Interviewing violinist Rachel Barton, cellist Wendy Warner, and Suzuki-Orff instructor Peggy Wise in preparation for a benefit concert at the James R. Thompson Center on 3/22/1997
BROADCAST: Mar. 18, 1997 | DURATION: 00:49:50
Studs Terkel interviews Rachel Barton, Wendy Warner and Peggy Wise during the preparation for a benefit concert at the James R. Thompson Center. The benefit concert will be held on March 22, 1997.
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Wendy Warner You know what? It's like in measures 3 and 4, you're not holding your slur notes like into the next slur, but you are in the first couple of measures, so I'm wondering, like, if I should match that or whatever, like it seems like there's a big pause in the middle of measure 3.
Studs Terkel That's Rachel Barton and Wendy Warner, going back and forth, they're warming up for the concert this forthcoming Saturday night, we'll hear about that. Sponsored by -- The young musicians, young musicians of The Suzuki-Orff School of which they were students once upon a time. We know they're two of the brilliant virtuosos
Studs Terkel By the way, that's the way you usually, we're catching you at a certain moment, the audience is listening in to this moment at home. Is this the way you usually work together, you sort of test each other, as you rehearse, this is a matter of rehearsal, isn't it?
Rachel Barton Yeah.
Studs Terkel And the question is, as though we don't know the answer. Who are Rachel Barton and Wendy Warner? Well, they are two of the brilliant young musicians who have come out of Chicago who won all sorts of international awards where the -- Rachel Barton has won the Fritz Kreisler, she was the laureate of Fritz Kreisler competition in Vienna, Kreisler's town, what year was that? 19?
Rachel Barton 1992.
Wendy Warner 1990.
Studs Terkel So here you both are. Now, you're performing this and Peggy Weiss of the Orff-Suzuki [sic] school, Executive Director of that is here, and we're -- We'll all talk about the school the technique and what you learn from it but also about yourselves, before we -- You you do a couple of movements of different works here. Consider that sort of rehearsing for Saturday night as you do those. Rachel, yourself, the violin, from the very beginning, was the fiddle you had in mind way back as a kid?
Rachel Barton Well, I was about three years old, and then I just absolutely fell in love with it and I became obsessed by it, and, I started referring to myself not as a person who played the violin but as a violinist and signing my kindergarten papers "Rachel", comma, "Violinist," and, you know, and I basically decided that that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And, yeah, and I have!
Studs Terkel Well, we'll come to, influences on you in a moment, the various ones who influenced you when you're growing up. Oh, you remember a piece you played just for the fun of it? Early exercise you were doing. What did they sound like, do you remember?
Rachel Barton Well, the cello, of course, has the C, G, D and A strings, whereas the violin has G, D, A, E. So I'm going to play this actually in the cello key, but same piece. [Plays duet with Wendy.] That's a piece called "Allegro," it's from the Suzuki Book 1, and actually it was my younger sister's favorite piece. My sister, Sarah who also plays the cello, she's two years younger than me and she had just gotten a kitten when she was learning that piece. And the fact that that was her favorite piece, and the fact that the kitten ran really fast, meant that she named that cat "Allegro," after that piece.
Wendy Warner Well, it was an accident actually, how I started. I really wanted to play the flute, which is what my sister played as a second instrument, and my mom refused to have any competition between me and my sister. So just to sort of keep me quiet, she said, "Oh, we'll start you on the cello." And I said, "The cello? What's that?" I had never even seen one or heard one and I was really devastated. And, but then after about the first two months I completely fell in love with it. I really, I love the sound, the depth of the sound.
Rachel Barton Well, sort of. The previous generation on my mom's side, we're all like piano and choir teachers in the public schools or whatever. But my mom had never had any music lessons herself. And she started me on the violin just as another little kid hobby, like, you know, she was taking me to reading class at the library and swimming class at the "Y" and gymnastics and stuff, and violin was just another one of those classes.
