Pedagogue Odin Rathnam

May 18, 2016, 7:24 PM · "Music and its needs are like a refining fire, constantly challenging us to re-evaluate our choices, our approach, and our tools. It is music that humbles me, day after day, year after year... But confidence in one's abilities to do music justice is just as important as humility towards music."
- Odin Rathnam

Finding a teacher is no small task. We as musicians intuitively know what it is that we need at certain times in our development, and while the search can for some include numerous flights across the world for advice, there are others of us who are fortunate enough to have the teacher appear at the right moment.

My first experience of “the teacher appearing” was in 1994 when, as I was preparing my senior recital, I went to Houston for what was an amazing lesson with Fredell Lack. On the day I arrived in Houston, I of course went to Ms. Lack’s studio, at which time she said “I’m so glad you’re here – come to my studio class today, my friend Kenneth Goldsmith is teaching.” After having been absolutely floored by the level of playing exhibited by Ms. Lack’s students during the 1993 Texas Music Festival, I leapt at the chance – especially since I was in the process of making decisions. What can I say: while Ms. Lack’s studio at the time was world class (a studio that included current Oregon Symphony violinist Greg Ewer) and the lesson with her immensely beneficial, I was so stunned by the level of technical analysis and musical thought that Mr. Goldsmith showed in the master class preceding my lesson with Ms. Lack that I “made a choice”. Fortunately, he took me on – and that story will be told at another time.

After graduating from Rice, I was again fortunate in that I was offered a fellowship with the New World Symphony. I DID in that time of transition have some questions about my playing and approaching the “in between phase”, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask violist/pedagogue Donald McGinnes about which direction to take. His answer: "You take your time and find a pedagogue with whom you can work on your violin playing."

Those of you who have "followed me" over the past few years - which humbles me - are all aware of the friendship that I have developed with Odin Rathnam. This is a friendship that started in 2010 when, out of nowhere, I received a message from him in which he shared his admiration of my writing.

At the time, Odin was actively maintaining his career as a soloist while also serving as the concertmaster of the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra. Needless to say, when an opportunity came both to meet him in person and hear him, I took it - and wrote about it.

I the six years that I have known Odin, I have remained fascinated, humbled, and inspired as I have witnessed his continued growth as a soloist, musician and human being: Odin Rathnam is a man who follows his inner imperatives and tirelessly devotes himself to the pursuit of his highest ideals both musically and personally. While I COULD spend time here listing his resume and the platitudes, I shall not: we live in a technological age, one in which there is a search engine powered by Google through which you can know more about Odin the concert violinist. Furthermore, it must be said that Odin has remained a steadfast FRIEND and advisor over these years, one who anyone would be lucky to have.

In tandem with his growing concert schedule, Odin has remained a passionate, dedicated, and
no-nonsense pedagogue. His desire to share is unparalleled, and his teaching is built from the same love and fervent desire which are made evident through his recent master classes at the Starling-DeLay Symposium during which he brilliantly and clearly explained the modern bow technique espoused by the late Ivan Galamian.

Gavin Fallow, a Washington-DC based violinist who serves as principal second violinist of the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra as well as both concertmaster and soloist with the Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra, is one of many who has studied with Odin. When asked about his experience, Gavin shared deep gratitude for having developed a newfound freedom of expression in his playing. "From our very first lesson together, Odin helped me solve problems I hadn't even identified, along with the problems that I was working on. He was both very encouraging and very demanding, which was exactly what I needed. I always had the sense the Odin expected more of me than I did of myself, which was a huge motivator when the going got tough."

Of course, teaching is never subjective: time spent one-on-one often results in teachers gaining profound understanding of their students. Lorenzo Raval, a Philadelphia based violinist and member of the groundbreaking Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, echoed that thought when asked to speak of Odin: "What makes Odin such a special teacher is his ability see the whole student - what their strengths are, what areas in their playing need a little more attention, and what makes each students unique and what makes them tick as individual musicians. From there he is able to zero in and address specific aspects of their playing so that one sees measurable progress over time, which in turn facilitates overall improvement."|

The deep relationship between student and teacher is vital, and while it is the instructor’s job to focus on helping a student improve both his technical ability and musical understanding it is equally important for the teacher to be encouraging as there are many paths from which students come – and many paths that students later take. Gavin Fallow has had a fascinating journey, and he shared that he found himself feeling both understood and encouraged by Mr. Rathnam. "I have had a very unconventional path as a professional musician, and have often felt misunderstood. Odin seems to be able to see way beyond the perspective of a typical professional violinist, and it is wonderful to work with a teacher who has no specific agenda for his students besides the music."

On a personal note: while preparing for the National Symphony audition in 2015, I jumped on the opportunity to have a lesson with Odin. This lesson was in tandem with Odin’s visit to Baltimore during which he performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto as soloist with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, and during the two hours with him he shared priceless insights that stem from his personal work and devotion to the very strict yet necessary nuts and bolts of violin technique. During the course of our time, it was clear that Odin has no need to "impress the world" or me: he was a man focused solely on duty, at that time duty being to impart both knowledge and wisdom.

Now based in Manhattan, Odin is more than available to musicians who, like myself and those quoted here, have questioned both their individual relationship to the violin and how they should approach the craft. While the field is open – there are MANY people who “have the stuff” - it must be said that Odin Rathnam is one of a handful of people who will definitely bring any student back to "brass": a teacher who will diligently and wholeheartedly offer support, guidance, and no-nonsense thought not only to violin playing but to how one approaches every area of life, and that has proven to be most beneficial in ways that I cannot articulate.

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May 24, 2016 at 05:59 AM · Thank you, Samuel. I am one of those who has enjoyed your writing over the years.

My own violin teacher died about 1.5 years ago. During this time I have come to appreciate her own qualities as a teacher and realized how she molded me into being my own teacher. But I didn't get the sense about how she considered me unique the way Mr. Rathnam does. I'm glad you can appreciate it and write about it.

I also appreciate the link to Mr. Galamian's class: what you said about it was intriguing.

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