What seems like many years ago, when I was a student in high school, my teacher gave me the Schumann Fantasiestück to learn. The recording that I downloaded from Itunes was Matt Haimovitz’s from The Rose Album. I liked it so much that I asked my teacher for more recordings by this cellist. I was referred to Haimovitz’s rendition of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir (Goulash) and Jimi Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner (Anthem). As you can imagine, I was hooked.
Fast-forward to last year when a friend and I drove to see Haimovitz premier the Philip Glass Cello Concerto No. 2 in Cincinnati. This was a dream come true. Having one of my favorite cellist performing a brand-new work by one of my favorite composers? Priceless.
However, the story only gets better.
Wednesday I had the privilege to play part of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme for Matt Haimovitz in a masterclass held at WMU. I’m happy to say that I did not crash-and-burn and was able to present some cohesive musical ideas. In return, Mr. Haimovitz offered insightful observations and comments on my bow mechanics and shifting.
What I find so miraculous about the music world is how students get to interact with the masters of our art. On the one hand, these figures exist in the mystical world of performance and recordings. Like the night sky ablaze with the stars, planets, and constellations, we experience their magnificence from afar. Yet on a daily basis, we are afforded a chance to learn from our idols. These gods and demi-gods step down from Olympus and walk among us. Our champions become tangible and more clearly defined than we could ever imagine. Yet this is not just the “exception to the rule” in our discipline but the “exceptional rule” (I hear reports from colleagues about lessons with Joshua Bell, coachings with the Pacifica String Quartet, and other guest artists at Indiana University).
So, in short, give thanks for the talented individuals who help shape your life. Many times we even become desensitized to how truly great these people are because we spend so much time with them on a regular basis! Yet this is perhaps the greatest triumph of education and pedagogy for classical music. If you want to become a legend you had better learn from one.
A warm thank you to Matt Haimovitz, Bruce Uchimura, and the WMU faculty and staff that made this opportunity a reality.
(The other three participants in the masterclass, Hanna, Ellie, and Cullen, all volunteer time at Kalamazoo Kids in Tune where I work. They also happen to be students of Bruce Uchimura. That’s a KKIT / Uch double-win!)