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At the Highest

After a month, I found a part of my mobility and almost all my habits. We went to Britain as we had planned. Walking the feet into the sea water, enjoying the good, invigorating air refreshed me. I started to drive and never forgot my daily training, my smell moves which helped me to rebuild. I managed to make my two viola sound correctly. Raphael often played the cello or the piano and Nicolas the tuba with me. I accompanied Constantin very correctly again when he sang or played the traverse flute. I began to play Haydn’s concerto measuring my strokes of bows and leading my right hand and arm – which still didn’t feel anything but were less messy – with my ear. I could nos play more complicated pieces and it made me feel so fine than I could spend my whole days to repeat the same moves, the same musical phrases.

I especially worked on the rhythm of Michael Haydn’s concerto I just sent to Felician in order him to find out them. This very beautiful piece was almost never played since Mozart had died. So wounded by the death of his friend and accomplice, his brother, the builder, Michael put it in a closet. I started to paint again. My friend, Dominique Aubert, ordered me a piece to decorate the harpsichord he had just bought – which was perfect timing. I eventually went back to my normal life! A series of canvases and poems will come after.

The beginning of summer 2011 was awesome. I finally took the time to breathe, read. I did what I was forbidden to because I had no time to lose. Enjoying the fresh air of the morning, admiring the sunsets, I found out the attraction of idleness. I relished life as it came and felt like a privileged man.

Florence and I went for more and more extended strolls in our little town: we enjoyed free time in order to discover the treasures of the Parisian suburbs. So many beautiful churches, wonderful sites and little towns where it was good to live. The local tourism brought me a lot of comfort.

My parents don’t come from Paris. The two young people from Lorraine got married by a very cold winter on January, 25th, 1958. Claude Hilger and Denise Mathieu came to Paris after Dad passed the exam from the “Crédit Foncier de Paris” to become the “Principal Private Secretary of the Governor”. Dad had a very large office in this institution situated in Cambon Street. It was there he met Michelle Pocholle who came from Picardie. Mom and Dad quickly became friends with her. Manet helped my parents a lot during the hard health problems they went through and which ended with me being adopted. My future Mom was at the “Hotel Dieu”, almost dying. She received the Last Sacraments after an ectopic pregnancy and my future Dad was operated for a very complicated and risky problem of inflamed salivary gland. My brother and I came and filled their prayers and huge, unquenched, eleven-year desires of having children.

After I finally arrived in the Hilger family, our doctor at the moment, the very relevant, spirited doctor Lephay recommended them to raise me in a calm place surrounded by green foliage. What would have they not done for the young Michel Vincent, the former Eric, number 232666 from the social services with very Slav blond hair, fragile nervous system, huge iron deficiency – which was discovered after I felt on my head – I should take a blood test ever y week. I was entitled to a croissant or a pain au chocolat.

We lived in an apartment at the seventh floor near the Marne, in Quai Fernand Saguet in Maisons Alfort. In 1971, my parents decided to buy a land in order to build a big house. To do it, they associated with Manet they considered as their “beloved sister” and shared the same values. Since, you have been living in Sucy en Brie, a town located at less than twenty kilometers from Paris, a provincial environment propitious for my reconstruction.

At the end of June, I could happily be present at several gigs of the “Festival of French-American Music” I founded in 2004 with my friend and American pianist, Alan Gampel. I was very close to it. The first edition took place the foolowing summer in 2005: a concert dedicated to Georges Gershwin orchestrated by the “Pas de Loup Orchestra” which I had played in. We booked the last weekend of June in order to celebrate summer before going on holidays. This massive event in the “Parc de l’Europe” got a huge green environment at only a few kilometers from Paris.

Success was like there since the first edition and we continued programing stars but also local artists and even students from the “Academy of Arts”. Our force is to give – outside – shows worthy of the greatest international scenes with little price and even free for children under sixteen, students and unemployed people. The development of the Festival has always been steady and increasing. Alan and the mayor of Thiais, Richard Dell’Agnola asked me for being the president of the hosting association, “Les Amis-Thiais Franco-Américaines” and after the artistic director. They noticed I had a lot of experiences in that and especially good contacts in the world of arts, classic music, advertising and movies. This was how we could bring to Thiais – with the support of the General Management, the elected members, municipal services – the “Orchestra of the Garde Republicaine”, Michel Legrand, Claude Bolling, the “Golden Gate Quartet” (I knew since I worked for the “Quintet of France” through the “Musical Cruises Paquet” under the direction of Mistal Rostropovitch), Julia Migenes, Sylvie Vartan, Dee Dee Bridgewater, “the drums of the Bronx”, “Gospel for 100 voices” and so many else…

I was waiting impatiently next November in order to go to my drawing, painting, sculpting classes. From now on, I could drive my car and I planned to go to Thiais once or twice a week before school began. I missed the “Academy of Arts”. I was kind of at the origin of it. It was born from a meeting with the then MP and mayor, Richard Dell’Agnola and Jean-François Gassot, the director of the Municipal Conservator of Music after the latter asked for it. After I was hired as a music theory and viola teacher, the director of the Conservatory of that time looked into my CV and found out I was both a painter and a musician.

The mayor wanted to develop culture in his town and was very interested in . Some times later, I received a letter requeting I made a teaching offer bringing together my drawing , painting, sculpting classes to the patchwork workshop, movies introduction, music, drama and dance. The name “Academy of Arts” was justified. And the institution was eventually born. Today, students can prepare all the artistic options of the baccalaureate and follow daily classes with a special schedule. For more than twenty-six years, more than six hundred students registered and I helped almost one hundred and twenty people every year and led them to success organizing them a pleasant, annual, very awaited liked exhibition.

