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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 24, 2000. All rights reserved.
Portrait of a Pedagogue: Learning & Thinking
In a sense Barbara Sand’s portrait of violin pedagogue
Dorothy DeLay in her newly-published book, "Teaching Genius: Dorothy
DeLay and the Making of a Musician," is a mystery story. DeLay
occupies a unique position as a force in the violin performing world.
A power broker in the business of music, DeLay has broken barriers
as a woman, and as an American, she has taught at New York’s Juilliard
School since 1948, and at the Aspen Music School in Colorado since
1971. Even if DeLay’s name is not generally known, the names of the
world class solo violinists whom she has trained have become household
words. They include Sarah Chang, Cho-Liang Lin, Robert McDuffie, Midori,
Itzhak Perlman, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, and Gil Shaham.
In addition, DeLay’s students are prominent among the chamber music
performers, concertmasters, and university professors in Europe, Asia,
and the Americas. The partial list of DeLay’s students appended to
Sand’s book occupies almost eight pages. Sand’s book is devoted to
answering the questions, "What is she up to? Why does it work?"
Sand will read from and sign her book at Micawber Books, Nassau Street,
on Thursday, June 1, at 6 p.m.
Although Sand, a Princeton resident, frequently writes articles about
chamber music, this is her first book. About the DeLay volume Sand,
who is 69, says with a certain wry distance, "A first book at
69 — It’s an inspiration to us all."
More than 30 years ago, Sand founded the Princeton University Summer
Chamber Concerts, which begins its current season on June 20 (U.S.
1, July 21, 1993). As a long-term amateur chamber music player, she
knows about string instruments from personal experience. The members
of her regular string quartet are a good cross-section of what Sand
calls "Princeton’s Chamber Music Underground." They include
violinist Joan Fleming, rector of New Brunswick’s Episcopal Christ
Church; violinist Carl Schorske, an emeritus Princeton history professor;
violinist Kathleen Amon, a Princeton University editor; and cellist
Born in South Africa, Sand grew up in England. Divorced, she has three
children. Daughter Gila is a freelance Internet expert; son Jordan
is a professor of Japanese history at Georgetown University; and son
Michael, after 10 years at Aperture, moves soon to Boston to be a
senior editor at Bullfinch Press.
Sand says the genesis of the DeLay book, though she
didn’t know it at the time, came in 1988 when she wrote an article
about DeLay for "Musical America." Returning to DeLay’s studio
partly because she was writing about DeLay students and partly because
of her fascination with DeLay’s unique approach to teaching, Sand
covered a blizzard of yellow legal pads with notes as she observed
DeLay in action.
Later, she recorded conversations with DeLay, her husband author Edward
Newhouse, and assorted DeLay students at New York’s Juilliard School,
the Aspen Music School in Colorado, and DeLay’s home in Nyack in New
York. Using the tape recorder presented Sand with the down-side of
needing to transcribe the oral record, a tedious process. "I did
all the transcribing myself," Sand says. "I hated transcribing,
but using the tape recorder gave me a sense of ease. I could have
a conversation without scribbling. Talking face to face I couldn’t
have taken along a laptop. It would have been a barrier."
"Writing the book was in my mind for a long time," Sand says.
"About two and a half years ago I decided that I had to settle
down and do it. My son Michael, who is an editor, has a gift of giving
me a shove when I need it. He told me that it was high time to put
my material in order, and that there was a book there."
The publisher of the DeLay book is Amadeus Press, of Portland, Oregon,
which specializes in books on classical and traditional music. Amadeus
was the second publisher that Sand tried. She has continued sitting
in at DeLay’s studio after finishing the book.
Sand showed the completed manuscript to DeLay. "I felt a little
bit tentative about it," Sand says, "but she had no suggestions
for either cuts or inclusions. She’s a generous-minded lady, and she
basically felt, `it’s your book,’" Sand emphasizes the
word. "She treats everybody with such respect."
DeLay’s laissez-faire attitude may be as much due to the quality of
Sand’s manuscript as to her innate generosity. "Teaching Genius"
is distinguished by its excellent writing, its graceful organization,
and the enormous depth of Sand’s knowledge of the world of string
playing. Sand has put together DeLay’s story with tact and acumen.
