he was willing to adhere to a lengthy and disciplined recovery program.
Thankfully, he recognized the severity of his situation and worked diligently to stay within the guidelines prescribed by his medical team. Obviously these guidelines included many months away from teaching, traveling and performing….the major activities of his life. Confined to weeks and weeks of bed rest boredom quickly became his worst enemy. Fortunately he enjoyed reading a great deal as well as listening to recordings of many of his illustrious friends and colleagues. However, even that wore thin in time and he began to greatly appreciate personal visits, especially as his strength began to return.
Ironically, I have often felt that his many months of recovery ultimately provided me with some of the most invaluable learning opportunities of my life. You see…once he was able to comfortably enjoy visitors, I would spend at least a couple of hours with Mr. Primrose once or twice a week throughout this entire period of recovery. Through our discussions I learned so much about his life, his family, his career, his triumphs, his tragedies, his colleagues, and his friends, as well as his attitudes towards music, composers, practicing, performing, teaching, religion, art, literature, sports and literally life itself.
There is absolutely no way I would have ever learned what I did from this incredible man if my time with him had been limited, primarily, to viola lessons. Nor would he have ever gained the insight into my deepest thoughts and goals which not only assisted him with the development and guidance of my career but helped provide the foundation for our strong bond of mutual love, respect, admiration and appreciation… that is forever.
Although, on occasion, throughout Mr. Primrose’s recovery period he would ask me to play for him a bit during my visit we weren’t able to resume actual viola lessons for about 6 months following his coronary.
Thankfully since many of our discussions over those months had dealt with elements of playing and teaching the viola my lessons progressed well upon return to the old routine. So much so that we were able to spend most of the lesson time focused on the building of major repertoire.
Mr. Primrose was enthusiastic about my progress and before long was aggressively promoting me to many of his friends, colleagues, managers, etc. Fully aware of the impact his health was having on his current and future performance career he quickly became one of my biggest fans and supporters. Our work together became much more performance oriented as did our choice of repertoire.
As a direct result many outstanding performance opportunities were definitely coming my way. He was truly delighted with every new performance invitation I received and began to speak much more frequently about his perception of my inherent responsibility to continue his life’s work of popularizing the viola as a solo instrument.
I remember how thrilled he was when, at age 16, I was engaged to perform two back to back recitals at the famed “Shrine Auditorium” in Los Angeles. Being billed officially as my professional “RECITAL DEBUT” these were the first viola recitals ever to take place at this historic venue and each drew an almost capacity audience of 7000 people. Every subsequent opportunity and success I experienced, he truly felt as an extension of his own life’s work and until his dying day was always most forthcoming in showing his deep pride in me and what I was accomplishing.
Perhaps this would be an excellent time for me to respond to a question I have been asked frequently throughout my lifetime:
“How was William Primrose, truly, as a viola teacher?”
For me …he was absolutely the PERFECT teacher!! For some…not so much.
As with many fine artist teachers, Mr. Primrose possessed both the language and pedagogical skills to clearly verbalize both technical and musical issues. However, for me, what made the biggest difference was just plain watching and listening to him demonstrate and play. Even later in life when the perfection of his early career began to wane the ways in which he physically and emotionally approached both the viola and the music itself were so unmistakable, so marvelous, so unique, so inspirational.
Now, having said this, we need to realize that not all students excel at learning by example. Those that tended to rely more on his narrative descriptions often felt slightly short-changed. In my opinion, the students that had the ability to merge his verbal explanations directly with a keen and alert observation of his performance demonstrations could have never hoped to find a better, more caring, more inspirational teacher than William Primrose.