Monday, December 15, 2008

Ruwani Seimon

She inspired her students to give of their best

Ruwani Seimon

I first met Ms. Ruwani as a child of 12 years. St. Bridget’s Convent was presenting the musical “Camelot”. Indu Dharmasena was the director and Ms. Ruwani was the musical director. I was one of the “children of the court”.

Ms. Ruwani terrorised everyone. That was one of her trademarks. She was a perfectionist who worked miracles with her performers. “Camelot” is still referred to as the best musical ever put on by St. Bridget’s Convent.

After “Camelot”, I worked with Ms. Ruwani on several other shows, theatre productions and carol services, both as a performer and as a co-producer. Our student-teacher relationship grew into a unique mentoring friendship. She taught me how to sing, and more important, how to perform on stage.

My best memory of Ms. Ruwani is of her conducting the choir in a grand concert finale, her exuberance pumping up the adrenaline in us so that we ended up giving a brilliant performance.
Her famous dressing room “pep talks” would give a band of sweaty teenagers the courage to command a stage. Her stubborn stance against the long-suffering school administration secured performance opportunities barely approved by our Roman Catholic educators. She was a force to be reckoned with.I learnt many lessons from Ms. Ruwani. Her best critique of me was uttered out of exasperation, while coaching me for a solo: “Sulo, I don’t care if you sing a wrong note. Just be confident. Hold your head up high and for God’s sake PERFORM!”

This advice has followed me wherever I have performed, from the stage at the Lionel Wendt Theatre to many other theatre venues. What I admired most about Ms. Ruwani was her recognition of talent and her respect for hard work. She allowed seniors a free hand with choreographing, designing and publicising the school choir productions. These experiences shaped me and continue to influence me, five years later.

Every time I think of my school career, I thank my lucky stars that we had someone like Ms. Ruwani. She allowed our creativity to bloom and encouraged us to hone our talents.
Like most relationship, ours was far from perfect. We failed to agree on many things, and at times we were quite vocal about our disagreements. When I recall some of our worst arguments, I wonder how we ever survived them. But our clashes cleared because of our mutual respect, which strengthened our relationship.

Ms. Ruwani, people like you and my grandmother will never pass away. You will always live, vividly, in the minds and hearts of the people you have touched. My only hope is that the generations to come will find a replacement who is half as qualified and devoted as you. But that’s a tall order.

Right now, all I can say is a simple thank you. Thank you for everything you have done for me, my friends and my school.

And, by the way, save me a seat at your next performance.

Sulochana Dissanayake


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