A Salute to (My) Teachers - 7. 'We get by with a little help from our friends' - thanks to The Beatl


Thanks to my peers in the sax section growing up, Darryl Malone, Billy Buvens, Faith Friese, Ray Elliott, Glenn Klose, Dennis Sustala, chamber music partners Larry Pratt, Denise Petski (first chamber music pals at NEC, who taught me that it is easier to work with friends), Boston musicians whom as a whole, including both the Boston Symphony and the free lance community which makes up the entirety of the other playing in the area, as the greatest group of musicians that I have ever heard or worked with. I remember Bill Moyer, the then Personnel Manager of the Boston Symphony, telling me, just before he hired me the very first time, that when he hired an extra, such as for 'Pictures', he expected in Boston that the quality of the orchestra could and would go up just a bit. I always tried to live up to that. Bill Moyer was responsible for the collective identity of the orchestra in those early years I was playing, at least in my view. And even though it took him some time to agree to hear me, nevertheless I persisted and he listened, and we were both polite and patient with each other. On my first call to play for the BSO I did not have enough money for money for black shoes. I sat next to Phil Viscuglia, the bass clarinetist, who always treated me well. I was wearing black rain shoes (rubbers) over my brown shoes. He looked down, smiled, and didn't say a word, except to welcome me. And it was always so. Harold Wright, Al Genovese, Sherman Walt, Larry Thorstenberg, Matt Ruggiero, Wayne Rapier, Chester Schmitz, Ralph Gomberg, Doriot Dwyer, Rolland Tapley (a violinist who used to play the sax parts in the time of Koussevitzky), Frank Epstein, Ron Barron, Rob Sheena, Mark Ludwig, Bill Hudgins, John Ferrillo, Keisuke Wakao all, were and remained very generous over the years, and in some cases we worked on other musical projects away from the orchestra.

Also, many thanks to violist Scott Nickrenz, who hired me on the basis of one unsolicited recording to play Hindemith Trio with him and Joseph Kalichstein at Brooklyn Academy, very early in my career, my first professional chamber music date, who gave me a helping hand. Thanks to Rudolf Serkin for the same, and for Felix Galimir and Patricia Rogers (bassoonist Metropolitan Opera) who sat next to me, and helped me learn how to play chamber music, in the Schoenberg ‘Kammersymphonie’ at the Marlboro Festival, when I was short on both experience and confidence. And conductor, Richard Hoenich, who embraced every saxophone project with orchestra I ever had with the New England Conservatory Orchestra, and has been the dearest of friends. And Claudio Dioguardi, who has singlehandedly built a saxophone culture in Venezuela, and let me help just a bit. And of course thanks to Radnofsky Quartet members Hewitt, Gattegno and Staudlin.

Texas Band Directors (and a few from the Northeast)

This is a unique category, and represented best perhaps, by The Floyd Brothers of Austin, Texas. It sounds like a country-western group. And in a way it is. Robert and Richard Floyd have contributed as Texas Band Directors and at this writing, as long time Executive Directors of Texas Music Educator's Assn., and University Interscholastic League in Texas (20 years each). They have affected, for the good, the lives of millions and millions of school children, and in an unbroken continuum, which stretches over many generations. Bobby Floyd, as many call him, is at Texas Music Educator's Assn., is the largest such Assn. in the United States, with over 15,000 members and with a larger convention than the Music Educators National Conference. Their All-State Convention offers each student lucky enough to attend, a personal experience, which carries them through, to a lifetime love of music. Indeed, even those who don't make it to All-State as a participant, can listen, look and aspire, to those heights. I did. Despite not making All-State, I competed, in District, Region (not achieving All-Area or All-State). Texas is a big place! Richard Floyd's University Interscholastic League, administered through the University of Texas, is responsible for every 'competition' (Music, Athletic, Science, Math, etc. etc.) For example, students learn to play a solo of their choice (chose from a massive list compiled and updated regularly by UIL) graded by difficulty at the district level, judged, at that level, and then if a 1st division is received, may elect to compete (against a standard, not a person) with judges which include leaders in their field from all over the country. I remember playing for the great clarinetist Mitchell Lurie, former principal in the Chicago Symphony and Los Angeles Phil., when I was 16 years old. I received a second division, and was happy to have had the chance to play for him, and reminded myself to keep trying to make it better. And, there is ALWAYS a next time. I have always been the tortoise in the race. I just kept going. Thank you Robert and Richard for keeping music education alive, in creating and/or maintaining the infrastructure to take care of all of us.

