From the dark side

March 31, 2018, 1:23 PM · I just read a fascinating article in the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/nyregion/redemption-of-a-lost-prodigy.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news


Replies (28)

March 31, 2018, 9:08 PM · Thanks for posting that. Quite a read.
March 31, 2018, 10:27 PM · I read that article. It's extremely well-written but I kept thinking that perhaps the writer should have just left Mr. Chandler in peace. Seems as if Mr. Chandler has lived a good life on his own terms, and quite successfully too by most metrics (professional career that paid well enough for him to pursue his passion, a long marriage, etc)--who is anyone to describe him as "lost?"
March 31, 2018, 11:16 PM · Very sad read really, I do agree with Mary Ellen though, he should be left in peace to live his life how he wants to live it..........though it would have been a glittering career.
Edited: April 1, 2018, 1:44 AM · I believe Mary Ellen has it right, but "left in peace" seems to imply a victim struggling on the fringes of society. To my mind this is a slanted piece of journalism, trying to portray tragedy where none exists. Child prodigies of various degrees of prodigousness are frequently over-praised and pressed into making a career move far too young. Mr Chandler was lucky to have discovered quite early on that he was temperamentally unsuited to becoming a professional violinist. It was a painful discovery at the time, but he moved on. Did it ruin his life? No. Was the world deprived of a great talent? Probably not. Think of the countless talented sportspersons who were forced to find another career on account of injury or having their opportunities thwarted by chance. What is so special about musicians?!
April 1, 2018, 5:26 AM · “They loved me in Yugoslavia,” he said.
Edited: April 1, 2018, 6:05 AM · Somehow this isn't sad at all to me. He escaped the grind, ends up building yachts in New York City, sails across the world for fun. One flew over the cuckoo's nest. You guys are always informing teens how tough a musician's life is. And Steve I agree with you, slanted piece...it struck me when the writer tries to ask Perlman if some guy got a better grade than him in a school recital once 50 years ago. Really?
Edited: April 1, 2018, 10:07 AM · It also struck me that the violin depicted in the NYT article looked in remarkably good condition for one that we were told had been in an unopened case for 50 years - strings, bridge and chinrest apparently very well preserved. Or were we seeing an example of journalistic dramatic licence somewhere along the line?

Fwiw, I know from first-hand experience what a violin looks like that has been encased for over half a century. It is a violin that I inherited in the late 1990s. At the start of WW2 it had been put in its case and stored in cupboards in a succession of houses until it was handed over to me. Mainly, the bridge and soundpost were down, the gut strings were a sorry frayed mess, the tail button was in two pieces, there were three cracks in the belly, and the bow was in bad need of a rehair. Very much a job for the local luthier before I could start learning to play it. He worked wonders to the extent that it is now my main violin and I wouldn't be without it.

I also noted that Chandler's original name was Lipschutz and that his father was a professional mathematician at university level, which explains why Chandler got himself a good career in maths. When I saw the name Lipschutz that rang faint bells dating back to my uni maths and science studies - there was a Seymour Saul Lipschutz, a university professor, who authored a number of math books, some of which I remember referring to. I wonder if that person was Saul Chandler's father - dates and location fit.

I have no disagreement with the main thesis of the article, that some child music prodigies can be much better off mentally and emotionally if they go down a completely different career road, as Chandler did.


April 1, 2018, 8:35 AM · Meanwhile some of us adult-starters with no special talent are determined to slogg on down the amateur's path....
April 1, 2018, 11:52 AM · Interesting. He comments that Galamian was an idiot. This was not the case. It is true that he rarely demonstrated in lessons and when he did it didn't sound too good. However, he was teaching at least 40 hours a week if not more, so he was always out of shape. His success was due to the fact that he was able to get his students to practice, not a small feat. Chandler said that Galamian never said your playing was good, only better. I believe it was at least my 3rd year of study that he said something was good. I practically fainted. With many of his students he set up an adversarial relationship so the student was constantly trying to prove to Galamian that they actually were "good."
This worked with many of us. I actually studied with him for 8 years, getting BS, MM, and DMA degrees. Eventually I rationalized that by thinking that he was the least harmful teacher at Juilliard. Dorothy Delay had a different way of getting students to practice. She had a very positive approach.
April 2, 2018, 3:53 AM · A moving story, and I fear far more common than we like to think.
Parents, (and teachers) take note!
April 2, 2018, 9:10 AM · He hasn’t completely given up! A jury grade received more than 50 years ago still matters to him.
Edited: April 2, 2018, 10:16 AM · Right, and he says that he “hates” his violin so very much, yet there it still is....I’m sure he could have sold it off for quite a bit if he really wanted to wash his hands of it completely.

