Thursday, May 27, 2010

Playing for Ivan Galamian (Ch.4 Pt.2)

After about a half hour of warming up, there was a firm knock on the door. Ivan Galamian, a tall man with baggy eyes that drooped like a bloodhound, stood and motioned for me to follow him. He shuffled to the adjoining room which was his studio. I tagged behind with the violin and bow tucked under my arm.
Ivan Galamian's voice was low and quiet with a thick, Russian accent.
"Vot you vant play?" he said as he sat down in an armchair.
I stared at the old man, trying to assess whether it was a wart or mole under his lower lip.
"Vot you play for me?"
"You how old?"
 An antique wall clock ticked loudly. I waited for Mr. Galamian's instructive.
"Zee Mozart," he said, finally.
I began to play the first movement. By this time I felt as if knew the Mozart Concerto in my sleep. 

Mr.Galamian remained silent throughout the exposition. Suddenly, with a wave of his hand, he gestured for me to stop.
"Vot etudes you bring?"
"None." I lowered my violin and stared at my feet.
I drew a blank. With great effort, Mr. Galamian rose from his chair and placed Kreutzer Etudes on the music stand. He licked his hairy forefinger and opened the thick book.
"This for bow arm," he said. "Needs vork."
I began to sight-read. The etude sounded familiar. I had heard comedian Jack Benny play it on television.
Ivan Galamian tapped a pencil on the music stand. "Enough, good little girl. I vill speak vis parents now."
After putting my violin in its case, I followed Mr. Galamian through the long corridor, and into the spacious kitchen where my parents sat with Mrs. Galamian over a pot of tea.
They looked up at Ivan Galamian in amazement. I thought they might levitate from their chairs. Mr. Galamian gestured for them to remain seated.
I went to sit next to my mother, and Mr. Galamian pulled up a chair by his wife. The kitchen felt oppressive as we awaited the pedagogue's verdict.

  ♪ ♩ ♪

"Your daughter—very musical," said Mr. Galamian. 
"Is she ready to study with you, Mr. Galamian?" my mother chirped.
Silence. The old man was hard of hearing.
"Would it be possible for Marjorie to study with you?" she enunciated.
Mr. Galamian weighed each word as he spoke. "She has clear mind—" 
"What my husband means," said Mrs. Galamian, "is that an uncluttered mind is a clean slate."
"She must vork on bow technique," said Mr. Galamian, tapping his right arm.
"Oh yes," my mother agreed. "I've noticed a difference with your pupils in that respect, Mr. Galamian. They look so graceful when they play. You're a—a miracle worker!"
The Galamians spoke of their summer camp, Meadowmount. The camp was actually a school, located in upstate New York near the Adirondacks.
"It's a very disciplined environment," said Mrs. Galamian. "Meadowmount is primarily geared for older students. But we do accept gifted children."
Mr. Galamian muttered something unintelligible to his wife, as though his mouth was full of jelly beans.
"Oh yes," continued Mrs Galamian. "Ivan suggests that your Marjorie begin her studies with one of his assistants."
A look of disappointment showed on my mother's face. "But Mr. Galamian. Why can't Marjorie study with you?"

