Like most IU faculty, Professor of Music Miriam Fried has a tight schedule, especially around the end of a semester. So when a photographer and I showed up for a morning appointment in December, Fried apologized and explained that she had to squeeze in a lesson right then. She welcomed us to wait.
Thats how I found myself watching a private lesson given by an internationally known violinist . . . in Hebrew, Frieds native language. As I perched on a piano bench and watched the lesson progress, Fried spoke in great rushes of words, then listened, gazing quietly, intently, at her student.
I couldnt understand the words she used, but Frieds messages came through. They emanated from her eyes as she watched the students bow jump across the strings, and from her entire face, which changed expression almost as quickly as her students notes. But Frieds meaning was most clear when she leapt from her chair, grabbed her priceless Stradivarius, and began to play. Ah, Ah! her student would say after each impromptu performance.
In just about any language I know that means, I get it!
Musical Performance: Magic and Mentors is this issue's fitting public title. My private title for it is Getting It.
Why? Because as I gathered stories for this issue, I realized that no matter how widely known or celebrated the Frieds of this university may be, what music is about for them is passing it on.
They want their students to get it.
Shortly after I watched Fried give her lesson, one of my young daughters began taking violin lessons for the first time, under the guidance of Professor of Music Mimi Zweig and the music students involved in the IU String Academy. Even at six, my daughter is getting it. When her eyes light up after she finishes a string song, when she carefully draws a wobbly treble clef and claps out a quirky rhythm of ta-tas and tiri-tiris, shes getting a powerful message music transmits, whether to kindergartners, college students in lessons with a master, or people in the audience, like me.
At age six, IUB Associate Professor of Music Phuc Q. Phan was dodging rocket attacks in Vietnam. By his teens, he was getting his music from Western radio. By his thirties, Phan was a commissioned composer. In 1999, he wrote When the Worlds Mixed and Time Merged, a piece profoundly affected by the murder of IU graduate student Won-Joon Yoon in Bloomington on a sunny July morning in 1999.
This event turned the direction of my piece entirely, Phan told the New York Times in a story published last October. It still begins with a joyful overture, but when it gets to the dance, it is interrupted with music that is truly dissonant and chaotic. I felt as though, after eighteen years of establishing a good foundation for my life in America, suddenly I might be in danger because I am Asian. I felt that the music I was writing had to reflect that.
On October 14, Phans work premiered at Carnegie Hall, and according to the composer, his audience got the message of conflict and hope. I was very happy for what the orchestra did, Phan said in IU Home Pages last year. The audience enthusiastically responded to my work and was moved. I was touched and on cloud nine with the result.
Miriam Fried puts it this way: Music is communication. It transcends all languages. It has the ability to give peace to everyone in this world.
You dont have to be an expert to get that.
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