and the audience let out an audible gasp. The musicians froze in their positions. I was instantly at her feet. At that moment, I was stunned by the possibility that Helen might have died. A doctor and two CPR experts present in the audience rushed to her side—an eternity of time seemed to pass as they beat upon her still body trying to awaken it to life.
Carole Thomassy, a close friend, danced around the fallen maestro, invoking the spirit of the goddess Isis in the hope that new energy would flow from her into the still body on the carpeted floor.
she was radiant, gilded with light,
A hundred movers and shakers,
stock still in silver chairs
she fell like snow,
we thought that
maybe she caught
her heel in the carpet
Helen Armstrong died in my living room
her Guadagnini in her arms,
Like snow she fell
The Guadagnini came to rest
her still breast.
Is there a doctor in the house?
Two doctors and three paramedics
could not coax
her sleeping heart to beat.
The patron who believes
she is the avatar of Isis
invoked the Godess
in a slow dance behind the CPR
But the Godess was out on Friday night.
When the hospital called to tell us
what we already knew,
we had already killed the chardonnay
And when the dog came home,
she scratched and keened
where she had fallen, and would not
would not, would not stop,
until I kneeled
to kiss the spot
The audience withdrew, the ambulance arrived, and the doctor and others continued to stab at her body, which would not respond. I sobbed as I thought, This is my wife—her life is my life. For a moment, my thoughts took me back almost forty years—hadn't this happened once before?CHAPTER 2
In the Beginning
It was June 1989 when Anne Sutherland Fuchs, publisher of Elle magazine at that time and later of Vogue, called me to invite me to a housewarming dinner at her new home in Washington, Connecticut. I had been in a close but volatile relationship with one of Anne's closest friends for over a year, and Anne had performed the role of adviser and mediator until the relationship had ceased to exist.
"Are you going to bring a date?" she wanted to know. "It would be best if you would come alone," Anne said. "It will help my seating arrangements." I wondered where Washington, Connecticut, was and whether driving to a dinner more than fifty miles away made sense. Anne sensed my hesitation and said, "And you can stay the night." I agreed.
The drive to Washington, Connecticut, was particularly confusing, and my doubts about the wisdom of accepting the invitation increased as I traversed the winding roads of northwest Connecticut. I rationalized the journey by recalling my fondness for Anne and her husband, Jim—and their friends were sure to be interesting. Punctual as usual, I was the first to arrive. Jim was shuffling around the living room, and he greeted me warmly.
Anne soon joined the arriving guests who walked around the sunlit rooms and terrace, inspecting the newly renovated house. She was a perfect hostess—beautiful and gushing warmth. I had always admired her. Among the guests were authors and publishers from the fashion world with well-known names who I thought I was unlikely to see again. In the thick of the cocktail hour, Jeff Keeler, one of the guests, saw me in animated conversation with an attractive lady, and when alone with me later, Jeff warned me not to "flirt with that lady" since her husband standing nearby was "a very jealous man!" I assured him that I had no such intentions and then left Jeff's company to introduce myself to other guests.
It appeared that dinner was being delayed, awaiting the arrival of some tardy guests. Eventually, dinner was announced a couple times before guests drifted to their assigned places at one of several tables. I had made a move to my assigned place and said hello to my tablemates—among them Skitch Henderson, the prominent conductor; his wife, Ruth; and Kirsten Peckerman, one of Anne's closest friends. As salad was being served, the place next to me was the only one empty.
Helen Armstrong was the last to arrive, having been delayed driving back from Tanglewood, and she spent a few minutes greeting friends. She confessed later that upon arriving, she scanned the living room several times to search for the man whom Anne had promised to introduce to her. She had learned quite a lot about him from Anne, and not being able to spot his presence among the stragglers in the living room, Helen concluded that he was probably a no-show. But moments later, a breathless and smiling woman came to my table, accompanied by Anne, who introduced us to each other. Helen knew the other guests at the table, especially Skitch, to whom she described the challenges of confronting heavy traffic near Tanglewood—which Skitch knew well, having conducted there. I learned later that Helen was always racing against the clock and was frequently late for her appointments with charming excuses to follow.