Mr. Galamian shook his head slowly. 
"He means not yet," said Mrs. Galamian. "Ivan has about one hundred and fifty students, and your daughter is too young. But don't feel bad. You know, Mr. and Mrs. Kransberg, Boss is so busy that after we were married—by none other than Norman Vincent Peale—I expected to go off on a honeymoon, like all blushing brides get to do." She giggled to herself. "But instead, you know what happened? There was a student waiting on the steps! Boss taught on the day of our wedding like every other day."
My parents laughed.
"But Meadowmount will be a fine start for your daughter. And from there, she'll be admitted to Juilliard," said Mrs. Galamian.
"Really?" my mother sang.
"Absolutely. But I should warn you that some students refer to Meadowmount as boot camp."
"Boot camp?" my father asked. His eyebrows dipped.
"Labor camp," said Mrs. Galamian. "We work those students hard. Don't we Boss?"
 "How many weeks?" my mother asked.
"Two whole months. Practice sessions are five hours, six days a week with one hour private lessons, chamber music classes, and numerous recitals. It's intensive. But the students leave Meadowmount transformed into serious artists."
"Our little Marjorie has never been away from home without us," said my father, scratching his chin, and staring across the table into my eyes. "Eight weeks can seem like a long time for a child."
 I had never been away from home before, and I could feel my stomach tie itself into a knot.
"Well, you can visit on Sundays, Mr. and Mrs. Kransberg. That's a day of rest for most campers. And I'll have you know, Marjorie," Mrs. Galamian said, as she reached to pat me on the head. "Sunday mornings, I cook the hotcakes myself. Boss tells me they're award-winning. Why, I've caught a few campers helping themselves to third and fourth helpings."
"What a phenomenal experience," my mother said. "And just think. She could get into Juilliard, too, like the young violinist, Lynn Chang. But—" she closed her eyes deep in thought. "How will we break the news to Mrs. Scriven?"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

On the Way to the Galamians (Ch.4 Pt.1)

After my debut with the Boston Pops, my mother decided that it was time to leave Sarah Scriven for a teacher with more clout. The next step, in the climb to success, would be to audition to study with the famous pedagogue, Ivan Galamian in New York City. I would play for him on the sly, without Mrs. Scriven's knowledge. If accepted by Mr. Galamian, my mother would deal with Sarah Scriven later. In the meantime, she could think of a tactic to soften the blow to Mrs. Scriven that one of her prize pupils would be leaving her studio.

There was no room for argument with my mother on this subject. My father did his best to remind her that it was Sarah Scriven who had generously offered extra lessons free of charge, and Sarah Scriven who had been responsible for my debut, after countless solo appearances with various community orchestras and the Crescendo Club. What's more, Sarah was, to my father's eyes, a Yiddishe Mama with a golden heart. But my mother's mind was made up, and she stood determined; Ivan Galamian had the necessary connections to launch a young concert violinist's career, and anything else that Mrs. Scriven might do paled in comparison. Besides, Ivan Galamian was on the faculty of both Juilliard and Curtis, the two most prestigious music schools in the country.

"He's the greatest violin teacher alive," my mother said. "Think of the concert violinists he's produced: Pinchas Zukerman, Michael Rabin, Miriam Fried, and the Cripple—I always forget his name."
"Itzhak Perlman. They're all Jewish."
She tilted her head back and looked Heavenward. "Our people have the violin in our blood. Let's hope Ivan Galamian accepts you as a pupil, my dolly. Because if he does, I can almost promise, you'll have it made."
My mother pulled a pink frilly dress from the closet, and laid out a pair of white tights next to it on my canopy bed. She had taken out the scissors a few days before, and given me a haircut modeled after The Little Dutch Boy. "You'll look adorable. And we mustn't forget to show Mr. Galamian this—"
She waved a newspaper in front of my eyes. A full page photo of my debut at the Esplanade with the Boston Pops had been published in the "Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle" with the caption:
Young Violinist Takes Boston By Storm.

On the day of my audition with Mr. Galamian, my mother piled pillows and blankets in the back seat of the Oldsmobile, so that I'd sleep en route to Manhattan. We weren't halfway out of the driveway before my father lit a cigarette, and took a deep inhale.
"You have to smoke in the car, John? Margie and I get nauseous from the smell. Don't you want her to have a successful audition? She needs oxygen, not cigarette smoke."
"Look, Furrances," he said, craning his neck as he pulled out of the driveway and sped down Burnham Road. "I gotta have a smoke. Next time, do me a favor. Go without me, only, don't smash up the car."
"Since when do I smash up cars?" Her voice leaped up an octave. "You know, John. I'm a wonderful driver—I haven't once gotten into an accident on the road."
"Ha! If you're so wonderful, why do I get calls from the police?"
"You don't, John. You're making that up." My mother rolled down the window and a blast of cold air hit me in the face. She turned to me. "Your father likes to create stories. Don't pay any attention to him. Lay kepeleh so you'll have strength enough for your audition."
I sank into the pillows and pulled a blanket over my head. Sleep would be preferable to listening to my parents argue. 

