Thursday, July 3, 2008

All My Students

Back in the 70's, when I was growing up outside of Boston, I'd receive numerous invitations to appear as soloist with the various, local orchestras. The engagements were always accepted for me by my mother, who insisted exposure would be essential for a developing artist, and never refused an opportunity. Although I'm certain Mom intended to sit through my concerts in those days, nerves would get the best of her, and she'd make a mad dash for the bathroom the moment I stepped on stage.

The Sunday afternoon I performed with Newton Symphony as soloist, my mother surprised me. She sat through the entire first half, and listened as I played Bloch's Nigun and Saint-Saƫns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso from the audience. What happened? Later, my mother explained to me: An elderly Jewish lady seated next to her in the balcony, urged her to calm down and enjoy the program. "But that's my daughter," said Mom to the white-haired, bespectacled lady. "I can't relax; I'm dying here; my Marjorie hasn't practiced enough; she's not ready."
"Dayge zakh nisht," the elderly lady replied in Yiddish. In other words, don't vorry.

I played those pieces convincingly, and by intermission, the two ladies came strolling backstage to greet me, arm in arm. Although they had struck up a friendship of sorts, my mother had no idea that the woman was Jennie Bernstein, Leonard Bernstein's mother. And when my mother learned of her seating partner's identity, she was astonished. "You're Leonard Bernstein's mother? Why didn't you tell me? Oh my goodness, you must be so proud of your son!"And then every other word out of my mother's mouth was Lenny, Lenny, Lenny.
Mrs. Bernstein drew in a breath, sighed a long exhale and announced: I'm proud of ALL my children.

And this little admission my mother never forgot, for when she attended my concerts here in Seattle, as I performed as soloist, chamber musician, and concertmaster, audience members would make a similar comment: Mrs. Kransberg, you must be so proud of your daughter. My mother, never forgetting Jennie Bernstein's statement, would sigh. "I'm proud of ALL my children."

This evening, I've returned home from an exciting performance of young string players enjoying quartet literature in the admirable camp called Mini-Mania founded by cellist, Leslie Marckx. One of my most gifted students, ten year old Lev Roshal gave a spectacular performance in works by Mozart and Villa-Lobos. I think Lev was born to play the violin. Quite a few of our talented students have gone on to make names for themselves in the challenging world of classical music: Carla Leurs, first prize winner in Tibor Varga International Competition after continued studies at Juilliard with Itzhak Perlman, Andrew Sumitani at University of Chicago studying privately with famed virtuoso, Ilya Kaler. Irene Cheng furthered her education at Yale Graduate School with Sidney Harth, and went on to pursue a career in teaching and concertizing. And many more lovely students: enough concertmasters and first chair players of Garfield High School and the various youth orchestras that it's difficult to keep track. Just a few weeks ago, I felt a surge of pride as a few of my top-notch students participated in a ground-breaking program at Music Works, organized by pianist Nino Merabishvili. These dedicated youngsters lift my spirits and enable me to feel hopeful for the future. But when they perform in public, even at Talvi Violin Studio recitals, I have to remind myself to calm down and sit still. I guess I inherited my mother's jitters. But here's the bottom line: Not everyone is destined to become a professional musician. Yet, I'm convinced all our students will lead successful lives because they've learned dedication and the attention to detail through the study of great music, and they will always respect and understand the art form, feeling music from the inside. I still hear Jennie Bernstein and my mother's voice chiming together, and from the bottom of my heart:
I'm proud of ALL my students.

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