Complicated situation for sure.

April 2, 2018, 10:24 AM · It's so sad that he hasn't continued to play as an amateur... in the true meaning of the word.
Edited: April 2, 2018, 12:25 PM · Boats and violins actually have much in common. Both, in their traditional forms, are contraptions made of wood and wire. If you've sailed a boat you know that the rigging sings in the wind. Their forms can be voluptuous and their structures gorgeous. I've been attracted to both since I was young. I'll read the article later; right now I need to go practice.

Okay, now I've read the article. Wow! Melville novels and the Three B's: Bach, Brahms and Budweiser. Not so fond of Mozart apparently. Great article!

April 2, 2018, 11:29 AM · I might gather incorrectly that he felt robbed of time and his childhood. I am not sure this was so much a mental breakdown as a rebellion against the thing that he felt robbed him.He spent the rest of his life reclaiming it.

It's a shame there couldn't have been more of a balance. Yes there are many good violinists. I don't believe he would have just been another one of those.
No more than Edison was just another physicist. The individual would shine through. None of us are cord wood.

I can understand why he felt like a "trained monkey".Perhaps he would have excelled better playing new compositions. We'll never know. Being recognized in the violin world seems to be all about replaying the works of the "masters".JMHO. YMMV.

April 2, 2018, 2:20 PM · Interesting responses. My personal take on the article is that Mr. Chandler (interesting name choice for a boat builder) has a mixed relationship with the violin despite all of his talk, he still owns the violin and, if the pictures are to be believed, he takes good care of it. Maybe he still plays it for himself when far-far away from other people.

That he met with the reporter and spent time with him tells us that he does want his story told to the world.

I sometimes wonder about what actually happens to the majority of prodigies that rise up in music. While rare, my guess is that most of them never come to the level of being recognized at the level of a Perlman or Midori or Bell. Some do become meteorites that flash across the musical sky and disappear. Most, I imagine, find alternate careers.

April 2, 2018, 2:24 PM · By the reporter's own admission, he had to ask Mr. Chandler more than a few times for an interview before one was granted. I am not so sure Mr. Chandler wanted his story told to the world as much as he wanted to get the reporter to leave him alone.
Edited: April 2, 2018, 3:07 PM · This is just guess work, but Mr. Chandler and I were born the same year. If he's a virgo, then our birthdays are really close together. I remember a nautical movie when I was growing up called "Away All Boats" starring Jeff Chandler. I've always remembered it. Maybe that movie is why he liked that name. His violin does appear to have had loving care. And if it had really been neglected for 50 years, the bow would have been rendered unusable by bow mites. Thus, I suspect, he's given it more care and attention than he would like to admit. Typical love/hate relationship.
April 2, 2018, 3:23 PM · It's OK. I agree with the person that stated that quitting was right for him. He clearly did not enjoy the process, so why prolong it? Make your original teacher happy? Not fair.

But if you love your instrument, you are not Mr. Chandler, and should not stop. The violin is not as terrorizing as it's made up to be-what he loathed the most seemingly was the "professional musician" process. The violin and its repertoire themselves are innocent, and not guilty of humanity's worse aspects.

I also disagree with many of Mr. Chandler's characterizations of his teacher, the violin, and music in general. One thing I agree is that it was probably not a life meant for him.

April 2, 2018, 4:20 PM · My father had a mentor (medical doctor) who liked to say that what you do is not what you're good at-- it is what you are. He saw many gifted surgeons, for example, wind up in radiology because they couldn't handle the instant decision-making and high-ego, macho culture of the operating room.

It's not clear what happened with this guy, but a lot about the music business obviously wasn't clicking with him, at least what he saw at Juilliard in those days.

BTW, "chandler" is a seller of equipment to boats and ships.

April 2, 2018, 4:42 PM · BTW, "chandler" is a seller of equipment to boats and ships.

Yeah, but I'm going by what I knew as a teenager.

April 2, 2018, 5:41 PM · “Then he placed it to his chin and released his bow. A warm, glorious tone rose through the apartment. Then he bowed again, violently sliding his hand up the violin’s neck, and a graceful, thunderous sound filled the room. Then the note faded away.”

I bet he still practices!