All of my music educator friends, indefatigable day in/day out examples like Matthew McInturf (Schoolmate and former Pres. of Texas Bandmasters and currently Band Dir. Sam Houston State Univ.), and all my classmates who became band directors like Larry Matysiak, Rick Yancey, Bill Quillen, Joyce and Les Boelsche, Denis Kidwell, Floyd Burden, Pasquale Tassone (Longtime Supervisor of Music in Arlington, Mass., with a Phd. in Composition from Brandeis who IS 'Mr. Holland '(see the movie Mr. Holland's Opus), and who was my children's teacher, Paul Alberta (Norwood, Mass. Schools.), Cynthia Napierkowski (Salem HS), Jeff Leonard (Lexington, Mass. Schools), Brian Gibbs, now also at Sam Houston State U, after many years as a successful Texas HS Band Director...

The teachers in the trenches--Every day, teaching every child--this is the real definition of the George W. Bush slogan 'no child left behind,' or Hillary Clinton's 'It takes a village to raise a child.' But when the slogans and the candidates have disappeared, the everyday music teacher (and public school teacher in general, I might add) is the one, who is responsible for that child's love of music, thirst for knowledge, and developing that child's potential, whether as a musician or just a better person overall (whom I hope and hope will remain a musician (whether avocational, professional or occasional, for life).

Debbie Thompson

In more than one way, Debbie Thompson taught me how to teach. She was both of my children's cello teacher. With my older child Lauren, who had studied violin at a very young age (possibly too young), and then cello with a local after schoolteacher, it wasn't going well. So we looked for another teacher. I remember the first lesson--Debbie was organized, demanding and KIND (The primary requisite missing in many teachers, sadly). Lauren was beaming. She had to get an 8 1/2 x 11 notebook, as Debbie asked, and she was to prepare for a recital, just like the othe 40+ students, the dates were set, etc. etc. It was expected that they would learn the music, and approached in the same personal style as Suzuki,(forget about the descriptively incorrect description of Suzuki musicians, which does not give Suzuki proper credit, for seeing the big picture, and the PERSON) whose book on teaching children was on the table as I walked in, and which I read while waiting. Suzuki was still alive at the time--and I knew as I was listening to Debbie teach, that I was in the presence of a great teacher. My daughter stayed with Debbie for many years, and still credits her with developing her love of the cello. Lauren has gone on to a wonderful career. And, yes she does read music (to all the Suzuki 'critics;' and in fact very difficult music and all kinds, by Birtwhistle, Wuorinen, Ligeti, Reich as well as Chopin and Debussy.

All the concert saxophonists I have known as colleagues, including:

John Sampen has been a wonderful colleague over the years, one of the first phone numbers I memorized, and one that never changed. With the unchanging phone number as metaphor, John was stable, and once arrived at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, established as fine a saxophone program as there exists anywhere, while maintaining his own high artistic standards, raising a family with his wife (and pianist), Marilyn Shrude--and being there whenever I had a question or an idea. John helped tremendously in developing a network for World-Wide Concurrent Premieres and Commissioning Fund, Inc., as we discussed pieces, saxophone fingerings, multiphonics, shared expenses hosting out of country performers, etc. etc. He practices in the morning every day, as far as I know, always in the office, always pleasant and always prepared. The only thing that has changed is that he has gotten 'better.' John puts that into practice every day. The CONSTANT is that we have to try to improve. John has. It takes a lifetime, and that is how it should be. Tim McAllister, Taimur Sullivan and Otis Murphy, are three of the most talented, finest saxophonists I have ever heard. They are models for the next generation after mine. (They have both developed teaching and performing careers by being at the top of their profession in terms of ability, and by being good and decent. Their personalities are different, and thus their 'tones' (take any and all meanings you wish from the word). For the most part, 'SCHOOLS' of playing have disappeared, and the predominant number of saxophonists and teachers I know, have strived to develop a highly personal, yet cosmopolitan style. Marcel Mule, Al Gallodoro, Sigurd Rascher, Donald Sinta, Fred Hemke, Eugene Rousseau, Jean-Marie Londeix, Daniel Deffayet, Harvey Pittel, Serge Bertocchi, Arno Bornkamp, Pierre-Stephane Meuge, Jean-Michele Goury, Marcus Weiss and Claude Delangle, Steve Mauk, Lynn Klock all have been an inspiration to me, and every person should listen to their recordings (And I have left others out, as there are dozens more to name. There is plenty to learn from everyone, and to not listen to as many other artists (like Casals, Heifetz, Piatigorsky, Rostropovich, Jacqueline DuPre, Michael Rabin, YoYo Ma just to name a few) as saxophonists, is to be incomplete as a person. And I must say, barring only one or two glaring examples) that musicians in general and saxophonists in particular are the most wonderful and caring group of beings as a whole that I have known, outside my own Temple Isaiah. You hear a musician's humanity in their playing, and that is how we musicians try to contribute to our civilization, as we are all make what we hope is a small contribution toward the greater good of all.