A savvy interviewer, she asks intrusive questions in an inoffensive
A first chapter introduces DeLay. Now 83, she was born in 1917 into
a family of preachers and teachers in Medicine Lodge, Kansas, a cattle
town near the Oklahoma border. Precocious, she graduated from high
school before she was 15. After graduating from Michigan State University,
she earned an artist’s diploma at New York’s Juilliard School. She
married New Yorker writer Edward Newhouse while she was in graduate
Although her primary interest was in performance, DeLay decided in
1944 to try teaching one day a week at the Henry Street Settlement
School in Manhattan just to see what it was like. She loved it. Four
years later Ivan Galamian, who was to become Juilliard’s chief mentor
for violinists, asked DeLay to become his assistant, a position she
kept until 1970. According to Sand "the two were joined in what
ultimately became an impossible relationship."
Head on, Sand discusses the break that occurred between the two as
their views about teaching methods grew increasingly divergent during
the 22 years when DeLay was Galamian’s assistant. Sand’s interviews
with artists who studied with both teachers reveal that while instilling
cold fear was Galamian’s stock-in-trade, DeLay instills warm self-confidence.
She quotes Itzhak Perlman: "For example, if there was a note out
of tune, I would play for Galamian, and he would say, `What’s the
matter, it is out of tune!’ Miss DeLay would say, "Sugarplum,
what is your concept of F-sharp?’" In a balanced presentation, Sand
recounts Galamian’s major contributions in training some of the world’s
leading violinists, and offers some defense of his fear-inducing approach.
Yet, Galamian emerges as a fundamentally unsympathetic individual.
The motherly DeLay, in contrast, is an attractive person, despite
Sand’s attention to her failings. In a chapter called "The Emperor’s
New Clothes? DeLay and her Critics," Sand provides a forum for
those interested in detracting from DeLay’s reputation. "There
were tons and tons of people that I talked to," Sand says. Some
people didn’t want their names used, especially for the `Emperor’s
New Clothes’ chapter. DeLay is a woman who has her enemies; anybody
in public life does. There are people who think she is a fraud, or
that her teaching is overblown. But they didn’t want to be quoted
because they thought it would do them damage or that DeLay would do
them harm. I didn’t think so. I watched her for 10 years."
The ineffable and the intangible play a large role in
DeLay’s violin instruction. "There was a lot of teaching going
on in her classes," says Sand. "But there was no obvious solution
like, `Play this 30 times.’ When I first started to watch her, I kind
of sided with the people who thought nothing was going on, and that
her reputation had no basis. It was fascinating to begin to understand
what she was doing. It’s subtle and very difficult to explain."
In the book Sand provides copious vignettes of DeLay working with
students of different ages and different levels of accomplishment.
Although her appreciation and respect for DeLay are evident, Sand
nevertheless faces up to DeLay’s shortcomings. She talks about DeLay’s
tendency to abandon a student in mid-lesson in order to attend to
a visiting celebrity who has dropped by. She discusses DeLay’s notorious
lack of punctuality and the coining of the phrase "being DeLayed"
for being made to wait despite a scheduled appointment.
Some students, confronted suddenly with a three-hour gap, reports
Sand, "go off and practice somewhere nearby, such as Juilliard’s
spacious fifth-floor bathrooms." Others "sit and fume and
watch the clock." Sand, who makes her presence discreetly felt
in the book, says that she "suspects [she] would fall into the
Despite the inclusion of unfavorable details, the overall picture
of DeLay is that of a devoted teacher attentive to the needs of all
of her pupils, both musically and personally. In the end, Sand unlocks
the mystery of DeLay’s teaching. Since "Teaching Genius" is
not a crime novel, she reveals it on page 65, rather than in the final
"The secret of DeLay’s success," Sand writes "seems obvious
to me now, but it was a long time before I saw it. DeLay is basically
in the business of teaching her pupils how to think, and to trust
their ability to do so effectively. . . To DeLay, learning and thinking
are inextricably connected, and the core of her philosophy lies in
continually challenging her students to look for their own answers."
— Elaine Strauss
609-921-8454. A reading and book signing by the author of "Teaching
Genius: Dorothy DeLay and the Making of a Musician" (Amadeus Press).
Free. Thursday, June 1, 6 p.m.
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