Tag Archives: Rachel Barton Pine



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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.
your student, Ruth Ann.
 © 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:
 *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.

The ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA: He Built it, and They Came.

Way up in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, there is actually a state park called Presque Isle. A 13 mile peninsula, this vacation destination draws tens of thousands, each summer, to its eleven public beaches, lagoons, campgrounds, and trails. The city which hosts this gem is called Erie, after the Great Lake which bears the same name. It is here where small, but emphatic, dreams are realized. This is the story of one of them.

The Erie Chamber Orchestra was founded over 35 years ago by the late Bruce Morton Wright. An African American raised by God-fearing parents, his vision took him well beyond the stereotype of his generation. Though he’d spent his early years as a jazz saxophonist, Bruce’s dream –  a sudden epiphany, coming to him while seated in the audience of an orchestral concert – was to create a symphonic ensemble of professionals that would present the music of the masters to any audience interested in attending, regardless of socio-economic status. To say that he realized this vision would be an understatement.

An Erie native, Wright qualified by earning a music degree from Mercyhurst College and then studying conducting, both in Vienna, Austria and Colombia, South America. Upon return from his training abroad, he formed the Erie Bayfront Orchestra. The unique feature of this orchestra was its “no ticket required” stature; admission, to every concert, was: FREE.

This ensemble caught the attention of one Charles Beyers, a local philanthropist, who offered a sizable trust through which the orchestra was able to sustain itself for many years. Via this support, the orchestra’s professional musicians were able to receive AF of M Union scale compensation for each “service” (every rehearsal and performance), and Maestro Wright a modest salary.

Though the name was eventually changed to the Erie Chamber Orchestra, its conditions for performance were not; musicians were still paid, at professional Union scale, and the audience’s admission was still free.

Over the decades which followed, the ECO could be seen and heard at such venues as the Villa outdoor promenade, aptly named “Music in the Air”, the Bayfront open amphitheater during the Erie Summer Festival of the Arts, and even served to originate what would become the Lake Erie Ballet Orchestra, with its annual production of Tschaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.” The regular season’s offerings were always heard at either Gannon’s Mary Seat of Wisdom Chapel, or the beloved St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

Bruce, always a man of the people, was warm, accessible, and fiercely loyal both to his musicians and audience alike. He did the work of three people – planning the program, presenting it, and completing it, down to the stacking and hauling away of the last chair and music stand.

Sometime in the mid-90’s, CNN caught wind of this anomaly and sent its filming crew, to document the story and to interview Bruce Wright. The feature appeared nationally, quite a thrill for both the musicians and the entire community of loyal audience members. All were especially proud of Bruce, for being recognized in such grand style.

Several years prior to the illness which took his life, Bruce sold the orchestra’s rights to Gannon University. Gannon committed to the continuing support of the ECO’s mission, maintaining its seasonal offerings while upholding its promise to provide music free of charge to the public. Gannon pays the salaries of both the conductor and the business manager, and provides a marketing budget for the seasonal calendar and any outreach efforts.

The Erie Chamber Orchestra is not, nor has it ever been, affiliated with the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra. Each is a distinct entity, with both a distinct financial structure and season calendar. The only similarity, which many may note, is that both orchestras share some personnel – primarily across the string sections.

Like the Erie Philharmonic, professional personnel which populate the Erie Chamber Orchestra hail from both the city of Erie, its surrounding townships, greater Erie County, Meadville, and Pittsburgh, as well as university centers in Western New York and Eastern Ohio.

Maestro Matthew Kraemer, originally associated with the Buffalo Philharmonic, succeeded Bruce Wright following the maestro’s death in 2011. Though he is leaving in 2017, his efforts have expanded the orchestra’s repertoire and personnel considerably. Regional professionals in attendance have remarked at the quality, both of the ensemble and its musical execution, of the new “ECO”. Notable soloists, just in the past two seasons, have included numerous Eastman School of Music faculty, as well as Concertmaster David Kim of the Philadelphia Orchestra, cellist Roman Mekinulov, violinists Rachel Barton Pine and Michael Ludwig, and even actor Harry J. Lennix as narrator for Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat”.

We are a proud and durable lot at the ECO. We welcome both your support as audience attendees, and your generous donations toward our financial sustainability. If you have never paid a visit to an ECO performance, go to the Erie Chamber Orchestra at Gannon University and email our GM, Camille Pierce. Request that you be placed on the mailing list. She will send you a season brochure! All you’ll need, beyond that, are the wheels to take you to either Luther Memorial or First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, where we perform in season 2016-17. There really isn’t an affordable venue in Erie County big enough or acoustically suited to the needs of our orchestra, so these churches have opened their sanctuaries for our use, an act of generosity for which we are very, very grateful.

The 2016-17 concert schedule has brought the ECO into yet another season of candidates vying for the baton. Two down, three to go!

Hope to see you, soon! Bruce would be so happy. And, in his memory, we would be, too.


Ruth Ann Scanzillo
principal cello,
Erie Chamber Orchestra.