Wendy Warner Well, I hardly remember. I mean, I think I was three years old or something like that at the time, but I think from, you know, a little bit after that what I remember most is, the thing about Suzuki is that they teach you really how to listen and tone is something that's really important.
Rachel Barton Yeah, the thing that differentiates Suzuki from, the reason it was so radical coming, you know, after all these traditional methods of teaching is that the children were able to start much younger. Of course, they really popularized the sizing of the violins making violins smaller all the way down to the one-sixteenth and sometimes even the one-thirty-second size so that you could hold the violin that was proportioned correctly to your child's body, and the other thing is that they begin to teach you the instrument without reading the notes. The idea being that, like when a kid learns to speak, they learn to talk first and then they learn to read the words. And so you could, you know, without being distracted by, you know, all this these printed notes on the page in front of you and trying to learn that at the same time, you could actually learn how to hold the instrument, how to listen to it, and learn some simple pieces by ear and then once you got the hang of that, then you could incorporate into that reading the sheet music.
Studs Terkel Well, that's interesting, several things. One, the thought of the technique of teaching language, teaching music following that, speaking and then learning the words. And so Suzuki playing something and then more and more of the technique but learning first, is that not something strange? Peggy Weiss, you're with the Suzuki-Orff School, is that pretty much the idea of it?
Peggy Weiss Yes. Actually Dr. Suzuki called this method the "mother tongue method," meaning that the parent would nurture the child and help the child at home and become the child's home teacher and the listening occurs by listening to a recording of all the pieces so that the children develop the language of music through listening. That's their vocabulary, so when they learn to play the instrument they know how it's supposed to sound, just like babies know what the words are supposed to sound like by listening to them from birth. So Suzuki believes that children should listen from birth to the music that they're going to learn to play. And just as all children learn to speak beautifully, all children can learn to play beautifully.
Rachel Barton Right,
Peggy Weiss Now there is Suzuki flute, and they have a curved head joint so that the children can reach the notes on the flute. They have small classical guitars and the only thing that isn't sized down is a piano. So we have to prop the children up on foot stools and pads.
Studs Terkel We should point out that the benefit that Wendy Warner and Rachel Barton are performing at is at is for the is for the young musicians of the Suzuki-Orff School. And it's at the, this Saturday night. It's going to be very [thrilling?] one, too, I know it is, because I heard you both rehearsing a bit, informally, as you will hear, too. It's Saturday night, this March 22nd at the James R. Thompson Center, that's 100 West Randolph Street, 100 West Randolph at 8:00 o'clock Saturday night had to be a very exciting one. But you a moment ago you were saying before I ask you to do one of the magnum opuses of this hour in a moment. The Handel-Halverson. I'll ask you about that Halverson aspect. Before that, you were talking, Wendy, you were saying that piece you were playing a moment ago as kids, you know, you got a kick out of that, too.
Wendy Warner Yeah, I know, I loved that piece as a kid. I used to play it all the time around the house. And and there were a lot of Suzuki festivals where we'd get together and play the same pieces together. So just a lot of fun.
Rachel Barton 22.
Rachel Barton Yeah. So we're about, somewhere like two and a half, three years apart. So when I was 10 I came to the Music Center of the North Shore in Winnetka to study with Almita and Roland Vamos. And Wendy was already attending the Music Center studying with Nell Novak. And so we were in string quartets from that point onwards. Playing with, you know, some Mozart quartets and
Wendy Warner Yeah.
Rachel Barton And we went to a national. It was the pre-college division of a National Chamber Music Competition, the Fischoff, based in South Bend. But kids, you know, string quartets and wind groups and everything and piano trios from all over the country came and, you know, to the finals and we won the thing, will you believe it? Prokofiev Number 2 and Brahms Number 3.
Wendy Warner Right.
Rachel Barton Yeah.
Rachel Barton 13.
Studs Terkel 13.