Hours later, I awakened to the blaring of car horns, slamming of brakes, and noxious fumes. We were stuck behind a stalled bus in mid-town Manhattan.
"Where the hell am I gonna find a parking space in this spaghetti bowl of a city?" my father snapped.
"Shhhh! You'll upset Margie. Remember, to be in the presence of Ivan Galamian is a great honor." 
"I don't care if he's Jesus Christ—"
 A cascade of swear words fell from my father's lips as he tried to find a parking space on the Upper Westside.
I felt car sick. 
"Mummy, I'm nauseous." I licked my dry lips.
"Now the kid's carsick," groaned my father, and swerved into a lot off Broadway. 
My mother lowered the visor to look into the mirror. She dabbed a coat of lipstick. 
"She's carsick, Frances."
"Margie? No, she's fine. All she needs is to get out of here and away from your cigarette smoke. Feh!"

My mother was right. I felt much better after stepping out of the car and walking along 73rd Street to the Galamian's house.
"This must be it," said my mother in front of the brownstone building. "Imagine all the concert artists who have climbed these very steps to his studio."
She rang the buzzer with determination.
An old woman peeked out from a heavily pad-locked door. After a slight hesitation, she clicked open all the locks. "Won't you come in?"
 "I'm John Kransberg, and this is my wife Frances," said my father, holding his Fedora hat to his chest. On cue, my father could step into the role of a perfect gentleman.
He gave me a gentle shove from the doorway. "This is our little violinist, Marjorie."
"Oh, how do you do," said the old woman warmly. "I'm Judith Galamian." Her salt and pepper hair was stacked in a tall bun. She wore a paisley apron over a simple dress. It felt as if we were visiting my grandmother.
My father took a couple of steps into the foyer. Strains of violin music wafted through the house. "Frances, what a lovely piece." He smoothed his hand over an end table. "It's a Chippendale."
Mrs. Galamian sustained a beatific smile.
"I wish I could say I'm an artist like your husband, Mrs. Galamian, but I'm just an old furniture dealer."
"A very successful business man," asserted my mother. "John owns the company Kransberg's Furniture. Have you heard of it, Mrs. Galamian?"
"Come again?" 
"Kransberg's Furniture," repeated my mother with a puzzled expression.

Mrs. Galamian scanned our faces. The faint sounds of violin playing grew into shrieks.
My mother cocked her head to listen. "You are so fortunate to hear magnificent music from your famous husband's studio all day long."
"You're so very kind," said Mrs. Galamian. "Actually, Boss is in the midst of a lesson right now, but he's been expecting your daughter." She lowered her voice to a little girl whisper. "I always call my husband Boss. You know, I mustn't disturb the artist at work—"
"Of course not," exclaimed my mother. "I'm the exact same way with John. That's how it is when our husbands are busy."
My father folded his arms and snorted.
Mrs. Galamian reached for my hand to usher me away.
"Follow me, dear, to the warm-up room. Boss will come get you when he's ready. Your parents are welcome to keep me company in the kitchen. I'll make a strong pot of tea, and we'll get acquainted. Such  interesting people, your parents. Why, I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about—"
Me sitting on Dad's Oldsmobile

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Debut with the Boston Pops (Ch.2 Pt.4)

