From Itzhak Perlman to Rachel Barton Pine: Why Students Need Music Heroes

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Who were your musical heroes growing up?

Mine was, hands down, Itzhak Perlman. The first time I saw him perform live was 1999, but I remember watching him at home often as a child. I watched him on Sesame Street (You can see one example here), in documentaries, and in recorded concerts on VHS tape.

I was totally entranced by his playing. It was my dream to be able to do what he was doing.

When I was six years old I came home upset from group class one day. Another student had teased me my facial expressions while playing.

I vividly remember my dad sitting me down in front of a video of Perlman playing. He told me “if he can make faces while playing, so can you!” I have never felt bad about my overly expressive face again. Add my dad to my list of musical heroes!

Music Heroes

Perlman was my model of a great violinist as a child. His playing was like a carrot on a string, dangling out there as something to work towards.

Listening to Suzuki recordings helped me learn my pieces and build my technique but listening to a great performer like this was a whole other level of inspiration.

One helped me learn my music; the other helped me learn the purpose for studying it in the first place.

Fast forward many years:

the last two winter breaks I have given my students a music bingo card to fill out over our weeks off. Some of the bingo squares are practice tasks, performance tasks, or watching specific performers on YouTube.

Because of this assignment a few of my students now have new music heroes of their own. Rachel Barton Pine has become one of them for many students. My students found her video of Happy Birthday and then discovered many of her other performances to watch. I love seeing them identify someone who makes them excited to develop into more advanced musicians.

On Friday May 19th Rachel Barton Pine releases her new album Bel Canto Paganini: 24 Caprices and other Works for Solo Violin. The information I received from Avie records calls it “ . . . a musical tightrope of works that samples virtually all of the most challenging techniques possible on the violin.” She is the first American-born woman to record to it.

I was sent an advance copy to this week including a piece composed by Pine herself [Introduction. Theme and Variations on ‘God Defend New Zealand’] which was inspired by Paganini and was written for her final concert when she was on tour with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. I highly recommend it.

What struck me as I was reading the album notes was that Pine first heard Paganini’s 24 Caprices at the age of six listening to an Itzhak Perlman’s recording. She listened to that LP over and over and dreamed of someday playing the music herself. She was assigned her first Caprice at the age of 10.

What if her family had never exposed her to this great music at home?

What if she had never developed a dream of playing these pieces that she loved because of one of her own music heroes?

What can we do to make sure the young musician’s in our lives are inspired in this same way?

I would love to hear who your musical hero was as a child! How did they inspire you?


You can Pre-order Rachel Barton Pine’s new album Bel Canto Paganini: 24 Caprices and other Works for Solo Violin on Amazon (both CD and digital). I definitely recommend it!

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