Rachel Barton Yeah, but what we did, in the quartet, is we didn't have a first violinist, second violinist, and violist, it was three violinists on the upper strings and we would switch for each piece. Like, we usually played three pieces at a time and each of us would get a chance to play first violin, second violin, and viola. But poor Wendy just had to play the cello the whole time.
Wendy Warner Well, actually the one thing I remember that was the most fun is when you played the viola part in the Prokofiev, actually there's this one part that was really ferocious. It was like [furious cello music], something like that, it was really wild and we just completely lost control there.
Rachel Barton Wendy plays really good violin. We were at this party back in the summer when we did -- When we soloed the Brahms double at Grant Park, and we handed Wendy a violin at this party, and she put it on her lap like a cello, and she proceeded to play the Sibelius Concerto. And I am not kidding when I tell you that it sounded better than most of the great artists you've ever heard play the Sibelius.
Wendy Warner I think deep down, because of this reason that my mom, you know, started me on the cello and I never got to choose my second instrument. I've had this, you know, passion to play the violin but so it's my, you know, idea.
Wendy Warner Mm-hm.
Wendy Warner Werner Scholz in Berlin, at the East Berlin Hof Schiller, and Elmira Darvarova who is concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and comes here to be concertmaster of Grant Park during the summer. Actually, she's one of only a couple of woman concertmasters of the major American orchestras. And I've also had some lessons with Ruben Gonzalez, the former concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony, as well as chamber music coaching with just a plethora of great artists, Josef Gingold and everybody else.
Studs Terkel Can we consider this a warm-up. This is a warm-up for for your Saturday night concert. I want to, I want to remind the audience again of that concert on behalf of the Suzuki-Orff. By the way, this is Karlov [sic] and Suzuki, I want -- I'll ask Peggy how that came to be, the combination there, as we go along later in the program. But the concert is Saturday night at the James Thompson Center, the State of Illinois Building, isn't it, yeah, 100 West Randolph at 8:00 and should be quite a concert. We resume.
Rachel Barton Yeah, I want to talk for a minute about, you know, why this type of a benefit is so important, because everybody's, you know, in Chicago knows about the successes of, you know, people like me and Wendy, but, you know, it's this early training that it's really necessary to eventually get to a level that we are and especially with, you know, the public schools having, you know, their music programs cut so heavily, you know, something like the Suzuki-Orff really fills the gap there, and I want to just say a word about that.
Studs Terkel By the way, Wendy, did you and Rachel, when you met, you know, you you were 15, you were you were 13 and you played together, were you both attending, by that time when you attended school Suzuki-Orff classes?
Peggy Weiss They were at The Music Center in Winnetka, and I was teaching Orff classes for note reading, and actually, Wendy was about four years old when she was in that class. But they they took, Wendy took the Orff class, which is a readiness for note reading, and it's separate from Suzuki. And so their training, I knew them at The Music Center in Winnetka. And after I had developed the Suzuki-Orff program, someone asked me to bring it into the city, so this Suzuki-Orff School for Young Musicians is based on a program that I developed at The Music Center. You
Studs Terkel No.
Rachel Barton Amati.
Rachel Barton 400.
Rachel Barton Yeah.
Rachel Barton My instrument actually was owned after it was made in 1617, it was bought by the family of the Princes Lobkowitz of Bohemia, and there's actually a wax seal on the back of its neck from the royal family. The Princes Lobkowitz later on in history were also patrons of Beethoven. A lot of Beethoven's chamber works are dedicated to the Princes Lobkowitz and stuff like that. And then in the middle of this century it came into the hands of an American collector who basically stored it in a vault and then his heirs sold it to Bein & Fushi in Chicago, which is the big international violin dealer and they restored it and sold it to my patrons, Robert and Mary Galvin, and so in 1992, actually right after I came back from the Bach competition, I began using this. Chicago is home to the only international patron society in the world. It's called the Stradivari Society and they have patrons in Japan that loan instruments to young artists in Germany and everything in between. And it's great because that way the patron gets the investment and everything else. And then the young artist gets to use an instrument that we otherwise wouldn't be able to afford.
