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Elena Yasinski, a gifted violin student of Philipp Naegele, graciously shared her college essay with me.  She knew Philipp for several years, as you will see when you read her wonderful contribution.

★ ☆.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.• ヅ★★ ☆.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.• ヅ★★ ☆.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.• ヅ★

As the floor begins rushing upwards beneath my feet, I pull off my hood, which is sprinkled with rain and the scent of colored leaves.  The elevator chimes and I step out and turn left.  The door of room 360 is open and I can see Philipp reclining on his hospital bed contentedly reading Mark Twain.

I knock tentatively.

“Oh! Hello,” he says with a warm smile.  “Come in.”  Philipp grew up in Germany, England, and New York City and English is his second language.  His accent is totally unique.  I cannot capture it, no matter how hard I try.

I place a small, white box on the table next to his bed.

“I got you some marzipan.” I had remembered that last year Philipp had offered me a piece of marzipan before a lesson.  He told me I could have some if I knew I liked it, but if not, he would prefer to save it for a true marzipan-lover like himself.

I put my case down on a chair and take out my violin.  I start to tune, then stop as a doctor comes in.  He asks Philipp if I am his granddaughter.

“No, she is my exceptional violin student.”

“But he is my grandpa!”  I protest.  Philipp is nearly seventy years my senior, and after six years of working together our relationship has become more of a grandfather-granddaughter bond than a student-teacher bond.

The doctor leaves, and I resume tuning.  I take a deep breath to center myself, then begin to play the second movement of Vieuxtemp’s Violin Concerto No. 4.  As I play, I close my eyes and recall a lesson Philipp gave me on this piece two years ago, when I first learned it.

I was in Philipp’s house.  I remember playing the piece, then stopping and looking at him.  He opened his eyes wide, bared his teeth, and rubbed his pointer finger vigorously against them.  I played the phrase again, the second time digging my bow into the string.  He closed his eyes and nodded in approval.  I went on to the next phrase, which is full of chords.  Philipp stopped me and said, “Hit the string from the air, like a tiger swiping something with its paw.”

I have never seen Philipp play violin.  By the time I started working with him he had developed a tremor in his hand that caused his bow to skip.  This must have been a devastating loss.  He was one of the first participants in the Marlboro Music Festival and a student of Ivan Galamian.  Now his teaching style is unique because he cannot physically demonstrate how to play.  Instead, he uses descriptive language, singing, and whistling to show me.

At first this method of communication was challenging. It is much easier to copy something your teacher does than to translate his metaphors into music.  I often did not know exactly what he meant, or how to achieve the desired effect or sound.   For the first couple of months I sometimes cried in lessons because I felt that I was frustrating and disappointing him.

Gradually the language barrier fell away, and then completely dissolved.  I now know exactly what Philipp means when he says things like “etched in copper”, or “no pink underwear”, or “like church bells.”  By describing the desired sound, he allows me to conjure it in my own way.  I respond to his words with my playing, and we carry on a beautiful conversation in our own language, one that only we completely understand.

I bring my mind back to his hospital room.  I breathe in and continue playing.  But my thoughts wander again, this time to a postcard that Philipp sent me.

I received the postcard this past summer while I was away at Greenwood Music Camp.  Philipp was in Marlboro recovering from his recent open-heart surgery.  The picture on the front is of Thomas Cole’s painting, The Voyage of Life: Childhood.  Philipp’s note reads, “Dear Elena, This picture is one of four depicting the stages of life – you are here, emerging into the world – the fourth picture has the boat all beat up and an old man coasting in quiet waters – an angel beckoning… guess whom?? Enjoy every minute of stages 1-4!!! Love, Philipp.”

This is partly why both of us are now so sad about me going away to college.  We each realize that the time we have left together is limited; we do not know where in the world life will take me, nor when the angel will summon him.

My awareness shifts back to his hospital room, and I finish the piece high up on the E string, playing as sweetly as I can.  I look at Philipp.  He just smiles and says, “Beautiful.”

★ ☆.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.• ヅ★★ ☆.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.• ヅ★★ ☆.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.• ヅ★

Thanks so much, Elena!​  Your tribute to Philipp is especially moving, and could not have been written better.

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