Edited: April 2, 2018, 5:57 PM · Can I suggest we re-imagine the story, substituting "circus boy" for "violin prodigy". A child of 9 is found to have a talent for tumbling and is sent to be trained by a troupe of circus artistes. After 6 years of intensive practice he becomes adept at the high wire and the flying trapeze, but decides he has had enough of being controlled by adults and wants to lead a normal life instead. He runs away from the circus and becomes an accountant. When asked 55 years later whether he has any regrets he answers "Nah, I hated it then and I hate it now". The interviewer decides this doesn't make a good story, tries to depict him as a bum and headlines his piece "Redemption of a lost prodigy" (redemption - "the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil"). Unintentionally rather appropriate I think!
April 3, 2018, 5:10 PM · I agree with Adalberto Valle-Rivera...
Edited: April 28, 2018, 12:11 PM · Mr Chandler is quoted as saying “My biggest regret in life is that I let lots of people down,” he said. “They worked hard. But they worked hard to turn me into a trained monkey. Anyone can become a monkey. Even a chimpanzee can become a concert violinist.”

My reading of that, in the context of the other things the article says about him, is that it was, at least in part, a comment on Galamian's systematic approach to teaching violin, and that--though it is a somewhat pointless hypothetical--he and perhaps others might have flourished under a different type of teaching. Erick Friedman, who had several teachers, was also uncomplimentary about Galamian while he spoke well about the other teachers; whereas some Galamian students, such as Zuckerman, continue to speak very highly of Galamian and about his method.

Edited: April 29, 2018, 1:59 AM · I feel like I should weigh in on this, because I have a lot in common with Mr. Chandler.

I wasn't a violin/viola prodigy -- I'm a late starter. But I was a math prodigy (took college level math starting at 13, qualified for the US Math Olympiad when no other Texan did in my entire four years of high school) and an elite swimmer in my age group when I was growing up, and very good at a number of other things. Between ages 15 and 24, I abandoned literally everything I'd been at all good at when I started high school. I stopped swimming when I was 15, and it wasn't until I was 31 that a significant other convinced me to even get into a swimming pool again; I still haven't ever tried to swim laps again. I changed my college major from physics to biology, then at 24, halfway through medical school, walked away from science entirely to become a lawyer. I quit other hobbies I was good at, too: went from placing second in a city chess championship at 11 to not playing a single game between ages 16 and 28 and only playing a single-digit number of games since then.

And I've had exactly zero interest in ever going back to any of it. As far as I'm concerned, that chapter of my life is over. Instead, everything I do today, whether professionally or in my spare time, is something I was a late-bloomer in. Writing was perhaps what I was worst at in high school; today, as a lawyer, I basically write for a living. I switched sports to soccer, and ended up competing in college soccer; I'd played a little from an early age but only started to train seriously when I was 15 or 16. Playing viola is actually my closest connection to who I was in high school, because I was at least a serious music student on piano... but I stopped playing piano almost completely about halfway through college, and switched to the instrument I started late, which I'd been repeatedly told I had no chance to ever play at a decent level.

I find more satisfaction in simply being a competent lawyer than I think I would if I were to win a Nobel Prize in physics or medicine, precisely because I know I was a terrible writer at one point and no one would have expected me to even think about law as a career. I was happier playing only about 20 competitive minutes (less than a quarter of a game) in three seasons of college soccer put together, having just barely made the team, than I was piling up medals at swim meets. And the single accomplishment I'm most proud of? Self-teaching viola to where I am now.

I don't think I was trying to get away from pressure. It was more that, in things I was expected to be good at, any and all accomplishments felt utterly anticlimactic. On the other hand, even the smallest accomplishments have been extremely satisfying in areas where I'm supposed to fail.

Maybe that offers a bit of insight into Mr. Chandler's thoughts. I don't think I'm as bitter as he is about the life of a child prodigy, but then I also realize none of the things I was really good at put nearly as much pressure on children as music does.

April 29, 2018, 3:19 AM · I read the above post with interest. I somehow envy people who find one thing and do it superlatively. Some, like Menuhin, or Min Kym whose book I have just reviewed on maestronet, are channelled into a path when young. Others find it in early (or late) adulthood. For example, I recently chatted with a (can I say 'my') violin / viola /cello maker who is like that, and who says that after eight hours at college during the day, he would go home and spend eight hours making instruments in the evening too; and for decades has neither stopped this pattern of work, nor spent time on marketing, competitions, or building a reputation, though word of mouth about the excellent affordable instruments generates a flow of sales. Whereas I have done many things, though I was never star as a child, and that is rewarding in a different way.
April 29, 2018, 1:07 PM · I don't think it's sad at all. I think it's lovely that he knew when the time was to stop. He saw music for what it was to him, and that it wasn't something he would have been happy pursuing forever.

Talent is usually a curse more than a gift, to the person who has it. And everyone wants to tell you what to do with it, and how much you're supposed to appreciate it.

Talent, alone, would be a beautiful thing, but other people usually ruin it.

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