Rachel Barton Yes.
Studs Terkel You put forth, you put forth the music, you put forth the instrument and there you are in the background, the virtuoso Rachel Barton. And this applies also to Wendy Warner. Who were your influences of the great cellists? Casals, of course, but
Wendy Warner Do I admire? Oh, gosh, there's a couple of people I love, Pierre Fournier's playing, I love Rostropovich's playing. When I was younger, I was crazy about Yo-Yo Ma, but as I got older I -- My taste kind of changed, but I still love him. And then I also like Jacqueline du Pré a lot.
Rachel Barton I mean, I listen to just all kinds of different violinists and it's it's hard for me to just relax and enjoy a violin performance because I can't turn off that side of myself that's always studying and learning. And so I'll be analyzing their performance instead of simply, you know, just just experiencing it. I'll think about, OK, they did that fingering in that measure and they took time on that note, and I can't just, you know, listen to their performance as a whole. So, I can listen to period instrument playing on the violin, or other instruments besides the violin. But, you know, I like different artists for different pieces or I like different aspects of different artists, like maybe one person's technique or one person's vibrato or one person's Brahms and another person's Bach, and, you know, so I like just all kinds of different people. But when I'm not listening to classical I actually listen to a lot of heavy metal music.
Wendy Warner Well, it's really a lot of fun because there's different variations and each variation has its own character, personality. So, inevitably you show a lot of your own personality, too, when you play it. That's why it's so much fun. [Plays duet with
Rachel Barton Yeah.
Rachel Barton Yeah.
Studs Terkel And there's a question of spontaneity here. So this leads to a big question always comes up, I ask all chamber music artists that question, when you perform, it's not always the same, is it? The same piece, but it's not -- I don't mean it's like jazz, I don't mean you, you don't improvise as much, but is there an area of improvisation?
Wendy Warner Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think it is like jazz in that way because if there's always an element of something that's going to be unpredictable, it would be boring otherwise, you know. I know that there's some musicians that have that approach, like they want to know every detail of every phrase, everything that's so worked out. But in the performance it sounds like that, you know, you can kind of tell how someone thinks about music, and
Wendy Warner Definitely.
Studs Terkel That's
Rachel Barton A wonderful feeling. I mean, you know, playing in front of you two, you're two great people here. But I have to say, if we were playing in front of two hundred, you'd hear a different Rachel and Wendy. And two thousand, yet another different Rachel and Wendy.
Studs Terkel Oh,
Wendy Warner And hardly anybody came. There were like five people in the audience. And it was the hardest concert I've ever had to give. But I had to imagine those five people like 5000, you know, and that I had to create the own atmosphere, you know, within myself. But it's it's good to have those experiences. You can't only rely on the atmosphere.
Studs Terkel With those five people, think about that, now. You, you said you assumed there would be 5000, as though there were. Those five people had quite an experience. See, they were there and they knew that you were doing what you were doing as though you were a multitude there, and they felt like a multitude.
Studs Terkel So this is, I like the way you -- Rachel used the word "vibes," there's an old jazz friend of mine, Chet Roble, old jazz blues pianist, says, "He got the right vibes." The vibe, he used the word. So, that's a factor, isn't it?
Rachel Barton Yeah, I mean it all plays off each other. I mean, that's why, you know, I mean, like I'm making five classical CDs this year. But, you know, and that's that's something interesting because you can have your ideal interpretation. There's a -- You can have -- You can give a perfect performance where every note is in tune, every note has a good tone, but it might not be your ideal performance because you didn't have quite the right speed of vibrato or quite the right width of vibrato or maybe you didn't take quite enough time on that one note, and so on a CD you can really capture your ideal interpretation. And yet, in the performance, the live performance, that's what I enjoy best because there's something special there that that you don't know it's going to happen until it happens.
