Louise Canafax, 1931-2013

Posted Wednesday, May. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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When the first Cliburn contestants step onto the stage May 24, they'll do so without a gentle hug and warm words of encouragement from the backstage "mom" who had offered those things and more for 150 competitors before them.

Louise Canafax, who had served as the competition's backstage manager since 1993, passed away in March.

An accomplished violist and music educator herself, Louise had performed with symphony orchestras and taught music at Trinity Valley School for 31 years. Tributes in an online guest book poured in from former students who thanked her for teaching them to love classical music, for her standards of excellence and her nurturing spirit.

A former emergency room volunteer, Louise would say that her primary job backstage at the Cliburn was "calming the children."

"I'm the comforter," she would tell people.

That meant offering the nervous competitors fruit juice or water -- chilled and unchilled, in pitchers labeled in different languages. Stocking aspirin and antacid tablets. Tending wounds. Drying tears. Wielding a needle and thread for a last-minute wardrobe malfunction, or plugging in a heating pad to warm cold hands.

Sometimes it just meant giving them a soft nudge when it was their turn to walk into the spotlight. Louise was, after all, the last person the young pianists saw in the stressful minutes before they went onstage and the first one they saw when they exited into the dark, cavernous stage right of Bass Hall.

"We never let them see any kind of stress," she would say. If she stayed calm, they stood a chance of staying calm.

Louise kept her own notes in a journal during Cliburn competitions, but she could never be a judge, she would say.

She would pick 30 winners.

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