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In Memory of Virginia Baker, my Violin Teacher

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Published: November 23, 2014 at 6:27 AM [UTC]

My violin teacher, Virginia Baker, passed away last Saturday. She was almost 92, so I had imagined that one day I'd be writing these words on my blog. But until today, I couldn't have imagined I'd write the rest of what follows.

She was my teacher for about eight years. As I was already 50 when I became her student, I realize now that she probably didn't expect that I would remain her student for so long. But I learned from her daughter, also a
violinist, that if I had started much younger, I probably would have already switched teachers as my development as a violinist dictated.

Virginia was also our neighbor, recommended to me by another musician neighbor. For a long time I wasn't sure she was a good fit for me as a teacher, but in the past few years I came to see how perfect she was for me--her
insistence on discipline, self-awareness, building a solid basis, and not forcing too much music theory on me. (But I did learn to appreciate the latter!)

We also had a lot of outside interests in common. Our extracurricular discussions sometimes stretched out the lessons. I welcomed these breaks as a chance to escape having to play because for a long time, I was afraid to play at my lessons. Then one day I decided to just forget that I couldn't play as perfectly as I wanted. From then on we chatted less and I played, and advanced, more.

Virginia had all her "marbles" up to the end. The only "old age" impediment was that she had to have a hearing aid especially tuned for hearing music. One day she noticed a funny noise coming out of my violin. She said to me, "Do you hear it?" I had to admit that I didn't. After a little more listening, she said, "Just a moment ... Ah, it was my hearing aid!" (Whew.)

Virginia had a long, rewarding, career as a violinist. She told me many stories over the years but I don't have all the details straight so I won't try to elaborate. But she was approximately age 90 when she "retired" from the
Berkeley (California) Symphony and the UC Berkeley Young Musicians Program (YMP), where she taught every summer. Both of these were already retirement jobs. I know that she played for the Pasadena Symphony for a long time. In
her (much) later years, she had a few other beginning students and students from YMP, but I was the last one left.

Virginia's health failed quickly over the past couple months and she recommended another teacher to me. I've learned over the years that I need the violin in my life. I've also learned the hard way that the more I play, the more bad habits I develop without ongoing lessons. So I will move on.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on November 23, 2014 at 5:28 PM
Fran, I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing these stories of your teacher and your relationship with her! It's wonderful when you can have that kind of rapport.
From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on November 24, 2014 at 6:59 AM
Thank you, Karen. I didn't go much into her personality but she was an amazing person. Her parents were behind her 100% from childhood in her pursuit of the violin and she left home in Missouri (I think) to study in Philadelphia when she was in high school. This all sounds to me very forward thinking for those days. She and her husband raised 3 children of whom she was very proud and she worked hard to get back into her career after her third went off to kindergarten. Not too many people in our neighborhood knew her (only the musicians did, it seems)--she only seemed to leave the house for errands and to pursue her interests. When I met her youngest daughter in her final days, her daughter said, "She was a great lady." That she was.

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