Carl Atkins is the person most responsible for my position and then career as a saxophone teacher at New England Conservatory. Carl was the head of the Jazz Dept., taught saxophone, and was interested in returning to school at Eastman for his DMA. I didn't study with him, but we were friendly. The NEC vice-president, composer Donald Harris, wanted me to go to Paris, where I was offered a Fulbright Scholarship. Don was a Francophile, and living in Paris changed his life. But I didn't want to change my life. I wanted to teach at NEC. Several times Carl had phone conversations with Don, convincing Don we should go ahead. And, when Don met withy me and said Paris would be a dream I said, that's not MY dream. I want MY life.' And I have a life in Boston. Within a year I was playing for the Boston Symphony, also turning down an invitation to interview for the University of Texas saxophone position. I knew Boston, (where I was being paid $15 an hour (no full time position or benefits)), was where I wanted to be. During my last year in graduate school, I had walked across the street to Symphony Hall, to speak with one of the highest integrity persons I have known, Bill Moyer, whom I mentioned earlier, the personnel manager of the Boston Symphony. I told Mr. Moyer I was a member of the union, he smiled, and thanked me for coming in. Several months later, I sent him an invitation to my recital --but he didn't come. Several months after that, I sent him a recording of my recital. Several months after that-he called, and said he liked it and would call some time. Then, several months after that (a year had gone by in total), I was called to play 2nd alto in a Sousa tribute, playing 2nd alto, and I was on top of the world.

Phil Viscuglia, bass clarinetist (and saxophonist) of the orchestra was a gentleman, and helped me have confidence in my playing in later interactions, for which I will always be grateful, including my first subscription performances with the orchestra as a member of the concertino (soloists), in David Del Tredeci's ‘Final Alice,’ a Bicentennial Commission performed by many of the major US orchestras. Seiji Ozawa was the conductor, and I sat just below his right armpit! During that week, three of the five members of the concertino were fired and replaced because they had not learned the 15 page part. An accordionist was flown in from Chicago, Harvey Pittel from Los Angeles, and a new mandolin player from Boston. I don't believe it ever happened before, and it has not happened since. That certainly taught me to ALWAYS get the music before the first rehearsal, for any engagement, and to make sure I learned the part before walking in the door. How could I do otherwise? A year later, Phil was leaving the orchestra to teach in Las Vegas, and I became the 1st call saxophonist for the orchestra, which but for a few instances has remained so for the last 35+ years. But there are no guarantees and I earn my next performance based on my playing. In Boston, while there may be no job 'security,' the quality of the music making and the schools are so fine, that I wouldn't have it any other way. I am certainly glad to have made my home here.

During the next few years, I taught at many other schools. My name and reputation as a person and performer became the 'franchise,' that caused people to want me to perform or teach for them. In the earlier years, the head of the Wind Dept. at NEC, a wonderful man, excellent clarinetist and fine teacher William Wrzesien, also helped me with referrals to Univ. of Lowell and Andover, with Carl Atkins also helping with Brown U. Bill and Carl were an example for me to do the same for my own students, and other young people (whether or not they are my students), and I believe I have done that to the best of my ability over the years.

I have made Boston my campus, and all of my students meet weekly for saxophone class and large ensemble, so everyone is a member of the family, and I believe we have a real saxophone culture here in Boston, with 25+ college students in my class, premieres, lectures, international guests and constant concerts. Everyone plays in a quartet. And I personally teach an equal number of preparatory (beginning at age 10) students at the Longy school, now numbering 5 ensembles, and 20 plus younger students. I have never depended on any school to provide me with students. I meet students in other places, I recruit them, suggest the school I believe will be best for them, give clinics in public schools, students write to me, and find my recordings out on the Internet, study with me at Tanglewood, in Brazil, Israel, China, Venezuela, Turkey or wherever I teach. I love to teach....

Random but specific acts of kindness, never expected, always appreciated and from which I have learned.

-With a note to self to pass on to others, and which I have tried to do same, these were received in particular from Bruce and Ruth Lynn, Steve and Sue Hilzenrath, Paul Brodie, Pam Adams, Robert Dodson (one of the finest leaders I have known), Charles Peltz, Pete Seeger, Fred Fennell, Jackie McLean, Jim Phelan and many others in everyday life.

-To Roy; thanks for all the help, non judgmental wisdom and understanding, and,

-Violet, who believes in me. The most wonderful person in the world, she is a great partner. I listen to all of her thoughts, ask her advice, and find her to be the most musical non-musician (incredibly sensitive to performance nuance) of anyone I've known.

Copyright © 2012 by Kenneth Radnofsky. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission

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