I was so fortunate to have grown up with a father who loved me, loved music, loved the viola and was a wonderful and most insightful teacher. Dad had been a student of the great violin pedagogue, Carl Flesch, and my first two years of viola study were exclusively under his direction and guidance. It was from him that I first learned what music was about, the importance of routine and discipline in just about anything we do in life and the value of expressive communication.
From day one, his teaching style promoted an extremely effective blending of technical foundation development with keen attention to musical expression. Interestingly, although many youngsters have difficulty accepting other than general parenting from their folks, my dad and I always maintained an incredibly productive, respectful and loving relationship while working together and throughout his entire lifetime.
Our primary obstacles revolved around the availability of printed music for the beginning violist…. or lack there of. Since up to this time virtually EVERY violist had learned their basics on the violin there had never been any real need for this level of music to be printed in the alto clef for use by beginners. Eventually we did discover a few limited study books which had been previously transcribed for use by violists but in the end my father ended up with the task of making the necessary transcriptions himself.
One famous example of his work is a publication still popular today. It is a volume of short, relatively simple pieces for Viola and Piano which were originally compiled and edited for violinists by C. Paul Herfurth. In addition to the piano and violin parts this publication contained short stories about each of the composers and their works. My dad was a big fan of this book and decided that every week he would transcribe one of the pieces for viola to be used for my following week’s assignment. When the publisher of the original book learned of our project they immediately requested the rights to the viola version. I guess one could say, “the rest is history”. This publication , with its bright green cover, is authored by “Herfurth-de Veritch” and has been a popular seller for well over 50 years!
Ultimately, after two years of relatively intense violistic work together Dad decided it would be in my best interest to experience the tutelage of a master teacher possessing a reputation for the successful performance development of promising young violinists/violists. Hence my transition to the amazing Vera Barstow, also known as “the Persinger of the West”, a reference to the legendary Louis Persinger, violin teacher of many of the great violin prodigy’s of the day.
Well-respected for her efforts in helping talented young violinists from the West Coast achieve success as major musical performers, Vera Barstow was a petite, middle-aged woman at the time we began our work together. Although the majority of her focus to that time had been on young violinists, my father’s explanation of the reasoning and work behind our current musical experiment immediately peaked her interest and she opted for the challenge sans hesitation!
Vera was one of the most demanding individuals I have ever experienced but it is to her (and the hours of associated grueling technical work) I owe the instrumental foundation and confidence that provided me the tools necessary to accomplish all that I eventually achieved in my life with the viola.