At  Bessie Buker Elementary, where I attended public school, the principal interrupted the lunchroom for an impromptu meeting with all the school children. Something out of the ordinary had happened.
"I have a special announcement to make," said the Principal, Mr. Stone. "Children, please give me your full attention. Eyes up front." He clapped his hands into the microphone. I was about to bite into the egg salad on challah my mother had packed. It looked delicious with chunks of celery and pickles, although the kids at my table plugged their noses when I lifted the sandwich from my "Peanuts" lunch box.
"We seem to have a concert violinist in our midst. Marjorie Kransberg has been selected to appear as soloist with the Boston Pops Orchestra. She will be performing the Mozart Concerto." And he pronounced Mozart as a New Englander, with the "r" missing. I could feel the blood rush to my cheeks.
"Mozaht was a famous composer, and Mahjorie will play his music on her violin in front of thousands of people this summer at the Hatch Memorial Shell in front of the Charles Rivah."
Chomping, laughing and whispers could be heard throughout the lunchroom. One boy ejected a spit ball from his straw. It narrowly missed my face but landed smack in my lunch box. 
Mr. Stone put the mic down and walked straight towards me. I sipped from the straw of the milk carton, and pretended not to notice.  All the kids stared.
"Mahjorie, your mother is on her way. She has requested that you be dismissed early today, in preparation for your debut with the Boston Pops. She says you haven't practiced the Mozaht in a while, that it's rusty. I'll have you know, young lady, that we're all very proud of you here, at Bessie Buker."
I took a small bite out of the egg sandwich and chewed slowly.
"I told your mother that you'll put Wenham, Massachusetts on the musical map. She agreed."

♪ ♩ ♪

It was a brilliant Saturday morning, with thin wispy clouds in the sky; the perfect day for a concert in the park at the Hatch Memorial Shell. As I sat alone backstage in my puffy white dress, waiting for Mr. Dickson's cue to walk onstage, I wished I could have been any other kid in the world. Anyone who wouldn't have to play from memory in front of thousands of people. I peeked at the orchestra through a crack from the backstage door. Harry Ellis Dickson stood on the podium, waving his arms in agitated, circular gestures. He had assured me that I'd get a signal from him when time for my entrance. 
Weber's Freischutz Overture concluded to wild applause.

Harry Ellis Dickson motioned for me. "Come on, come on," I saw his lips move.
A smiling faced concertmaster grabbed my hand, as I made my way to center stage. "You'll be great," the concertmaster said, and winked. I recognized him from the Boston Symphony concert with Lynn Chang. It was Rolland Tapley.

After a quick A from the oboe to check my strings, the introduction began with the orchestra tutti. I scanned the audience. There were so many people on the lawn of the Hatch Memorial Shell that they blended into a wash of color. I felt better. Not seeing actual faces meant that I could try to pretend there wasn't any audience at all. I closed my eyes. A gentle breeze brushed against me and whispered words spoken by Mrs. Scriven: "Tell a story with your violin, darling. Remember, Mozart's music is operatic."

The orchestra began the spirited introduction with a burst of G Major, and the story began. Our hero, Wolfgang the violinist, wanted nothing more than to play outdoors with friends, and asked his father politely. Leopold, the hero's father, replied: "No, you must practice, practice, practice." Leopold's voice grew darker, more agitato. He counted on his fingers the courts of Kings and Queens awaiting young Wolfgang's appearances, and the gold coins and trinkets to be earned. "Please", begged Wolfgang, as he accelerated and grew into a crescendo. Low tones of cellos and basses leaped to the rescue. Horns blasted in response: "Let him play, let him play. It's a beautiful day." Wolfgang modulated to the key of E Minor: "Papa, if you let me go outdoors now, I'll practice later." Leopold responded in firm staccato: "No, no, no. You have work to do." The strings responded with an ascending chromatic scale: "Why, why, why are you such a stubborn old fart?" Wolfgang pleaded with a flurry of sixteenth notes. Oboes whined. Horns bellowed. Cellos and basses laughed in octaves: "Ha! ha! ha! What silly characters in a ridiculous story. But isn't this fun? Let Wolfgang and Leopold resolve their differences in a cadenza."

