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Isaac Stern

Isaac Stern

Born in Kreminiecz, Russia in 1920, he came to America when he was only ten months old after his parents fled the Russian Revolution in 1921. Raised and educated in San Francisco, he began playing the violin at the age of eight and made his recital debut at the age of thirteen. His orchestral debut came three years later, in 1936, with a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony in a concert that was broadcast nationally.

Isaac Stern has played an incalculable role in supporting the development of young musicians through his over thirty-year presidency of Carnegie Hall. He is well known for having spearheaded the drive to save the Hall from demolition in 1960 and to restore it in 1986.

See Music of the Heart and Opus 118 starring Merril Streep and Isaac Stern centers on the life and work of Roberta Guaspari and her dedicated efforts to instruct elementary school students in East Harlem. A group of Opus children performed with renowned members of the Opus Advisory Board for the movie premiere in New York. Shortly after its filming, former New York Chancellor Rudy Crew restored funding for Ms. Guaspari and two other Opus teachers. Harlem School of Music.

Global Encounters program for high school students run by the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. It focuses on a different part of the world each year and integrates the study of the music of that region into the teaching of social studies. There are some very nice materials created for this program. Global Encounters.

Isaac Stern Teaches New York City's 43 School Superintendents
43 Superintendents Do Their Best Jack Benny
By ABBY GOODNOUGH New York Times May 11, 2000

Isaac Stern has coached budding violin virtuosos for decades, but the students he took on yesterday were a different breed altogether: New York City's 43 school superintendents, most of whom had never touched a violin before.

The lesson took place at Carnegie Hall, no less.

"Just put the violin on the shoulder, voomp!" Mr. Stern said, lifting his own delicate instrument to the proper position as the school administrators looked on. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was easier said than done.

"I'm having a problem!" one superintendent exclaimed.

"This is hard!" chimed in another.

Mr. Stern, 79, was undeterred. He gazed around the room and shouted advice. "You've got it on the wrong shoulder, darling," he told one bewildered student.

Harold O. Levy, the interim chancellor, had persuaded Mr. Stern to give the superintendents a lesson in hopes that they would place a higher priority on music instruction for students. The lesson was part of a broader plan to raise the level of intellectual debate among the school system's leaders and make them more culturally attuned.

The lesson came directly after the superintendents' monthly meeting with Mr. Levy, at which they started off the day hashing out plans for summer school. After lunch, they filed into a practice room at Carnegie Hall and listened nervously as Mr. Stern told them what to do.

Mr. Levy himself did not take part in the lesson -- he recently injured one of his hands and was wearing a soft cast yesterday. He left the meeting early, aides said, to accompany his son Noah's class at the Dalton School on a field trip.

But Jonathan Levi, one of Mr. Levy's top aides and his cultural impresario, was on hand to make sure the lesson went semi-smoothly. Mr. Levi, an accomplished violinist, adjusted people's fingers, tucked instruments more firmly under chins and practically pulsed with delight.

"Isaac Stern has been a hero of mine since I was a little kid," said Mr. Levi, whose musical claim to fame is having taught the actress Jennifer Aniston how to play the violin when she was growing up in New York City. "If only we could get him certified, we'd have him teaching in the schools."

By the end of the half-hour lesson, the superintendents had participated in several rounds of "Ach, du Lieber Augustin" -- a German folk song, better known in this country as "Did You Ever See a Lassie?" Mr. Stern played most of the song, and the superintendents joined in on the last two notes of each line.

The screeching and squawking would have made Jack Benny proud.

But while some of the superintendents initially seemed less than happy to be taking part in the musical exercise, by the end of the lesson they were begging to play the song one more time.

Paula LeCompte Speed, whose finger position was so contorted that Mr. Stern hopped off his conductor's platform to give her some personal attention, said afterward that she wanted to keep her violin.

I was very excited to be in his presence," she said of Mr. Stern. "And I thought I did pretty good."

Matthew Bromme, the superintendent of District 27 in Queens, said he had always wanted to play the violin as a teenager, but the music teachers at his school would not let him because he was left-handed.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime," Mr. Bromme said. "It's an opportunity for me to enrich my life and to bring it back to my principals and teachers and children, so they can enrich their lives."

While the Board of Education has worked hard to increase arts instruction in city schools in recent years, many still lack full-time music teachers and instruments for students. Mr. Levy has put his friend Mr. Levi to work raising money for school music programs and increasing the number of partnerships between schools and cultural organizations like Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Stern said yesterday that he was thrilled to contribute, adding that music "is the biggest key I know to a truly educated life."

He spoke to the superintendents about the importance of music education, exhorting them to make it a priority at all 1,100 of the city's public schools.

"If it doesn't start with you," who will it start with, he said. "I would like this to be the beginning of us talking together on a regular basis."