Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Where I'm coming from, continued

Now that I've been thinking about this, it's clear that my parents saw that I had talent at music and did their best to nurture it. After all, they sent me to piano lessons and cello lessons, they rented a 3/4-sized cello for me shortly after I started, and then bought a cello ($250 at Chuck Levin's, bow and canvas bag included). My mother drove me to McLean, Virginia, for my cello lessons every Sunday morning. And they were not the helicopter parents of today; they subscribed more to a laissez-faire philosophy (expressed in the title of book we had, How to Raise Children at Home in Your Spare Time).

But they really didn't know anything about it.
I remember my mother saying about Mr. Hofmekler, "He doesn't know about anything but music," when he was actually retired secret service (I am guessing CIA) who had served since WWII after escaping from pre-Nazi Europe (where all of the rest of his family, save for one brother, died in concentration camps). When I was taking lessons from him, he was teaching and freelancing mostly as a hobby. His family had all been musicians, and he himself had studied cello with Julius Klengel. He had a beautiful house. He had a huge supply of fresh new cello music that he handed out at lessons as needed, and he would also write out exercises for us. I was painfully shy then, and my mother was not much less so, so we never developed a friendship with him, unfortunately.

He was a much better teacher than my piano teacher, and the cello was more interesting than the piano from my point of view at the time: I was performing (in the junior high orchestra, in the DC Youth Orchestra, and even at occasional MTNA recitals and local competitions). I played at some juried event at Peabody once, and a Mr. Ahn wrote on my sheet, "Beautiful singing tone." I still liked playing the piano, but the whole business -- memorizing, performing, making music with it -- was almost a complete mystery to me. I knew one had to practice for many hours every day, but I had only a vague idea what that practice should consist of. My piano teacher pretty much limited her advice to practicing with a metronome and the admonition, which she wrote many times in my lesson notebook, "In Repetition There Is Security!!!"

I remember once waiting for a chamber music reading session to start during a summer at DCYO. There was a piano there, and I sat down and started playing the Rachmaninoff prelude I'd been working on. The teacher who was there was impressed and asked me if I'd like to get together with a cellist and violinist to play a Mendelssohn trio. So I dutifully went out and got the music, took it to my lessons, and practiced it as best I could, but when the three of us finally had a session on it, my playing was woefully, woefully (did I say "woefully"?) inadequate. The other two girls did not express an interest in continuing with the project. What my teacher didn't impress upon me, and what I certainly did not know from experience, was that a pianist in chamber music must be significantly better, and better prepared, than any of the other instruments. Piano parts are harder on some large exponential scale than any of the other parts.

In any case, I kept up my lessons on both instruments through my rather chaotic two years of high school (a drama in itself, having to do with politics, race, eating disorders, family finances, and women's liberation, which I won't go into here), and I continued with the youth orchestra. For an odd month or so I took lessons from a nun -- some experiment with my high school trying to offer an arts curriculum, I believe. She was a good teacher, but the lessons stopped as mysteriously as they started.

To be continued, again  . . .

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