GILDA BARSTON – A Tribute.


 

To all the skinny girls, this was a woman “of size”.
Birkenstock sandals held solid feet, the kind that bore the frame of a woman focused entirely outside of the body which carried her. Her movements were slow; her mind, constantly active, always engaged by whomever was nearest to her at any moment. And, that one was almost always a student.
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 It didn’t matter if you were already in the room, or just entering; Gilda Barston was already in the chair. And, once seated, she became who she was: a master teacher.
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 Gilda was a Juilliard trained cellist, a mother, and an educator devoted to the Suzuki philosophy. You didn’t call her Dr. Barston; she’d spent her energies as Chairwoman of the Suzuki Association of the Americas (SAA),  presiding over numerous Board sessions planning and revising the pedagogic literature and, I believe, ultimately founding what I am remembering to be the Music Center of the North Shore in Chicago. I first met her at Ithaca College in the early 90’s where, attending only my second Suzuki Summer Institute, I was lucky enough to be among the teacher trainees in her class.
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 That year, my being a relative newbie, most of the SAA teacher trainees were seasoned, having either attended multiple summer institutes or been established in communities where the Suzuki philosophy enjoyed a thriving presence. And, the institute clinicians were, to my narrowly informed observations, a mix of New England blue bloods, liberal Jews, and lesbians. I was totally outclassed.
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 Up until the year before, I had been a pupil of the traditional studio mentality – averted by endless etudes, practicing the day before my lesson, and squeaking through each weekly session with negligible progress under the stern standard imposed by critique of my every shortcoming. Gilda was different. She actually wanted to know her student.
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 For her, the process was all about recognition. She regarded each of us teacher trainees with the same dedication she gave to her private students. Earnestly and keenly observing – watching, listening – really learning everything about us, she looked for strengths and, when she found them, always told us what they were. And, each of us was as important as the next; there were no stars in her firmament shining any brighter than the rest. But, whenever they shone, she eagerly sang their praises to all around.
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 Gilda was completely selfless. She always drew attention to the needs of the student, and taught by example what it meant to respect each one. Never once did any of us ever hear her talking about anybody in anything but a positive, supportive context; this woman was inherently incapable of spreading anything but good will.
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 I can still see so vividly the smile as she spoke, hear the youthful vitality in her voice, and watch the eye contact that sparked between her and the young player having the lesson. She related to everyone with equal enthusiasm, be they parents, students, or teachers; hers was an agenda of nurture, nothing less. And, the nurture didn’t end when the lesson was over; time after time, I’d follow her out of the room and down the hall and outside toward the dining hall, listening to the continuing conversation she was having with, you guessed it: her student.
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 That summer, I learned so much about myself. In one week, I discovered that I could be both enthusiastic and encouraging, and get results without ever pointing out a single flaw simply by modeling after her. Most importantly, after struggling in the public schools with every aspect of the profession, Gilda made me believe that I could be an effective teacher.
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 Over 20 years have elapsed since that summer yet I cannot count how many times, during private sessions in my studio, she would come to mind. Whenever a particularly successful lesson would unfold, I would always find myself thinking: “I wish Gilda were here, right now. I hope she would be proud of me.” This actually became a recurring fantasy – Gilda Barston, watching me teach. I realized that she had set the standard; in my heart and mind, she was the Queen.
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 Rachel Barton Pine just posted news today that Gilda had passed away. When I saw the words, my heart started. I realized that I had missed my final opportunity. I had missed my chance to express to her my gratitude, for being the beacon in my firmament, the guru of my graces, the all time best, most dedicated professional – the most beloved teacher.
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 Thank you, Gilda. Thank you for recognizing me, for wanting to know me. Thank you for nourishing us all with your remarkable gift for truly loving.
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 Earnestly,
your student, Ruth Ann.
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 © Ruth Ann Scanzillo  6/26/16    All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for your respect. Please note Gilda Barston’s bio, below:
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 *From the SAA page:  GILDA BARSTON – dean emeritus of the Music Institute of Chicago, artistic director of the Chicago Suzuki Institute, and CEO of the International Suzuki Association. She has served as board chair of both the ISA and SAA. A student of Leonard Rose, Gilda received BS and MS degrees from the Juilliard School of Music. Gilda received a Distinguished Service Award from the SAA for her work with the SAA Cello Committee, and was the recipient of the American Suzuki Institute’s 2005 Suzuki Chair Award. A registered teacher trainer of Suzuki pedagogy, Gilda has taught at institutes and workshops throughout the country and in Canada. She was a faculty member and soloist at the International Suzuki Teachers’ Conference in Matsumoto, Japan, taught at the World Conference in Edmonton, AB, the Pan-Pacific Suzuki Conference in Adelaide, Australia, the Melbourne Autumn Festival and at the Korean Suzuki Association Winter Camps. In 2006 she was an honored guest and faculty member at the 14th Suzuki Method World Convention in Turin, Italy. In 2010 she and her daughter Amy were the guest master class clinicians at the 14th SAA Conference in Minneapolis.
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