Mr. Dickson's eyes grew wide beneath his horn-rimmed glasses. Perspiration dotted his fore-head. I heard the swish of the baton after the cadential trill.
The concerto finished and the audience cheered.
"Bravo! Bravo!" yelled orchestra members, tapping their bows wildly on the music stands. Rolland Tapley laughed as his music fell to the floor.
Mr. Dickson grabbed my hand, as he had with Lynn Chang, and raised it in the air.  He kissed my cheek, turned around to the audience, and reached for the microphone. It hissed and buzzed.
"Let's have an extra round of applause for the parents of ten-year-old Marjorie Kransberg. And Marjorie's teacher, also—the incomparable Sarah Scriven."
A Magic Moment for me with Harry Ellis Dickson

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Audition for Harry Ellis Dickson (Ch.2 Pt.3)

Whenever Mrs. Scriven felt confident in a student’s performance caliber, she would contact Harry Ellis Dickson and let him know she might have a potential young soloist. In my case, my mother was convinced that writing a personal letter to Mr. Dickson would be more effective, since she she had spent all those years as a violinist in his Brookline Civic Symphony. My mother wrote explaining that I was now a pupil of Lynn Chang's former teacher, Sarah Scriven.

"Dear Harry," the letter began. "Wait until you hear my little Marjorie. You will not regret hearing her." The words "not regret" were underlined three times. And her letter continued with all sorts of compliments paid to the maestro for his various talents, his encouragement of my mother while she participated in Brookline Civic while pregnant with me, as well as musings about my future. "If only my daughter could be given a chance as soloist. To be a concert violinist is my Marjorie's dream. Who would have thought this would happen? Could it be because she heard music through the womb while I played in your wonderful ochresta (sic)? What do you think Harry? All Marjorie needs is a chance; an opportunity. I'll leave it to you Harry, but remember, you can make her dreams come true! Yours truly, Frances M. Kransberg."  

Harry Ellis Dickson telephoned Sarah Scriven a few weeks after the letter was sent. He had a soft spot for aspiring, young musicians. Besides, child performers were box office sensations. Mr. Dickson agreed to listen to several of Sarah Scriven's students. He was on the look-out for a young soloist, a fresh face, to be featured during the summer Esplanade Series at the Hatch Memorial Shell. But Mr. Dickson made one thing clear to Mrs. Scriven: No parents were allowed to attend the audition, not even Frances Kransberg.

My mother obeyed Mr. Dickson's request, as she had no choice.
Up to the Green Room of Symphony Hall I went with Mrs.Scriven, Elliott Markow (who was my arch rival and closest friend), and his fourteen-year-old sister, RoseAnn. I had watched Harry Ellis Dickson conduct at Symphony Hall with Lynn Chang as soloist, and now I was to play the Mozart Concerto in G Major for him. I wiped my sweaty hands on my dress while Mrs. Scriven tuned my violin. 

After Mrs. Scriven finished tuning, Harry Ellis Dickson threw open the doors to the Green Room and entered with a brisk step. He reached out to Mrs. Scriven for a hug.
"Sarah, Sarah! It's been too long. Who are the marvels I get to listen to today?"
Mrs. Scriven's face lit up. "I have some wonderful talent with me, Harry. Really. You're going to love these kids. All three of them."
 The thought struck me that I'd make an idiot of myself if I had a memory lapse and forgot all the notes of the Mozart. My legs turned to Jell-o.
"This is Elliott Markow and his older sister, RoseAnn. And here's Marjorie."
"Who's on first?" asked Mr. Dickson animatedly. He glanced at his watch and began to pace.
"Marjorie. She's the youngest. Ten years old, right darling?"
I nodded.
"And she's studied with me for—how many years?"
I froze.
"I have to tell you, Sarah," said Mr. Dickson. "I have precious little time. We have a rehearsal on Brahms Fourth with Seiji in an hour."
"Marjorie is a bit shy." She turned to me and coaxed. "Tell Harry how long you've studied with me. He won't bite."
"Oh darling, don't be scared. It's only Harry."

Mr. Dickson walked towards me and pinched my cheek between his thumb and fore-finger. Up close he seemed shorter. On the podium at Symphony Hall, I thought Mr. Dickson was a giant. 
"I know how difficult it is to play for others, believe me," he said. "In fact, to this day I suffer. Sure, my own violin playing sounds great when I'm alone in the practice room. No problem. I can pretend to be Heifetz. Or better than Heifetz. And I think to myself, Harry, why can't you just play like that on the concert stage? What's the matter with you? Look at Joe Silverstein. One Friday afternoon, just before he was to perform the Bruch "Scottish Fantasy", Leinsdorf found him asleep on the couch. Imagine! But not me. I step in front of an audience and, oh boy, I must lose what, about 30 per cent? Sarah—you know what I mean."
She waved him off. "That's enough, Harry."

