Teaching Genius: Dorothy DeLay and the Making of a Musician

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9781574670523: Teaching Genius: Dorothy DeLay and the Making of a Musician

The late Dorothy DeLay taught violin at Juilliard for more than 50 years, and a list of her pupils - from Itzhak Perlman and Kennedy to Midori and Sarah Chang - reads like a who's who of the violin world. For more than 10 years, the author was granted access to DeLay's classes at Juilliard and the Aspen School, allowing her to craft this fascinating book that is both an exploration of the mysteries of teaching and learning and a feast of anecdotes about an extraordinary woman. HARDCOVER.

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Some people are born teachers, some become great through experience, and some become famous through their students. The renowned violin teacher Dorothy DeLay fits all three categories. She discovered her innate talent and love for teaching early in life, inspired by the great pedagogue Ivan Galamian, but her long association with him, first as his student, then as his assistant at the Juilliard School, ended in an acrimonious parting of ways. She then developed her own class of students at Juilliard and other prestigious conservatories, and soon acquired a worldwide reputation as unrivalled producer of prodigies and virtuosos. One of her first star pupils was Itzhak Perlman; it might be said that they made each other famous. The music world has long speculated about what sets DeLay and her teaching apart, and in this book, 10 years in the making, Barbara Sand tries to find some answers. She observed DeLay in action and interaction with her pupils at Juilliard, the Aspen summer school, and at home, and talked extensively with DeLay and her husband of almost 60 years, Edward Newhouse. Sand interviewed her assistants, her students past and present, and the conductors and managers who engage them. What emerges is a portrait of a woman whose inexhaustible energy, determination, inquiring intellect, and single-minded commitment to her work and her students give her a larger-than-life quality. This is a personal profile, not a description of a teaching method. Indeed, DeLay claims she has none, though it seems clear that she is guided by Galamian's technical principles. However, she rejects his well-known authoritarianism, responding to her pupils' individual needs and tempering stringent demands with generous encouragement and support. What makes her approach unique is her deep involvement in her students' lives, from choosing their wardrobes to remaining available to them as adviser and confidante long after they leave her studio. Even more remarkable is her ability to launch them into the concert world. Their gratitude and devotion are unstintingly expressed by Sand's carefully selected interviewees, as is her own wholehearted admiration. The book is a hymn of praise.

However, like all successful people, DeLay has her share of detractors. Sand dispatches them in a single chapter, mostly devoted to refuting criticism, some of which is undoubtedly inspired by envy. It is said that her students win major prizes and make successful careers because she attracts the best talents from all over the world, and because she has attained an unprecedented position of power and influence in the music profession's slippery back corridors. She takes only highly accomplished, motivated students who are preparing for solo careers and practice all day. Even the youngest children arrive playing virtuoso concertos, which indicates heavy family pressure and means that she can hand out the carrots while the parents wield the stick. Nevertheless, the chapter on prodigies makes the tortuous process of training and "handling" them sound utterly benign and healthy.

Sand discusses DeLay's well-known habit of keeping students waiting for hours and leaving much of the teaching to her assistants (whom she gets on the Juilliard faculty), explaining that she accepts too many students and spends too much time promoting them. But she mentions legitimate pedagogical issues only by implication. Unlike teachers who also perform, DeLay never plays for her students (beyond some technical demonstration) to avoid exposing them to a single influence; instead, she advises them to listen to different interpretations on many recordings. But doesn't this also produce imitation, and perhaps confusion as well? Entirely performance-oriented, DeLay focuses on what is effective onstage and encourages a large-scaled, extroverted playing style. She speaks emphatically about teaching her students to think for themselves, but never mentions fostering their emotional response to the music or helping them in the slow, inward process of discovering their own feelings. Yet isn't this the key to becoming a communicative artist?

Sand is an empathetic, adept interviewer, winning her subjects' confidence and eliciting frank, informative responses (though some could have used editing). Galamian, perhaps to contrast his teaching style with DeLay's, generally comes off rather badly; DeLay herself speaks about their rupture candidly but without rancor. The book contains much absorbing information, punctuated with many detailed descriptions of people's looks and attire. There are sweeping statements about players and teachers. Why, for example, are such great artist-teachers as Flesch, Busch, Enescu, Rostal, and Bron not mentioned among the 20th-century "teaching geniuses"? Sand's style is a pleasure to read, engaging, lively, humorous, and to the point, despite some moments of confusion and contradiction. Her perceptive insights and warm feeling for her subject bring us closer to understanding what makes Dorothy DeLay such a fascinating, controversial personality. --Edith Eisler

From the Publisher:

Almost all of todays major violinists spent their musical childhoods under the watchful eye of Dorothy DeLay. Writer Barbara L. Sand spent ten years as a "lesson junkie" in DeLays studio at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, observing and analyzing the legends styles and techniques in a quest to understand what sets DeLay apart from other teachers. What Sand discovered is difficult to quantify, so instead of making pronouncements, she presents stories and conversations gleaned from those ten years.

"With Miss DeLay, we could have a good discussion and we could have a good fightforget about doing that with Galamian! For example, if there was a note out of tune, he would say, 'What's the matter, it is out of tune!' Miss DeLay would say, 'Sugarplum, what is your concept of F sharp?' which means your F sharp is out of tune. It is a different style of teaching that puts the student at ease." Itzhak Perlman, violinist, former student of Ivan Galamian and Dorothy Delay

"She was teaching me to teach myselfand that's why she is a great teacher." Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg

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