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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.


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Laurie Niles

June 16, 2005 at 5:49 PM

“Would you like to play on my Amati?”

This is the question Helen Brunner asked the three girls her Suzuki Book 7 repertoire class today.

I could almost see their eyes brighten and their pulses quicken. These may be 10- and 11-year-olds, but they are no ordinary kids. They know the value of an Amati! And they are among the few of us who understand it for its real value and not the number on its pricetag, though that is rather astounding as well!

Amelia Ransom was the first person to take the fiddle in hand, to play La Folia. After a few minutes, a smile crept across her face. It reminded me of meeting someone for the first time, someone whom everyone has told you is a wonderful person. You don't really know it until you introduce yourself and ask this person a question. When the person smiles at you and answers with the most amazing and unexpected response, then you know she is your friend!

Amelia Ransom
Amelia Ransom

Next came Kaelyn Quinn, who played the Rigadoun part of Kreisler's Sicilienne and Rigadoun. She's been playing it at lightning speed all week, and the Amati had no problem with this concept. The most amazing part to me, actually was the end, the way her effect of sweeping off the string and doing two pizzicati just sounded like something off a Heifetz recording!
Kaelyn Quinn
Kaelyn Quinn

“I want that violin!” Kaelyn said emphatically after tossing off those last notes.

Then Mia Buettner played the first movement of the Handel Sonata in F, which she had just worked on so effectively with Helen. It was so evident that she has a deep pool of musicality waiting to be tapped into, and Helen, in just three days, helped her iron out some rhythms, open up her vibrato and start following what Helen calls the “organic dynamics” of the piece. The Amati could show her even more about this, the way it responded to her.

Mia Buettner
Mia Buettner

All the while, Helen sat by the window, taking in the girls' playing. Helen is the type of teacher that does more than just look, she sees, and she does more than just listen, she hears.
Helen Brunner
Helen Brunner

I have this sneaking suspicion that, when she sold her estate to buy the Amati, she did not do it just to make herself sound fantastic all the time, or just for the shear pleasure of being able to play on such an instrument.

I have a feeling that she had just these kinds of moments in mind, that she wanted to use it as a way of showing children their potential.

Would you let a room full of 10-year-olds students play your Amati, if you had one?

She would. What a wonderful gift.

Later in the day, Helen did the same thing again with eight children in her Suzuki Book 7-8 repertoire class. They had been working on standing perfectly straight and producing a beautiful tone with their violins, playing the Chorus from Judas Maccabeus.

“Let's try it on this violin,” said Helen, handing her Amati to the first person in the line.

“Should I just breathe?” asked the girl.

“It's just a normal, 1683 Amati violin,” Helen assured her. With that came the girl's Chorus, after which she handed the violin to the person next to her. Helen did not even touch the violin, she just let them hand it to each other.

“I know it's a bit big, but just go for it Christopher,” she said. “And use the whole bow.”

“By the way, you wouldn't think of dropping it as you pass it from person to person, would you?” she said, smiling.

When every child in the room had taken a turn with the Amati, she had them all stand up to play together.

“Now,” she said. “Nine Amatis in the room!”

From Jenni Thompson
Posted on June 16, 2005 at 9:35 PM
Laurie, I heard this story from my teacher - she's done this before - and I think it's incredible. I had such a clear picture in my head of her sitting, smiling, watching the students play her violin, and I bet you're right that she indeed had that in mind when she sold her worldly possessions to have the Amati. :) That really touched me.
From Max Tresmond
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 12:53 AM
Laurie, this was an elegantly written entry with a beautiful concept.

I would indeed let the children play the Amati, if I were in her position.

From Peter Ferreira
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 1:02 AM
My violin is only about $40,000 and I let my students try it out! The person I coach with ownes a guitar strad and he lets me play it.

It's fun,

PF

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 2:03 AM
"Ok, I'll play your violin. But not your harmonica."
From Melanie Burkett
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 3:01 AM
actually, the reference to listening and hearing is backwards int eh summary, hearing refers to any recognition of noise or sounds conciously or unconciously, where as listening is considered to be interpretation, attention, and selective hearing of certain things, so you should say "she does more than hears, she listens". just a grammatical thing
From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 3:47 AM
She actually does more than listen, though. It's listening on an entirely different level. Sort of like when you are talking and talking and explaining and some sympathetic listener says, "I hear you!"
From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 3:49 AM
Jenni, you are right, it really is touching! And Max and Peter, you both have generous impulses, too. It is so important to help children and students understand and enjoy music!
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 4:03 AM
In certain usages "hear" has connotations of extraordinary perception, as does "see." So I have to agree with the suitability of the original sentence, in as much as the intent was an acknowledgement of the skill. However, we must recognize that the sentence does not disclose a particular skill, rather it simply professes it.
From Jen Gray
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 4:10 AM
Dear Laurie
What lovely posts you have given us this week! Helen is an inspiring and funny and elegant and outrageous woman and teacher and you have rekindled wonderful memories of training with her and watching her share her gifts with students on both sides of the Atlantic. Her insight and experience and willingness to share of herself is a model of what Suzuki teaching should be. Enjoy your week and hello to Helen from Vancouver

Jennifer Gray

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 5:16 AM
Helen sounds like a truly inspiring person. Her sharing of her Amati is like sharing her heart. Laurie, the blog entries you have written about her are very inspiring, too.

Re hear and listen: I don't want to get hung up on the semantics because the meaning is clear. However, I've been told that the Chinese language has more than one ideogram for "listen," and one of them shows "listen" with "heart." I believe that's what Helen did.

Thanks for the photos of the students. They make the story seem so real and personal.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 5:57 AM
Aw, come on Pauline. Should it be hear and listen, or listen and hear? :) How was Ms. Tennant?
From Kelsey Z.
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 6:15 AM
Where can I sign up for classes with this lady? Not just in playing but in teaching! She sounds amazing!
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 4:00 PM
Jim and everyone else, please see my blog, 6/17/05, for my impression of Lady Tennant's performance.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 6:35 PM
I did already. Glad you had a good time.
From Anna Rose Lawrence
Posted on June 17, 2005 at 7:19 PM
can i sneak into her class and pretend to be a little suzuki kid.... i'm short enough to pass for a kid....

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