My Lesson with Charlie Schlueter
When the Boston Symphony traveled to Arizona in the early 90's for a concert at Grady Gammage Auditorium, I was very fortunate to have a lesson with Charlie Schlueter.
At the time, my instructor (Jim - Phoenix Symphony) had mentioned that the Boston Symphony would be in town in a month or so, and wanted to know if I would be interested in meeting Charlie. I was very excited about that prospect, and said (half joking) it would be even better if I could have a lesson with him. Little did I know what I had said.
At my next lesson, Jim mentioned that everything was set up for next month. I asked him what he was talking about, and he said "your lesson with Charlie." I couldn't believe it! I had only been studying the orchestral literature for a little over 2 years at that point (maybe 6 months with Jim), and I hadn't thought that this "request" would actually occur.
Jim was volunteering his time with the Phoenix College Orchestra at the time, and I was out of school in my current job, and playing in the orchestra with him in the evening. Every week at rehearsals was a lesson in itself! At the time we were working up Tchaikovsky Symphony #5. I decided that this would be great material for my lesson with Charlie.
The day of the lesson I couldn't wait until I was finished with work. I jumped in my car and picked up Jim and then we headed to the Ritz Carlton to pick up Charlie. It's quite a drive from 24th St. and Camelback in Phoenix to my house in Tempe, so we enjoyed many stories with Charlie in the car.
We set up for the lesson in my living room. I was relaxed even though I had quite a bit of nervous energy (never having met a big name player from a major orchestra, much less playing for one). As I began to play, Charlie was very focused on my sound, and was trying to help me relax into a more resonant, ringing approach. His sound was much like Jim's, only with more presence. Jim's sound was what drew me to study with him, so I was in heaven hearing another player with such a wonderful concept. Charlie was playing on the Raja at that point, and it really filled up my house!
I remember very clearly after we discussed the relaxed concept of pitch center, I began to play the excerpt from Tchaik 5 that I had been working on for the past month. It was an ascending line that ended on 4th space E, and after I played I told him that I was very frustrated that the E was always flat. Without even hesitating, he said, "The E was fine. Everything before it was sharp!"
I didn't know what to say. I was just completely blown away with that concept. Then he played the line for me, and sure enough, his sound was centered and clear, and the E was right where it was supposed to be (both in-tune and resonant). I started working my slides and trying to bring the pitch down on all of the notes leading up to that E, and we worked for a good 10 minutes on that one line. Finally, everything clicked, and I played with the best clarity and resonance that I had ever heard come out of my instrument. I ended on the same E that had given me such problems for the past month, and it was perfectly in tune! His words and example had literally transformed that problematic line for me, into the best thing that I had ever played!
After our "official" lesson, Jim asked about some specific excerpts that he had always wondered how Charlie approached, and he played sections from Mahler 5. That was worth the price of the lesson in and of itself!
My life changed after that lesson (I really experienced a resonant sound out of my bell for the first time), and I think fondly of our hour together every time I go into my living room. I tell my boys about it too, and my older boy thinks it's pretty neat.
Charlie mentioned that the BSO has a very generous per diem for meals, and offered to take us out to dinner after the lesson. We had some Mexican food, and continued our conversation from the car ride earlier in the afternoon. Then we headed to Gammage for the concert. Jim had a PSO concert, so didn't to hear the BSO that evening, but I will remember this day for the rest of my life.
If you have a memorable story or lesson that marked a changing point in your playing, I'd love to hear about it (I'll bet everyone on the list would too). I've been reading so many wonderful stories and interviews in the ITG Journals about the great Orchestral players of the past and present, and thought that some of you might have some fun or educational stories to share with the rest of us.
Looking forward to those stories!