Studs Terkel We're talking to Rachel Barton and Wendy Warner, violin and cello, friends for years and colleagues. I'll ask Peggy Weiss more about the nature of the school today and how these two bright alumni of that school have influenced some of them, and who some of the young students [are have?] you there today at the Suzuki-Orff school and perhaps a word about how -- I'm sure that people will be wondering about their own children whom have a tendency or an inclination to play. What the chances are, how that works out for admissions. We do know that this particular benefit is taking place with Rachel Barton, violin, Wendy Warner, cello, are playing. As your -- Any number of -- You've done this -- How many times you perform publicly together?
Rachel Barton Well, a lot with the string quartet, and then Wendy went off to Philadelphia to go to the Curtis Institute. And so we lost touch for a few years and, you know, she was traveling the world and I was, you know, just moving along in different circles and so we just basically got together again last summer to do the Brahms double concerto out at Grant Park. And then, you know, we -- It was like we had never parted, you know, the playing just just happened and it was it was sort of like, we left off, like we began where we had left off.
Rachel Barton Yeah.
Rachel Barton And we decided we want to do to do more of the same, and in fact, it was so funny because this review that we got, we got like this great review in the Tribune and everything, and and it said something about "Let's hope for more concerts like this," or something, and sure enough here we are.
Rachel Barton The thing about a school like that is, you know, you don't just put your kid in it because you hope that they'll make their living as a instrumentalist or even, you know, become one of the world's greatest instrumentalists or anything along those lines, there's also so much to be learned from music education just in of itself, you know, to gain an appreciation of music and also to learn so many life skills.
Studs Terkel Isn't Rachel raising a key point here, Peggy Weiss, they may become a great artist, they may not, they may become professional musicians who make a living, they may not, but what they learn is something else, isn't it? The joy and the beauty of mastering something and understanding something.
Rachel Barton One of the things that I find so unique about music education, I mean you have all those things like, it teaches you memorization and teamwork and all those types of things, but also the idea of learning. The idea that you keep striving for more improvement and more improvement whereas when you're doing your general book work in a school setting, you know, either you had, you know, you get all the answers right or you don't. There's a right and a wrong and it's sort of black and white. In music you can do a good performance, but then that performance can always be improved upon. If you've given the right answer in your history test that's it. There's no improving because you've got the answer. So that sort of gives you an idea I think for the idea of, you know, a person going through their life and always aiming for a higher self improvement, you know, in their work and in their their own character and everything else to just continue going forward and that there is no limit.
Studs Terkel That plus the word that comes to mind to me is "play," the word. You are playing instruments, but the word "play" itself, play, the delight of play itself figures into this, what we're talking about, doesn't it?
Peggy Weiss That's really a big part of the Suzuki philosophy that we got from Shinichi Suzuki, who still is alive, quite elderly but alive. He believes that if a parent and a teacher worked to help nurture each child through music that they would not even, not only become more sensitive human beings but that this triangle of the Suzuki child and parent and teacher could help each and every child reach his or her greatest potential.
Studs Terkel I'm going to play. I want to remind the audience again, I want to get the plug in, I want to get the plug in, and it's for this concert, forthcoming one, it's a memorial con-- Jerry Spero memorial concerts for young musicians of the Suzuki-Orff school. It's Saturday, March 22nd, Saturday 8:00 o'clock at the James Thompson Center, that's 100 West Randolph Street and that should be quite a rewarding and rich concert indeed. [Some musical tuning-up.] Right now they're warming up. Rachel Barton and Wendy Warner warming up. You promised you can do something if you -- You didn't plan to do it. Now what is it you're warming up for?
Rachel Barton Is he? You know, I haven't yet looked these guys up in my music encyclopedia. We weren't planning to play this today, so I'm not ready with my historical commentary. Anyway, yeah this is a piece that we just started rehearsing, so it's not yet in its final finished form, but it's kind of halfway there and it'll be one of those things where we'll probably invent it as we go right now.