Finally, seated next to me, Helen expressed her pleasure that I had come all the way from Greenwich. She said somewhat shyly that Anne had told her quite a lot about me; she also knew that Anne had not mentioned her name to me, withholding it as a surprise. The rest of the evening dissolved into an animated conversation between Helen and me—we largely ignored everyone else at the table. We talked about the music scene in New York and Litchfield County, the artists Helen knew well, and whether I was familiar with the arts scene in Greenwich. Helen confided to me that as soon as she had arrived, Jeff Keeler had approached her and whispered in her ear, "Watch out for that Indian fellow—he's a flirt!"
As the evening ended, Skitch Henderson, who was sitting on Helen's left, smilingly complained that he had never been ignored so completely at any dinner he had attended. Kirsten Peckerman, who was sitting on my right, echoed the same complaint in jest. Later, we found out that Anne had told both of them about her matchmaking effort!
Helen and I were captivated by each other; we stayed glued together in conversation for the rest of the evening after most of the guests had left. As we parted company, I said to Helen, "I'll call you soon."
Helen thought to herself, I wonder if this is just another one of those remarks that will not be followed up on—men seem to do a lot of that.
I called her the next morning. "I had a wonderful evening," I said, and Helen echoed my sentiment. "Would you be free to join me for lunch next Sunday?" I asked. "I have invited a few friends and plan to have an Indian barbecue."
Helen asked me to wait while she checked her calendar, although she knew she was free. She came back to the telephone to say she would be delighted to accept.
"I met a very interesting man last night," said Helen to her daughter, Debbie, immediately after my call. "He has already invited me to lunch at his home in Greenwich." Debbie was aware of the attraction men had for her mother, and she quickly raised the amber light of caution. Helen and Debbie often confided in each other—they were more like sisters than mother and daughter. Both of them spent time alerting each other to the dangers of relationships with strange men—most men were aggressive and seeking short-term adventures! Helen went to bed that night wondering whether I would call again before next Sunday's lunch. I faxed her directions to my Greenwich home but did not call her.
Helen was nervous when she arrived at my home in Greenwich the following Sunday—a little late, as usual. Several guests were already there, and I greeted her warmly with a cheek-to-cheek kiss and a hug. I introduced her to the other guests, after which I disappeared to play my role as host. A small group was talking animatedly, and Helen noticed a tall, attractive man who was listening to the others and not saying much. She joined them and introduced herself to the group and to Roland Palm, who was originally from Sweden and had worked with me on Wall Street. As the lunch proceeded, I paid relatively little attention to Helen, and Roland appeared to have taken up the slack. With the afternoon about to end, I informed Helen that I would be going on a photographic tour of Puerto Rico with my new camera. As we spoke more about the trip, she learned that I would have more than my new camera with me on the planned trip. A single, attractive, lady photographer had invited me to join her on an assignment offered to her by the tourism office of the government of Puerto Rico.. Helen wondered, Was I invited by Ajit to be introduced to Roland?
Back at her home, Helen waited for my call the next day and every day thereafter. It did not come. About a month later, she went to Martha's Vineyard to perform at one of her concerts. Debbie was with her, and she recalled how her mother had "acted like a giddy teenager," as she put it, waiting for my phone call. Debbie later said, "It was then that I knew that Mom thought that Ajit was special, since she had never acted like this before." Having received no phone calls from me, Helen resigned herself to another "miss hit."
Excerpted from THE SHADOW OF HER Smile by Ajit Hutheesing. Copyright © 2013 Ajit Hutheesing. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsAuthor's Note, vii,
I. In the End, 1,
II. In the Beginning, 11,
III. Helen Elizabeth Armstrong, 23,
IV. Ajit Hutheesing, 38,
V. And Then We Were Two Separated Halves, 53,
VI. And Then We Were One, 65,
VII. The Violin, 77,
VIII. Revelations, 84,
IX. Another Beginning and Another Ending, 96,
Armstrong Chamber Concerts Artists, 110,
About the Author, 115,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I feel privileged to have known both Helen and Ajit, and to have been acquainted with each of you before you had met each other. Ajit tells the story of their respective lives together beautifully. The book is nuanced, sensitive and inspiring. Most of all, it is a warm and moving testimony to Helen, her music and her soul. Samuel Seiman