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Violinist.com Interviews: Vol. 1

Our exclusive, one-on-one interviews with 27 of today's best-known violinists, including Hilary Hahn, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, David Garrett, Anne Akiko Meyers, Maxim Vengerov, and others.


April 2004

April 28, 2004 23:43

What are you scared of?

This was the question my first-grade daughter had to ask every family member for a school assignment. Then she had to ask the follow-up question: what have you done to deal with that fear?

First she asked her Dad, though she knew the answer already. Like a typical former Disney employee, he detests rodents.

“How do you deal with that?” she asked.

“I avoid them,” he declared through clenched teeth, not wanting to think about the issue any more than he had to. She didn’t push it.

Then she asked her three-year-old brother what he was scared of.

“Monsters,” he said seriously.

“What do you do about it?” she asked like a good reporter.

“I scare dem back,” he said. Then he paused a moment as his young imagination kicked into gear. “I hit dem with a sword. And push dem out the window. And…”

We got the picture. He has that Y chromosome working for him.

Then she asked me, and I didn’t have to think about the answer. Forget rats, monsters, snakes, pits of fire…

“I’m afraid of taking auditions, honey,” I said.

“WHAT?” she said, puzzled. The last few months were insane, with Mom locking herself in a practice room three hours a day and actually fighting to get to play that LA Phil audition. Her teacher even laminated the newspaper article about it and put it on the classroom door. It’s been downright ridiculous, all the attention Mom got for taking that audition!

“Really, honey, the first time I took one I was crying before I even started playing,” I said. “I was so scared my bow shook and skipped across the strings. I could barely play.”

“So what did you do about it?” she asked.

“I took every audition I possibly could,” I said. “And even this one that they said I couldn’t!”

She never did tell us what she is scared of….

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April 14, 2004 22:51

Well, I’m trying once again to get out of a bad relationship…with a guy named, “Grande Vanilla Latte.”

Seems that no matter how hard I try to get away, he always gets me back. Oh sure, maybe it’s a different name, “Tall Mocha,” but it’s the same guy, the same relationship.

He peps me up when I’m feeling down. He makes me feel like working, rather frenetically. He makes me so ambitious!

Then, he threatens to leave me, and I drop through the floor. I’m so depressed, I almost want to fall asleep. So I turn my attentions to his brother, “Coca Cola,” just to get through the afternoon.

But then, I’m up all night. I sleep fitfully. I won’t even acknowledge who is doing it to me, but in the back of my mind, I know it’s G.V. Latte. And all the ones just like him.

So today, I decided to throw them all off. Forget it! No more of this!

I awakened feeling a mild craving for my familiar dependency, but I didn’t give in. He called me, at first like a polite request, through the morning. My eyes watered. I slowed down. But I didn’t give in. By the afternoon, he was getting insistent, “Are you meeting me at Starbuck’s or WHAT?” he rudely demanded. But I continued to say, “No!”

He kept pleading with me; it was pathetic! His persistence gave me a pounding headache that lasted through the entire evening. But I lived through it.

Will I continue to ignore this guy tomorrow? Well, they say it gets easier. What’s important is I made the break; he’ll lose his hold on me. Sure, I’ll miss him every time it’s cold and rainy out.

But I’ll probably be too sleepy to do anything about it.

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April 9, 2004 21:08

My children, ages three and six, are on spring break this week, so I’ve watched a bit more children’s television than usual. Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t been couch potatoes the entire time. For the first part of the week we explored theme parks with my in-laws, but my husband is the expert who can tell you about that.

By the time we came home on Wednesday, we were completely worn out. It was a good day to be a couch potato, so I joined Natalie and Brian in front of the T.V., where I was sucked into the PBS show, "Reading Rainbow." On this day, the show was about Monarch butterflies. At first, I thought they were just re-iterating the children’s story of the "Hungry Caterpillar," who eats and eats, spins itself a cocoon, then miraculously turns into a "beautiful butterfly!" This is quite an amazing phenomenon in itself.

But the story, or the miracle, didn't stop there. "At this point, the Monarch butterfly flies thousands of miles to a place it has never been to and never seen, in the mountains of Mexico." What an amazing idea!

I've seen these orange and black butterflies, fluttering clumsily southward across the windy Interstate 80 in Nebraska, narrowly escaping the bumper of my car. I've seen them in Colorado, flying over the grass prairie of the Bear Valley riverbed. I’ve seen them in Southern California, where they barely stand out against the exotic and colorful plants, creatures and human beings already here. Basically, I've seen them all over the western United States.

In the spring, they head north and scatter all around North America, all the way up to Canada. In the fall, about 100 million of them head for the same party, on Sierra Chincua mountain in Michoacan, Mexico, where they fill the sky like confetti or hang sleeping together like thousands of leaves on a tree... Why they winter there and nowhere else, no one really knows. Apparently they prefer the oyamel fir trees, and they have established quite a habit.

Yet no single one of them actually knows the way there from direct experience, as the butterflies live only for about six months and their migration happens every year. Somehow an internal clock directs them to this hill in central Michoacan, where they have been gathering annually for thousands of years. What a journey to make on faith!

