by Lance Elbeck
A pedagogue not to be missed!
Margot Jewell is coming to OSS next week. She will be a teacher/trainer for our faculty, Saturday, February 17 – Sunday, February 25, 2018. This will be held at Rideau Park United Church, 2203 Alta Vista Dr., Ottawa.
Margot, for many years was a member of the Hamilton Philharmonic, so I knew her primarily as a violinist. After my ‘retirement’ about 4 years ago I took my first Suzuki Book 1 training with her. I always marvel how well she relates to the very young and her ability to break down complex violin skills and present them to kids in a natural, yet fun, manner.
Saturday, Feb. 24th is the workshop day so at the very least, please try to attend Margot Jewell’s Parent Talk/Discussion at 12:30-1:10.
In Margot’s class we read about and discussed Tonalization. Suzuki says ‘At each lesson I say “Put your heart into your tone, your spirit into your tone”, because our entire personalities are revealed in the tone we produce.’
It was so great learning that Suzuki loved Mischa Elman’s tone. Elman had the most amazing sound. Elman was quite close to my teacher, George Perlman. Elman would call Mr. Perlman from New York regularly so it was amazing to actually play over the phone long distance for Elman more than once.
Perlman had emigrated with his parents at the age of four to the United States where the family settled in Chicago. He received violin lessons from well-known violinists from that period, including Leopold Auer , and he studied law. He worked as a lawyer for several years while he also taught violin lessons. Later, the legal profession stopped to fully focus on teaching and performing. He taught 60 hours per week until he was 74. He composed many pieces for his students as a study. Those pieces are still loved by many violin forces. George Perlman died in 2000 at the age of 103.
Was Auer the greatest teacher of them all?
Leopold Auer is remembered as one of the most important pedagogues of the violin, and was one of the most sought-after teachers for gifted pupils. Many famous virtuoso violinists were among his pupils, including Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Nathan Milstein, Toscha Seidel, Efrem Zimbalist, Paul Stassevitch, and Sasha Lasserson. Auer also taught the young Clara Rockmore, who later became one of the world’s foremost exponents of the theremin.
Like pianist Franz Liszt in his teaching, Auer did not focus on technical matters with his students. Instead, he guided their interpretations and concepts of music. If a student ran into a technical problem, Auer did not offer any solutions. Neither was he inclined to pick up a bow to demonstrate a passage. Nevertheless, he was a stickler for technical accuracy. Fearing to ask Auer themselves, many students turned to each other for help. (Paradoxically, in the years before 1900 when Auer focused more closely on technical details, he did not turn out any significant students.)
While Auer valued talent, he considered it no excuse for lack of discipline, sloppiness or absenteeism. He demanded punctual attendance. He expected intelligent work habits and attention to detail. Lessons were as grueling as recital performances—in fact, the two were practically identical.
In lieu of weekly lessons, students were required to bring a complete movement of a major work. This usually demanded more than a week to prepare. Once a student felt ready to play this work, he had to inscribe his name 10 days prior to the class meeting. The student was expected to have his instrument concert ready and to be dressed accordingly. An accompanist was provided. An audience watched—comprised not only of students and parents, but also often of distinguished guests and prominent musicians. Auer arrived for the lesson punctually; everything was supposed to be in place by the time he arrived. During the lesson, Auer would walk around the room, observing, correcting, exhorting, scolding, shaping the interpretation. “We did not dare cross the threshold of the classroom with a half-ready performance,” one student remembered.
Admission to Auer’s class was a privilege won by talent. Remaining there was a test of endurance and hard work. Auer could be stern, severe, harsh. One unfortunate student was ejected regularly, with the music thrown after him. Auer valued musical vitality and enthusiasm. He hated lifeless, anemic playing and was not above poking a bow into a student’s ribs, demanding more “krov.” (The word literally means “blood” but can also be used to mean fire or vivacity.)
While Auer pushed his students to their limits, he also remained devoted to them. He remained solicitous of their material needs. He helped them obtain scholarships, patrons and better instruments. He used his influence in high government offices to obtain residence permits for his Jewish students. He shaped his students’ personalities. He gave them style, taste, musical breeding. He also broadened their horizons. He made them read books, guided their behavior and career choices and polish their social graces. He also insisted that his students learn a foreign language if an international career was expected.
Even after a student started a career, Auer would watch with a paternal eye. He wrote countless letters of recommendation to conductors and concert agents. When Mischa Elman was preparing for his London debut, Auer traveled there to coach him. He also continued work with Efrem Zimbalist and Kathleen Parlow after their debuts.