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Laurie Niles

A wonderful opportunity

June 22, 2007 at 10:12 PM

It's a small miracle that Brandon Garbot ever started playing the violin at all, much less was chosen as one of the 10 young artists from around the world who played for masterclasses and recitals at the 2007 Starling-DeLay Symposium on Violin Studies at Juilliard.

Dave Garbot, Brandon Garbot, and his teacher, Clarisse Atcherson

Brandon fell in love with the violin as a kindergartner at Nancy Ryles Elementary School in Beaverton, Oregon, when one of his classmates gave a short violin performance for his class.

But his elementary school didn't actually offer instrumental music anymore. Though instrumental music had been part of the elementary curriculum, Oregon voters passed a tax limit in 1993 which took away funding, said music teacher Suzanne Gaye.

"Beaverton saw fit to get rid of the string programs in the elementary schools," Gaye said. "In fact, they got rid of all instrumental music at the elementary level."

Gaye is a long-time instrumental music teacher who still teaches in the public schools – now in the upper grades. Because she understood the importance of string players starting young, though, she made a special effort after that funding dried up. She offered an after-school program to children in first through fifth grade at Brandon's elementary school.

At age seven, Brandon was given a choice for after-school classes: violin or Spanish? He picked violin.

Gaye, who also is a Suzuki teacher, insisted that a parent attend the classes, so Brandon and his father, Dave Garbot, came at 4 p.m. every Monday for Gaye's after-school violin program. Brandon's father is a graphic designer, and his mother is a visual artist.

At the end of the year, Brandon's dad approached Gaye, "His dad said, 'I think we need to sign up for private lessons – all he wants to do is play!'"

Gaye gave him lessons for about a year. "He was ready to roll," she said. "I'd give him two pieces a week, and they'd come back memorized."

At this point, she asked another violin teacher, Clarisse Atcherson, if she could take Brandon.

Atcherson, a popular teacher in the Portland area, had a full studio already. She could teach him only once every two weeks. So for a year, Gaye and Atcherson traded off, each teaching him every other week. This did not seem to faze Brandon, or to slow his rapid progress.

"He worked really hard and impressed me," Atcherson said. She cleared out even more time to teach him, and he went full-time with her.

Around the time Brandon became her full-time student, Atcherson attended her first Starling-DeLay Symposium at Juilliard. She started to think about having some of her own students try out for the program, and in 2005, some students applied but did not get in. For the 2007 Symposium, she encourage Brandon to audition, and he was chosen.

"It was a great experience for him," said Dave Garbot, Brandon's father. "We feel very fortunate he was selected to go."

To get ready for the Symposium, Brandon practiced performing as much as possible. Brandon, who is now 13, played two recitals at Atcherson's house, and he also played in the Oregon Music Teachers Association Competition, winning first place.

And what was it like, playing in New York, at Juilliard, for hundreds of teachers with high expectations?

Well, the first time he played, "I was really tight and nervous," Brandon said. But as the Symposium went on and he played more, "I learned to relax myself before going out on stage."

For Brandon's teacher, in the audience, "it's actually like being the Mom or Dad – I knew Brandon was prepared; I knew Brandon sounded great. I was rooting for him."

At his first masterclass with Stephen Clapp, Brandon showed that he had his own ideas about interpretation, breaking away from some of the conventions we use in Bach's G minor Sonata.

In studying the Bach, Brandon had listened to two contrasting recordings: one by Nathan Milstein and another by the Baroque violinist Rachel Podger, Atcherson said. He also studied the score and came up with his own ideas, he said, such as where to take time, etc. This seems to be his pattern, she said.

"Every week he comes to his lesson with new expressive markings in his music," said Atcherson, who also attended the Symposium in New York. "Brandon has an intuitive artistic craving."

"Everything comes from within," said Dave Garbot. "When it comes to practice, he does it himself."

Atcherson appreciated the opportunities Brandon had as a result of the Symposium.

"He got to play for some big-name, wonderful teachers, he got to play in recital, he got to see New York and to see Juilliard," Atcherson said. "It enabled him to connect with some of these teachers who could be a future teacher. Just to get to play for someone like Paul Kantor, or watch Itzhak Perlman teach is a wonderful opportunity."