Studs Terkel That is, yeah. So that, by the way, when you came we should point out that when Rachel and Wendy came to the studio they hadn't planned to do this, so this is just, because the whole point here is the nature of your improvisation and being almost open to anything and music of course, you bet has its charms.
Studs Terkel Well, in a way, in a way, in a way, you call this a warming up, this is in a way was sort of informally rehearsing for this right here. Peggy Weiss, the subject of Suzuki-Orff and the children there, who are, there's a whole variety of kids going there, I know. How long has it been in existence now in Chicago?
Peggy Weiss The Suzuki method is the instrumental method that Wendy and Rachel were talking about, and the Orff curriculum is using the child's body to experience music. It was developed by Carl Orff, and we use that as a note-reading readiness program so that the children learn to read music while they're learning to perform on the instrument, and then they come together so that the children are getting the best of both worlds: They're learning readiness for reading and actual note-reading and musicianship through the Orff, and learning to play beautifully on the Suzuki -- Through Suzuki method, and then they learn to read on the instrument.
Peggy Weiss We have children in our school from all over the metropolitan area. Many of them are tuition-free, based on need and it's a wonderful opportunity to give these children the opportunity to enjoy music. And as Rachel said, it's a really important part of education and it's not something that they have in the public schools. We also have a big outreach program in the Chicago public schools where we help classroom teachers bring music and music reading into the classrooms through the Orff method, but we have many many wonderful families that come to our school.
Studs Terkel Well, you know, it's possible somebody listening, I'm sure there are some who have kids who have a certain feeling they know what they do. Now suppose they try to, how are they eligible for this?
Peggy Weiss Everyone is eligible. We never audition children. We ask for a commitment of parents and we have a new early childhood program called "Baby Steps" so that people can come with toddlers, six months and older, and start getting a musical environment into their home. And then as they progress and get old enough, they add an instrument.
Peggy Weiss And in fact, that's based on Suzuki's philosophy. He believes that talent is not inborn but that it in fact is nurtured by the environment of the parent and the teacher. So every child that can learn to speak if nurtured in music can learn to play music
Rachel Barton It's so great that Wendy and I are in at the point in our lives when we're able to turn around and go back and, and help some of these programs, because both of us were scholarship students the entire time we were growing up at The Music Center, we both were on almost full scholarship. So, to be able to now, now that we're all grown up and everything, to turn around and help, you know, a school that's providing scholarships for younger kids now is, is really everything coming full circle. We're very happy to have these opportunities.
Peggy Weiss And not only are they going to give this wonderful performance but they are coming to the school and actually working with our young musicians in a master class setting so that they are serving as a role model and an inspiration for all these wonderful young children and their parents.
Wendy Warner Right.
Wendy Warner September.
Rachel Barton Yes.
Wendy Warner Really?
Rachel Barton Yeah.
Rachel Barton This is really great that I have this web page because people can look up and see all kinds of information about me, like my CDs and my biography and my reviews and articles and things like that. And then also the most important thing really is my concert schedule. It has complete information about every single one of my upcoming concerts and events and appearances and if I hadn't just moved to my new apartment, if I were a little bit more organized, I would quick put in, you know, the broadcast of this interview on there. But right now I'm still trying to work my way through a bunch of boxes, my life is
Studs Terkel This is by way of thanking you both. Both Rachel Barton and Wendy Warner, violin and cello. Remind you of the concert that you're both offering, a sort of a reunion again on behalf, for the benefit of the Suzuki-Orff school young musicians scholarship and concert. The concert will be at the, at the James Thompson Center. That's at 100 West Randolph Street, Saturday night, this forthcoming Saturday, March 22nd at 8:00 o'clock. And in case there -- You can get tickets at the door, too, although they'll be pretty well sold out, but there's a phone number, too: 3-1-2, 7-3-8, 2-6-4-6. This is by way of thanking all three of you, you know how we opened the thing, you improvising? This has an air of improvisation to it, this whole hour does, I'm happy to note. And how -- Why don't you just sign off just the way you began?