Friday, September 25, 2009

Where I'm coming from, Part 3: College

I started college just before I turned 17. My parents somehow arranged for me to graduate from high school a year early. As I said, they were not today's helicopter parents, but they were tired of paying private school tuition for high school and thought it would be better spent on college tuition instead. At that time (1974), college tuition was a mere fraction of what it is now. At George Washington University, which I attended for three years, I remember paying a few thousand dollars per year for full-time tuition. It was a different world.

There were also many schools that would admit you if you had a high school diploma and were breathing. GW was one of them, and those were pretty much my attributes.
I was very much not ready for college. I had no idea what I wanted to major in, let alone do or even aspire to as a career. I was painfully shy and socially inept.

That first year at GW, I signed up for piano lessons and for chamber music.  The music department then was minimalist: All classes were held in a tiny townhouse on G, or maybe H, Street. A requirement for taking chamber music was playing in the orchestra, which I hated -- and as it turned out, the chamber music didn't even happen. The piano teacher I chose, Ylda Novik, was a well-known local teacher who had nurtured several students who later had excellent careers, among them Ilana Vered and Brian Ganz.

When I went in for my first lesson, I played my Beethoven sonata movement for Mrs. Novik, and she was impressed, believe it or not. She thought I should major in piano at some other school. But alas, I was not in the least ready for that, as she probably discovered. We struggled through the semester. I worked at it as best I could, but I really had no idea how to practice. I had one disaster with one of the easy Chopin etudes at one of her "at-homes" (informal recitals at her house), and one successful student recital at the school for my end-of-semester jury, with a Mozart sonata movement.

At the same time, I was also taking a full load of freshman academics (English comp, world history,  etc.), which were also over my head. It was not a happy time.

After that semester, I tried piano lessons once more, with my first teacher's first teacher, an older German man who was very nice, but my head was just not in the right place for it. I quit playing the piano. I started playing the cello more, joined the Fairfax Symphony, and after my third year at GW tranferred to the University of Maryland in College Park as a music major.

I won't go into all of my trials, tribulations, ups, and downs here -- grist for another post another day. Let's just say that after 15 or so years of music school/low-paying jobs teaching and playing/sometimes playing well, sometimes not, I emerged with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of  Cincinnati. I had learned a great deal about music, about how to practice, and probably most important, how to deal with people -- not that I'm an expert in any of these! But when I look back on where I started and what I had to work with, I'm somewhat impressed at the level of success I did achieve.

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