A Serving of Gratitude from Classical Musicians

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A few years ago, WQXR asked a number of musicians about the one piece of music for which they are grateful.  We then polled artists on who they are grateful for. Below were their responses.

Hilary Hahn, violinist

“I am grateful for all of my violin teachers. Klara Berkovich really set me on my musical path, since I studied with her when I was 5 to 10 years old. She is a role model, personally inspiring, and a tough but caring teacher. She taught me so much that I can't trace the boundaries of her influence! Her guidance became an integral part of my own perspective.”

Martina Arroyo, soprano

“I must first recognize my wonderful mother, Lucille Arroyo, who was a constant support throughout my life. She was always known as Mama at the Met by everyone from the ushers to my colleagues backstage. I must also credit Marinka Gurewich, my only teacher throughout my entire career. She led me to the song repertoire for a recital career and orchestral works, as well as influencing my choice of operatic roles.”

Thomas Hampson, baritone

"However you may know me in any relation to my profession as a musician and singer, none of it would not have been thinkable for me without the foresight, dedication and, quite frankly, initiating desire from my beloved voice teacher in Spokane Washington: Sister Marietta Coyle S.N.J.M. My gratitude is not for things or events that have transpired beyond my dreams, but for the awakening to the narrative of an 'inner life’ found in the treasures of the arts and humanities of cultures through the ages. Thank you Marietta, you were right."

David Krakauer, clarinettist

"I have to give thanks to my teacher: the late Leon Russianoff who was one of the most important clarinet pedagogues of the 20th century. His openness to my playing several different styles, way before that was generally accepted, was key in pointing me in the direction to pursue the diverse and multifaceted career that I have today."

Teresa Stratas, soprano

“Mozart taught me a lot. When I was a student, I didn’t like Mozart at all, but eventually he became my favorite composer to sing. Whatever sadness was going on in my world, if I listened to Mozart—for instance, the overture to Figaro conducted by Fritz Busch—I’d end up laughing, because Mozart’s music is so joyous and incredible. How bad can the world be if such a thing exists?”

Harolyn Blackwell, soprano

“I’m grateful to my parents because they exposed me to all types of music: classical, popular, jazz and musical theater. They introduced me to Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story. My Aunt Mary, as she is the one who discovered that I could sing and predicted that I would one day become a singer. Mrs. Nancy Notargiacomo, my fourth grade teacher, who convinced my mother that I had a voice and should take voice and piano lessons at the age of 9. Without her guidance and encouragement, I would never have learned the joy of singing and performing. She also greatly influenced my “nothing-is-impossible” attitude about life. Ms. Shirlee Emmons, who helped me to become a better artist vocally, as well as dramatically, by teaching me to delve more into the text and the music. Leonard Bernstein, who since I was 9, inspired me and, and to Jerome Robbins, for giving me my major break in show business by selecting me to sing “Somewhere" in the Broadway revival of West Side Story.”

Matt Haimovitz, cellist

“If composer Steve Mackey had not sat me down in my first year of college and played me LP's of Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Janis Joplin and others, it may have taken much longer for me to realize there exist genres of music outside of classical. Working with a living composer, and improvising with his electric guitar and my cello, also opened my ears and brought me closer to the compositional process at the heart of the classical tradition. Thanks Steve!”

Deborah Voigt, soprano

"I will always be grateful for my college voice teacher, Jane Paul. She taught me to sing well, but she also taught me the importance of being a good musician and colleague. She was as comfortable teaching me Ariadne as she was playing piano in a rock and roll band. And she could tell a good joke! Always helpful!"

Frederica von Stade, mezzo-soprano

“I am very grateful to my very first teacher, Sebastian Engelberg, for teaching me such a strong love of singing, and to Jake Heggie for the great experience of witnessing the ‘birth’ of many new works. They both have an integrity and kindness about them and I think my admiration of them competes with my affection.”

Dan Visconti, composer

“I’m thankful for Dean Guy, my college theory instructor who gave me my first classroom pedagogy lessons in exchange for rides home. Dean didn’t let his blindness stop him from enjoying anything, whether it was a baseball game or a good melodic turn in a George Gershwin song; he taught me to appreciate all things, and not to accept the limitations that others impose on themselves.”

Stefan Jackiw, violinist

“I'm grateful to the other musicians with whom I play chamber music. They inspire me to find new ways to think about and love music and they open my eyes to new treasures in the repertoire.”

Tim Munro, flutist, eighth blackbird

“I continue to judge myself by the standards of my high school choir. Hard to believe? Every day the St. Peters Lutheran College Music Director, Graeme Morton, demanded and inspired precision, passion and creative energy from insecure, pimpled teens. Thank you, Mr. Morton!”

Patrick Summers, artistic and music director, Houston Grand Opera

“I am most grateful for my grade school music teacher in Loogootee, Indiana, Janice Arnett, my first serious piano teacher. She was, and still is, a tireless, generous, and resourceful woman, dedicated beyond the imagination to bettering the lives of her students. She encouraged me to dream big dreams, to climb mountains in life and not be satisfied with foothills. Happy Thanksgiving, Janice.”

Angela Meade, soprano

“I am thankful for Wayne Bloomingdale, my first voice teacher, for introducing me to opera and for helping me find my voice. He helped set in motion everything I dreamed was possible.”

