Tuesday, August 19, 2008


With another school year only weeks away, and summer drawing to a close, it's always a mood lifter to receive a phone call from Walter Schwede, former Associate Concertmaster of SS orchestra (the best they ever had) and now Professor of Violin at Western Washington University in Bellingham. I've always admired Walter Schwede's soulful artistry. He's a beautiful violinist, caring teacher and supportive colleague; rare attributes this day in age. So, when Walter bubbles with enthusiasm for having spent another summer teaching at Meadowmount School of Music in upstate New York, I inhale his exuberance. My mind travels back circa 1970's, before cell phones and the internet, to the days when I attended that unique summer school for strings. Indeed, Meadowmount is so close to my heart, that it's one place I must revisit before I die.

My parents sent me to Meadowmount because it had the reputation of being a Boot Camp for Musicians. Meadowmount had nurtured the artistic talents of such luminaries as Michael Rabin, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Erick Friedman, and Miriam Fried, among an impressive list of others. The Meadowmount schedule was rigorous; five to six hours of daily practice, with private lessons, coachings and performance gatherings. My first year of attendance in 1971, I was eleven years old, a student of Sally Thomas. My tiny cubicle of a room was directly above Ivan Galamian's studio in the Main House. The first thing my mother said as she unpacked my belongings:
Sweetheart! Put your ear to the floor and you'll be able to hear Mr. Galamian teach all day long! You'll be that much ahead of the other students. I sat on the lumpy cot and stared at my mother. Picking my fingernails, I wondered how I'd survive the homesickness, not to mention the exhaustive, tedious, painful hours of relentless, unendurable practice.

But once my parents left the premises, I gathered my courage and reached out for friends. I met students from all over the country, and far away places. For a kid growing up in Beverly, Massachusetts, the varied backgrounds of Meadowmount campers was a culture shock. And with newly acquired friends I learned the most amazing things: I discovered how to fake practicing, by first playing into a Sony cassette recorder and pressing playback for 45 minutes while contentedly playing Solitaire. I learned how to sneak away with others in the middle of the night to visit the boys' dorms (Robert Portney, Chin Kim and Gil Morgenstern were heart throbs). I perfected the skill of tuning excessively and making chit-chat during lessons to avoid nasty scale and etude work. I learned to snatch extra pancakes when Judith Galamian turned away in the dining hall. She had quite a temper, that Mrs. Galamian, but those pancakes were worth the struggle. Two Meadowmount beauties, Heidi Carney and Sharan Leventhal instructed me on the art of applying Maybelline products, and caused my addiction to Entenmann's Chocolate-Chip Cookies.

But the jewel at Meadowmount was violinist/pedagogue Josef Gingold. Mr. Gingold taught chamber music to Meadowmounters for over thirty years and influenced a whole generation of string players. He had introduced 13-year-old Itzhak Perlman to chamber music and 14-year-old Pinchas Zukerman to the viola. Gingold's studio was at the opposite end of Mr. Galamian's in the Main House, and his teaching style couldn't have been more of a contrast. While Ivan Galamian appeared rigid and strict, snapping his fingers and urging students to practice, Mr. Gingold, round and bear-like, suffused Meadowmount with affection and charm. Every comment Mr. Gingold offered during coachings was followed by a witty and applicable story. Humor served Mr. Gingold well. I don't recall him ever losing his temper, or having a bad day. I'll never forget my first session being coached by the eminent professor. My group had prepared Haydn's Lark Quartet. The quartet of students faced Mr. Gingold, and behind him a large, panoramic window. As Mr. Gingold interrupted the quartet to make an instructive comment by sharing a humorous anecdote, a decapitated dolly dangled up and down the window behind him, displaying a bizarre, circular dance. Suddenly, headless dolly disappeared, only to be replaced by a mangled, one-eyed teddy bear, and later, a limbless Raggedy Ann. The quartet tried to stifle giggles but it was to no avail. We burst out laughing until tears rolled down our cheeks. Mr. Gingold was infected by our laughter, mystified by what was so funny. He didn't think to turn around at the window. "Oh, vot children," he laughed. Above his studio, a few impish Main House girls had tied dolls with defects and stuffed animals to a rope, and dangled them up and down the window, intent on derailing our coaching. Poor Mr. Gingold! He never caught on; such an innocent and sweet man; probably thinking we were laughing at his anecdotes. When I visit Meadowmount in the future, I'll pay homage by first stepping into Mr. Gingold's studio.
Drawing of Josef Gingold
New Yorker 1991

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