From Ray Randall
Posted on June 22, 2007 at 10:31 PM
Way to go, Brandon, plus you can think on your own.
From Robert Berentz
Posted on June 22, 2007 at 11:16 PM
When things click - they click. Great story!
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 3:13 AM
Laurie, Suzanne Gaye's initiative and personal intervention to teach at the elementary school level reminds me of your own initiative to teach violin at an elementary school where such instruction is not available. Who knows? In years to come, one of your students may be chosen for a master class at Juilliard. Whether this happens or not, you have enriched your students' lives immeasurably with music.
From Ariel Lindgren
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 10:45 AM
What especially impresses me while reading about Brandon Garbot is his already strong profile and having the important support of his father, and two teachers, Suzanne Gaye and Clarisse Atcherson who understood that he deserves all possible assistance.
They sound like really great teachers, and that's why I think, one should never forget to mention one's first teacher, who, if they do a good job, are the ones, who present a violinist, who makes the work of the worldfamous pedagogues able to fully concentrate on interpretation and continue the work of mastering the instrument.

This with being inspired is enormously important. I will never forget, when I as a young student heard and spoke with David Oistrakh. Three times I've heard him playing and rehearsing and I'm just grateful for being born only for these moments.

So, my best wishes to Brandon!

And also a great 'Thank You' to you Laurie Niles for this site and your interesting articles.

From Clare Chu
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 2:15 PM
Yes, there should be some special recognition for that first teacher. They are the ones who placed the tiny hands into position, who trained the little ears to hear, who made up the nursery rhymes to count by, who played the funny games that nurtured and watered the little sprout that developed later into a fine violinist.

How many of you remember and cherish your first teacher? Mine was Elizabeth Moe. Even though others may not know about them, they must have a special place in Heaven.

First teachers:
Heifetz - his father
Milstein - Pyotr Stolyarsky
David Oistrakh - Pyotr Stolyarsky
Erick Friedman - Samuel Applebaum
Joshua Bell - Mimi Zweig
Sarah Chang - her father
Kyung-Wha Chung - friend of her father
Midori - her mother Setsu Goto
Leonid Kogan - Philip Yampolsky
Anne Sophie Mutter - had to flee Berlin because she was part Jewish (name?)

From Laurie Niles
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 3:53 PM
My first teacher was a very energetic and over-worked public school teacher in Aurora, Colorado named Linda Walker. For a time, she taught me (and lots of other kids) private lessons in her living room, until I could find another teacher.
From JanMichelle Dimmick-Reyes
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 7:03 PM
Great story! My first teacher--my father!
From Samuel Thompson
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 8:07 PM
Yeah!!! He thinks for himself - a trailblazer already...very much looking forward to hearing him in concert someday!
From Gabriel Kastelle
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 9:12 PM
First teacher: Jack Smrekar, in Tigard, OR public schools, right next to Beaverton, where both my parents worked. I'm sorry to hear about Beaverton's choice! Maybe I should move back and shake things up!!
From Anne Horvath
Posted on June 23, 2007 at 10:06 PM
I am good friends with my first teacher. I was out to dinner with her (The Irish Rover!) last week when I was in town visiting! I had her as a teacher for eight years, until I went off to college. She was just great, and most importantly, more stubborn than me. I am very lucky.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on June 24, 2007 at 12:55 AM
I remember my first teacher very well and think of him often and lovingly. His style is well described in the song "The Leader of the Band." I studied with him for several years, and he was almost like family for me. When he died, I couldn't bear to listen to music for a month, and it was a year before I could listen to solo violin music. I have his framed, autographed, photo just inside the door in my home. People often ask about the photo.

This discussion interests me from another perspective: I'm a teacher of beginning violin students. I hope that in the future, some of them will look back to me with affection and respect.

From Ariel Lindgren
Posted on June 25, 2007 at 3:31 PM
Of course, I must also mention my first teacher here.
His name was Knut Känne, a military musician in Skövde, Sweden, but who was quite an accomplished violinist. As I was 16 years old, when I began and had grown up with music, I was not only satisfied with etudes by Kayser and duets from the violinbook. After one year I came to the lesson with the Adagio from Bach's E-Major concerto, which I later played at two musicschool concerts. Today I really understand how difficult this slow movement is, but so heavenly beautiful. After two years I was completely in love with the Canzonetta from the Tchaikovsky concert and he allowed me to study and play it for the next years schoolconcerts.
But, when I came with Brahms G-Major sonata he made it clear that there is something to learn before all these great works.
His greatness was though that he so well understood that my taste was far more advanced than my capacity to play, so he supported me on the condition that I studied the real basics with the same devotion every single day. From the very beginning I tried with vibrato and I was completely carried away with slow movements and so I am up to this very day.
One thing, which he gave me very strongly, was the respect for the rhythm. One or two false notes he could accept, but never out of rhythm.
Then I was introduced to Tibor Berkovits in the Netherlands and a new period of my life started.

P.S. From here on I'll try to be shorter.

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