Germany and My Path Out of Pain

I got to Goslar and found out there were 45 other violists there. I had no idea what to expect, what I would be doing, and I couldn’t speak German even after taking it in college. I had constant headaches because the other Korean students sweetly decided I needed to be taken care of. I had to speak Korean all day, something I hadn’t done since I was about four years old. Hatto Beyerle, the former violist of the Alban Berg Quartet, was a hero of mine from student days and was going to be one of my teachers. For some reason he took an immediate interest in me and told me I was the first person up to play in masterclass. Interestingly, The Berlin Phil violist told me, when I told him where I was going next, “Beyerle will love you.” This turned out to be a prescient comment. I have never figured out why he said that, because he personally had nothing positive to say about me other than my Asian fingers. I was like a little kid again. I had no idea what was going to happen. I simply did as I was told. My collaborative pianist was a very stern and cross looking lady who had little patience for my lack of confidence. She later turned out to be a wonderful person. I’m sure that playing for 45 violists wasn’t an easy job. I marched ahead and played the first movement of the Brahms f minor Sonata at the masterclass and it went okay. My Asian fingers were working and I nailed the nasty arpeggios. After the class, several of the other violists came up to me and told me how well I had done. This was a new feeling. There was no perceptible feeling of competition there, even though the level of playing was insanely high. Much higher than Peabody both at the top level, and the mean level of playing was better, as well. This, I loved. I was under the radar again and it felt great. I had a couple of lessons with Beyerle, one with Hartmut Rohde and with Babette Heinichen, Beyerle’s assistant. I loved being in Germany.

At our second lesson Beyerle told me that he had me figured out. I was still suffering from tremendous pain in my left arm, which I told nobody about. People would tell me I was faking it, or they would just not ask me to do things so I just kept my mouth shut. I had no idea what he was going to say, but I was expecting a redux of the Asian fingers speech. It was just the opposite, though not at first. He told me that when he first heard me, he thought my left hand was far ahead of my right hand. He said that after two lessons he had changed his mind completely. That my right hand would be fine with a few exercises but it looked like I was afraid to use my left hand. I almost burst into tears right then and there. Luckily Sophie, his huge Bernese mountain dog, decided that this was the perfect moment to stick her nose between my legs. She left a shiny trail of drool on my pants crotch that had us both cracking up. That was the first time I’d see the huge belly laugh that made his eyes crinkle up. He then asked me what I was doing after Goslar and I told him I’d long wanted to see the Nordic countries and that I was headed up there to look around. He told me that was a bad idea. It was already freezing in mid-August in Germany and I had no warm clothes. Only a pair of quick dry travel pants from REI I bought at the suggestion of Rick Steves and a light jacket. I had no idea how cold central European summers were. He said that I should go with him instead to Grossraming, Austria, where he led another camp. I would only pay room and board and he would teach me for free. I checked with my mom to make sure this was okay and I followed him to Austria. It was a freaking adventure. I drove a van there with some other classmates and we got to go on the autobahn. Driving 170 kilometers an hour in a VW van (it only went that fast downhill) was a hoot. I spent three weeks in Austria and our lessons were amazing and totally different from the ones I had in the States. First of all, they were leisurely. It never felt like he was watching the clock. I also had several in one week. Some were short, and some lasted two hours. We worked on goals, not by the clock. He taught me the trill exercise, which formed the basis of his left hand technique, and my arm started to relax. When our three weeks were nearly up he asked if I was headed back to the States. If I wasn’t, he would like me to go with him to Hanover and live at his place, an ancient windmill that had survived the war and had been renovated top to bottom. He would again give me free lessons and free room and board in exchange for helping out with household chores. I had nothing to do but to go back to the US and sell violins so I quickly said yes.

Next time: Beyerle and the Viola Lesson (short version)/Is Nurturing for the 1%? (short version)

Copyright Rising Tide String Project 2018 (Erik Bryan and Chung Park)

Please contact me at chung@chungpark.com if you’d like me to come and lead a workshop. I’m available for student workshops and teacher professional development sessions.