By now, I was galvanized and learnt to drive my car again. My see sight was still blurry and shaking. I got used to this even if before my stroke, I saw more neatly. For the moment, I didn’t go far away from Sucy en Brie and avoided to go on the main streets because I was alone at wheel.

My plan was long and hardly cautious. I will go to Thiais by the small streets. I didn’t feel my right hand and had a lot of troubles to shift gears without focusing on my level. The cogs often creaked but I did make a lot of progress: I decomposed the move which consisted in pushing forwards or backwards while I kept – or not – the pressure towards the right. I used my “ear” exactly like my for my bow. An automatic gearbox will make my life easier but I refused it in order to sharpen me the quickest possible and avoid to be stiffen as soon as my limbs were motionless. I practiced to park in parallel with the pavement. It was not easy and it took me a lot of time. I tried my hardest, I focused all my attention on the gestures of my right hand. The repeated driving exercices developed my music agility and vice versa.

Every morning, before and after the 8:30 Mass, I went for a stroll for about one hour and I worked on my music beginning with the piano. The way was still long to find my level from before my stroke. The quick progress I made during the first three weeks had hidden the importance of the task. I still had a lot of troubles to express tones, to give life to my music and yet it was what people were waiting for me. This combination didn’t come from an ordinary thought, a simple order; only an agreement between the body and the mind could provide them. I was not there yet. I hung on, I repeated on hundred times the exercices with my viola, I struggled with the good pianissimo, staccato and all the difficult figures which required to hold tight your bow. It was better with the piano: the fingers which directly touched the keys were suppler, lighter. I persisted to work despite my head, neck, back and left arm hurt. The right side was often so heavy I could no longer hold the bow without crushing it against the wires.

But I knew I will do it! I always knew how to lie to everyone who doubted about me. When I was a student, my teacher told me I was not made for the viola and I will never reach a professional level. My own father thought I had not enough knowledge in counterpoint and harmony. Despite my good marks, I feared I will never know my lessons. Later, to the conservatory during my higher education, another teacher was skeptical about my skills and yet I will never give up and passed all my exams. Only Françoise Gervais, my teacher of musical analysis and specialized music theory, Olivier Messaien, supported me a lot. She often invited me to hers and I kept so many good memories!

Everything happened inside me as if – at the last moment, at the fateful and particularly complicated instants in the middle of a stroke for instance – I managed to rally energy and focus more outstanding than in ordinary time. When I wanted to take the competitive exam to enter the “Garde Republicaine”, everybody would have made fun of me and have told me “You’re not skilled enough!”. The orchestra of the “Garde Republicaine” gathered the very best of the musicians. I even told myself I set the bar too high. I could have said no but I would have always regretted not to have gone through with my whole dreams and ambitious plans. I worked alone the parts of the program and my instruments all day, I perfected every detail.

I had the pure madness of people who believed with Faith, will and hard work everything was possible. That was how I went to my exams, shaking, stressed but very determined. When I played in front of the very impressive jury of tenure holders – under the supervision of the well-dressed militaries – I thought I could not say why, about the small truck driving away in the night, bringing me terrified towards a goal I didn’t know. My victory would be a tribute to those unknown people who surely took big risks in order to save my life and a gratitude for my parents. I asked God, like each time I had a challenge, for not letting me down. I entered the music room and gave everything I could for the whole exams which lasted all day!

Then I went home to Sucy by suburban trains with no regrets. When I arrived, I got a big surprise: a captain called my parents in order to announce them I was accepted. Thereby, I had done my national service in the prestigious “Orchestra of the Garde Republicaine”, what I was very proud of.

These unlikely pieces of success coming from my past cheered me on. I handled the bow, I made it come and go in space without touching the wires, only to rehabilitate my ankle and my arm. I repeated hundreds of time the same moves, the same sections or daunting terms. And it bore fruits!

Each morning, I went to the 8:30 Mass. I always went by foot, whatever the weather. I was by now able to walk without hurting too much. These strolls invigorated me. Birds sang, people went to work. I felt like I found my common life back. My headaches – which made me suffer days and nights – calmed down. My morning moves had an incontestable therapeutic effect which was not only due to my faith.

At the end of October, as there was not a lot of people on the roads of the area, I told Florence I was about to drive to Thiais with my car. She proposed to come with me.

“And first, be careful. Think about the kids! And people on the road!”

“Yes, don’t worry!”

I kept this sentence in mind and when I got in my car, I joined my hands and prayed for a while. It could seem ridiculous for someone who was not a believer. However, this moment of recueillement or meditation was very important in order to “wake up the mind” and be ready to act with dignity, respectfully for the others and especially to always react well. The principle: emptying your mind, keeping away all discursive thoughts to free the energy in the service of the act to fulfill. My job as a musician taught me before a concert, I had t get out of myself, become someone else who lived inside me and only thought about music. This behavior peculiar to athletes looking for performance can be applied to daily life and to “ordinary acts”. Illness always has an inclination to take us away from our goal, raise obstacles. When you replace yourself in a healthy body right away rather than letting the disability settle, it becomes easier to fight. I keep on repeating me but it seems vital. Our body and our brain have many possibilities we don’t even suspect. You just have to implement them so as to move faster… Even when the greatest experts don’t see the last chance. Meditation allows firstly to forget you are sick and to jump over a well-guarded frontier.