All this made me rather philosophical. How on Earth do they know where to go? It made me think of the nature of destiny. I wonder if we humans, for all our rules, plans and artifice, can hear our little butterfly voices.

Where would we go if we listened?

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April 7, 2004 22:27

You can get bargain tickets to Zukerman’s performance with the New York Philharmonic next week through Violinist.com, it’s a $35 Violinist.com-only offer. The url is:
http://newyorkphilharmonic.org/apr15-violinists.cfm

It looks like a good, solid program, too. Here is more program info., straight from the NY Phil’s promo department:

Pinchas Zukerman Plays Berg's Violin Concerto

Hear why the Los Angeles Times said "It was a joy to be in his musical company," when violinist Pinchas Zukerman performs Berg’s poignant concerto, dedicated to "The Memory of an Angel." You’ll also hear a different and refreshing take on works by Bach and Brahms.

Alan Gilbert, Conductor

Pinchas Zukerman, Violin

Bach/Webern: Ricercare from The Musical Offering

Berg: Violin Concerto

Brahms/Schoenberg: Piano Quartet in G minor

Thurs, Apr 15, 2004, 7:30 PM
Fri, Apr 16, 2004, 8:00 PM
Sat, Apr 17, 2004, 8:00 PM
Tues, Apr 20, 2004, 7:30 PM

I can't go because, well, I'm in LA! But if some of you go, please come back and write to us about it!

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What I've learned from 'Suzuki'

April 2, 2004 22:33

My husband can bear witness to the contradictory views I’ve held over the years on the merits/horrors of the ubiquitous Suzuki approach to teaching children how to play the violin. It’s gone from, “No way am I joining that wacko cult!” to…well, getting teacher certification and joining a Suzuki group.

I was not raised in the Suzuki way, though my childhood teacher and his wife, Jim and Jackie Maurer, were some of the rather early Suzuki experimenters in the U.S., or at least in my little part of the U.S. at the time -- Aurora, Colo. Like many my age, I studied traditional methods but still owned some of the Suzuki books so I could play pieces in them.

I was lucky enough to live one block away from the Maurers, allowing me to walk to lessons with one of the best teachers in town. Jim taught me right after he got home from work, so I went upstairs to his office while he put his things away and got ready.

There was a little window in his office which looked onto the downstairs studio, where Jackie taught. As I unpacked my violin, I would peek downstairs and muse about what was happening down there. Wow, those are some young children, they can really play that young? And is that a stuffed bunny rabbit she’s holding there? Wait, they are clapping their hands – no, tapping their heads – no, tapping their shoulders. What? Is this a violin lesson? Now they are singing and tossing the bunny to each other. What is the puppet for? And the drum? Wow, they seem to be having fun. If I ever want to teach really young children, these are the people that know how to do it.

I was a babysitter for some of those young children, and I saw that they had review charts, which prescribed a practice routine for going over all their old pieces. Hmm, this sounded like a good idea, as opposed to moving on to a new piece and flushing the old one down the mental toilet.

But I had my misgivings as well; I was disturbed by those images of dozens of children lined up, all playing the Vivaldi concerto simultaneously. They seemed like so many robots! And the idea of parents deciding that a child wants to play the violin and making that child practice – my parents did no such thing!

I didn’t give it much more thought until after college, when I started teaching. I enthusiastically took on reasonably advanced students, and I enjoyed helping them actually emerge from the Suzuki books. I found myself more intimidated by the young beginner! How on Earth does one teach a four-year-old? And where does one begin, with anyone?

So when I had the opportunity to take a Suzuki pedagogy class with Jim Maurer at the University of Denver, I took it.

Did I learn anything? Did I become an audio-animatronic droid? Did my students?

Yes, no, no….

I still don’t think there’s any one “prescription” for how to teach the violin, and any teacher who uses any single method, not just the Suzuki method, to this end is destined to miss the point with a great many students.

Anyone who takes Suzuki as a mindless formula is also corrupting the ideas of an endlessly creative man, Shinichi Suzuki. This is a man who had so much faith in everyone’s ability to cultivate “talent,” he would make up a hundred ways to bring it out. Here’s something he said again and again:

“My prayer is that all children on this globe may become fine human beings, happy people of superior ability, and I am devoting all my energies to making this come about, for I am convinced that all children are born with this potential.”

The Suzuki-ites have some fantastic ideas and a great many creative and wonderful teachers among their ranks.

Including….ME! (Hah!)

Suzuki has given me a great many creative approaches to solving violin problems and to communicating with children. It’s also given me a network of other teachers to work with, observe and learn from.

It hasn’t meant that I could graduate from “figuring it out” for each and every student – nor would I want to. I write a new prescription for each one. And frankly, much of the time that prescription involves something completely non-“Suzuki.” I don’t agree with every fingering, every bowing in the Suzuki books, or with every part of the method. I don’t always agree with my fellow teachers. But we enjoy each other, respect each other, and learn from each other.

And fundamentally, I do think that children can and should be “Nurtured by Love.”

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More entries: May 2004March 2004