Meanwhile, a few passages of the Mozart evaporated from my memory.
"Remember, don't play like a mouse. Be bold," warned Mrs. Scriven before taking her seat on the couch.
I began the concerto with all the confidence I could muster. My cold, numb fingers moved on their own, like obedient soldiers. As I drew the bow up and down, notes that had vanished, reappeared, as if by magic. A little voice inside my head said, Gee, you don’t sound nervous; maybe Mr. Dickson will choose you to be the soloist after all. Mummy and Daddy will be proud. Mrs. Scriven, too. The longer I played, the more my thoughts drifted to assessing what Harry Ellis Dickson thought of my playing. I searched Mr. Dickson's face. He smiled. Then Mrs. Scriven's. She averted my eyes by looking down at the blue and yellow Oriental rug. I glanced at Elliott. Was he picking his nose? My fingers got tangled up and I botched an arpeggio. What had I just played? Was it even Mozart? My hands felt disconnected from my arms, and my bow veered off course in the wrong direction. I made a quick detour to the cadenza, and crashed into the final chord.

Before I drew to the tip of the bow, tears rolled down my face. I felt ashamed. Mrs. Scriven shot up from her chair and threw her arms around me, practically crushing the violin with her large bosom. "You're a human being, darling, not some sort of machine. The greatest artists have off-days. Harry understands, don't you Harry?"
Mr. Dickson nodded agitatedly. "I'll say. Most of my days are off. But you're terrific. Really, young lady. Such musicality, and solid technique."
I cried harder.
"A sheyne punim," he said, and patted my head.
Mrs. Scriven plucked a cotton handkerchief from her pocketbook and dried my tears. "You're right, Harry. You should only see when she smiles—those dimples."
"Who's next?" Mr. Dickson asked abruptly. He looked again at his watch.

Statuesque RoseAnn rendered a note-perfect Beethoven Romance in F Major. Her tone was velvety and smooth, like chocolate fudge cake with vanilla icing. She seemed older than fourteen.
Then it was skinny, golden-haired, Elliott's turn. He played Mozart's Adelaide Concerto. Elliott's confidence must have soared after hearing me fall apart. He didn't play like a mouse. Only I did. More tears ran down my cheeks.
Elliott concluded the Adelaide triumphantly.
"And how old are you?" Mr. Dickson asked Elliott.
"Eleven." Elliott grinned broadly. Done deal, I thought.
"What marvelous pupils," said Mr. Dickson, "each and every one." His left hand rested against his cheek, as if nursing a tooth-ache. Mr. Dickson's eyes darted from one student to the next. "Sarah, you never disappoint. You're an amazing teacher." He muttered to himself, "As if she didn't know—"
"I'm so proud," said Mrs. Scriven. "I kvell. All three should have an opportunity to perform at the Esplanade. Can you give each one a chance, Harry? Please? They're all deserving. What do you say?"
Mr. Dickson paused, then paced around the Green Room. He threw a woolen scarf around his neck, and paced some more.
"Sarah my dear. I really have only one spot for this summer. But I assure you—"
"Only one? But Harry—"
"I'll need the week to think it through. These youngsters are something else, though, I'll tell you. Tough call."

Mrs. Scriven's puppy dog brown eyes teared. She loved her students more than anything in the world, as if they were her own flesh and blood. As I look back, I'm sure it pained Mrs. Scriven to think that for every winner there might be a loser.
Mr. Dickson gave Mrs. Scriven a peck on the cheek, picked up his baton box in one hand, and the violin case in another. "Kinder, don't vorry," he said, imitating Serge Koussevitzky.
Mrs. Scriven waited for him to close the door and sighed deeply. "Well, my dears. It looks as if we'll have to wait a whole week, or at least until Thursday, to find out his decision."
in photo Marjorie and Elliott Markow late 1960s