When I was in fourth grade, the fifth grade violinists at my St. Louis elementary school played a demonstration concert for us. Then, the music teacher announced that we could sign up for free violin lessons at school, and that evening I announced to my mother that I wanted to sign up for lessons. My parents – they were not musicians — attended the St. Louis Symphony regularly and listened to classical music at home. The Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera broadcast was a staple. Shortly after I began taking lessons, I became aware of thinking, “I want to be a violinist.” I had absolutely no idea what that meant. Definitely a case of “ignorance is bliss!”
My high school teacher was Max Rabinovitsj, who had been a student of the eminent pedagogue, Ivan Galamian. In college I studied with Marilyn McDonald, who had been a student of Josef Gingold. Between these two wonderful teachers I was exposed to two of the greatest educators of the American Violin School. As a student at Tanglewood, I was honored to study the Bartok Sixth String Quartet with Eugene Lehner, who had been the violist in the quartet for whom the piece was written.
At one point, a colleague told me that Robert Koff, the original violinist of the Julliard Quartet, was selling his baroque violin. When I played this instrument, I knew I wanted it, but I was very poor at the time. Mr. Koff, who possessed a heart of gold, told me I could give him a small down payment, then pay whatever monthly amount I could afford until I paid for the instrument. To this day I am grateful to him for this generosity.
What appealed to me about my instrument of choice? A dark and warm sound.
Julie Leven is the founder, artistic director and executive director of Shelter Music Boston, a nonprofit that brings classical music to homeless shelters and other settings serving people in need.