Alessio Bax, pianist

“Since I started learning Beethoven's colossal masterpiece at age 15, the "Hammerklavier" sonata has been a constant companion through my musical life. I'm grateful for this close friend and challenging rival. It is one of a kind that promises to keep me inspired and humble until the day I die.”

Roberta Peters, soprano

“My greatest musical influence was Jan Peerce. When I was about 13, my mother took me to him to see if he thought I could have a career as a singer, and he sent me to my main teacher, William Herman. Jan was so giving. I was very grateful for his friendship, and later we got to sing many performances together at the Met.”

Marilyn Horne, mezzo-soprano

“I am so grateful to Henry Lewis. Even though our marriage didn’t last, our collaboration in music remained. I will be forever grateful for what I learned from him.”

Simone Dinnerstein, pianist

“I'm grateful to my son, Adrian, for introducing me to the music of Led Zeppelin. I can't believe I made it to my advanced age without listening to their remarkable recordings. Commitment to a distinctive aesthetic vision communicates across genres, which is why I'm delighted to hear my son come home, plug in and Ramble On.”

Pinchas Zukerman, violinist, violist, conductor

“I’m thankful for my teacher Ivan Galamian. He was dedicated to the violin and teaching 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anyone who studied with him was in awe of his knowledge and mastery of teaching. He had a profound influence on my life.”

Steven Tenenbom, violist, Orion String Quartet

“When I was 13 years old, I heard a recording of the Mendelssohn Octet performed by musicians of the Marlboro Music Festival—Jaime Laredo, Alexander "Sasha" Schnieder, Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley, Michael Tree, Leslie Parnas and David Soyer. The music, and especially this performance, hit me like a lightning bolt. It seemed so alive, fresh and captivating. I immediately ran to my grade school library to read all I could about this piece and the place—Marlboro, Vermont—where the recording was made. From that point on, my focus was directed to a life in chamber music and I have those wonderful musicians to thank.”

Robert Langevin, principal flutist, New York Philharmonic

"I am thankful to my former teacher Jean-Paul Major who unfortunately passed away this last April; he was exactly the kind of teacher I needed at the time I studied with him, between the ages of 14-20. He was demanding and encouraging all at once. I will miss him."

David J. Grossman, bassist, New York Philharmonic

“I’m thankful for Orin O'Brien for her inspiration as a teacher and performer; her no-nonsense, straightforward manner of teaching the bass; and for encouraging and believing in all of her students to reach their full potential as thoughtful human beings, intellects, and musicians.”


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Comments [9]


Of course, you are correct about this rule. I however wallow in the joy of always contemplating my sentence structure to avoid breaking the rule.

I consider this a part of the mental gymnastics useful in keeping the brain healthy.

Nov. 27 2011 08:05 AM
Michael Meltzer

I am also grateful to WQXR for brazenly and unabashedly daring to end their second sentence with a preposition, helping to bury a grammatical rule no one has really cared about for years and even ridiculed by Winston Churchill.
However, the object of a preposition is still "whom," not "who."

Nov. 26 2011 07:26 PM
Michael Meltzer

Every great classical performer since the first cylinder recordings has served as the same kind of example to posterity as cited by Bernie, with even greater longevity.
Bernie begins with rock and roll and all the icons of the baby-boomers, I grew up with dozens of previous "icons" no one thinks about any more but Jonathan Schwartz. The baby-boomer icons will pass as well, soon enough.
The clasical musicians of the past also live on in the pedigrees of todays classical performers, not to mention all the mentoring, shepherding and discovering of young talent by the established talents. That personal touch is the real continuity.

Nov. 26 2011 07:07 PM
Bernie from UWS

Michael Meltzer misses a fundamental point about popular music. There are in fact countless artists in the pop arena who have passed their craft along to students: from the aforementioned Beatles to Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, Nirvana, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Madonna, and too many others to name. They aren't all necessarily "teachers" in the sense of having a student take lessons from them privately but they all served as an influence for other artists who took what they did and built on it. Because pop music tends to be more of an oral tradition though, it's unfair to compare the teaching methods between the two art forms.

Ultimately I think classical music needs to find more common ground with pop if it's ever to survive in the 21st century.

Nov. 26 2011 05:46 PM
Michael Meltzer

Good for Paul McCartney, and actually I would include Mitch Miller, to then make a very short list.
I would still like to see the list get a lot longer.

Nov. 26 2011 04:27 PM

Yes I have Mr. Meltzer. Paul McCartney.

Nov. 26 2011 11:56 AM
J Cynthia Weber from Manhattan

What wonderful accompaniment to this day!

Nov. 24 2011 02:09 PM
Marty Linz from New York City

Oh, to read these glorious, inspiring words. To quote, Thomas Hampson, "the awakening to the narrative of an 'inner life’ found in the treasures of the arts and humanities of cultures through the ages." is, indeed, the magic. I had the privilege of being mentored by Edwin McArthur for 9 years but become 'chicken little' when it came to auditioning. However, in his Ansonia studio, I experienced the transcendental power of music and that continues today. Thank all of your courage to pursue your dream and to share it with all of us. Respectfully yours.

Nov. 24 2011 01:36 PM
Michael Meltzer

What an amazing roll-call of inspirational human beings, and what a contrast between the classical world and the world of pop music !
Did you ever hear of any pop musician ever teaching anything to anybody?

Nov. 23 2011 01:12 AM

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