July 1, 2020
At a very early age, my grandson, Julian began to ask me questions. “Nunu”, he asked (my grandkids call me Nunu), “how old are you”? That was soon followed by, “Nunu, how old will you be when you die”? As Julian got older, he often asked other types of questions I could not answer and was obligated to look up, such as: What is chocolate made of? Where does vanilla comes from? The vanilla plant, incidentally, is a member of the orchid family, something I did not know. Thanks, Julian.
Soon, Julian’s world-view widened enough for him to ask how much money I earned, how much my violin was worth, and whether I was middle or upper class. The questions were getting harder and harder to answer. As a child, Julian could not have known that some of these questions were of a personal nature, and ones that no adult would dare ask. But I didn’t mind. On the contrary, I admired Julian for his curiosity and his intelligence.
When Julian was seven or eight, he asked something of a very different nature. “Nunu, are you famous?” I’ve noticed that surprisingly young kids are already intrigued by the glittering qualities of fame. My daughter, Natasha, at more or less the same age as Julian, asked me the same question. Foolishly, I launched into a nuanced description of fame that Natasha almost immediately interrupted. “Daddy”, she said impatiently, “when you die I’m going to call my car Arnold”.
I answered Julian more succinctly than I had Natasha thirty-five years earlier. “I don’t know if you could call me famous, Julian, but I’m certainly well known in my world of music”. This only somewhat satisfied Julian, for he pursued the subject further. “Nunu, do you have medals, awards, or trophies that I could see?”
Yes, I told Julian, I have some of those things. They are squirreled away somewhere in one of my desk drawers. Undoubtedly, I received each one of those competition medals, recording nominations, musical awards, etc. with pride and gratitude at the time.
Most recently, the Colburn School where I’ve taught for the past ten years, presented me with an Honorary Doctorate and the 2019 Richard D. Colburn Award for my contribution to the school. With gratefulness for the honor bestowed upon me, I’ve placed the beautifully inscribed glass plaque in my den where it will certainly reside for some time. But sooner or later, it will inevitably join all the other awards I’ve collected in a desk drawer where they lay for better or worse out of sight, out of mind.
As far as I can remember, Julian was the only one who ever asked to see these objects of recognition. What could I do but open the desk drawer and pull them out one by one for Julian to inspect and admire. The medals for competition prizes were surprisingly heavy, beautifully inscribed, and set in elegant cases with soft padding inside so that they could reside in comfort waiting for the time when their recipient would take them out to caress, admire, and remember the occasions they were connected to. There were multi faceted cut glass awards- Julian liked the way the light was magically altered as it passed through the glass. Then there were certificates for good work, commendations regarding concerts performed for worthy causes, and a rolled up scroll held in place by a red ribbon: the Esther Award. An elderly man had come back stage after a Guarneri String Quartet concert in Los Angeles, and presented each of us with the Esther Award. I thanked the man and told him I had never heard of the Award. “My wife, Esther, passed away several years ago- may she rest in peace”, he said with great feeling. “To honor her memory, I present the Awards to those special artists I admire”. That scroll with its red ribbon has a special place in my heart.
Julian and I eventually put the various objects back in the drawer and closed it. Since then, no one else has ever asked to see them. And why would they? These artifacts of past accomplishments are only of possible interest to me, and even I am conflicted about them. On the one hand, the idea of bringing out those padded cases with their oh-so-impressive medals inside in order to remind me of past glories or to display them proudly to unsuspecting visitors, doesn’t appeal to me. The past is the past. On the other hand, I’m reluctant to throw out these things that chronicle my professional journey as a violinist and musician. And so, they will undoubtedly reside in that drawer till I die, and the problem of how to dispose of them will be left to the rest of my family.
I have an idea based on the ancient Egyptian pharaohs who took objects into their pyramids so they could better enjoy the after life. Why not line my casket (it will be padded, of course, just like those plush medal cases) with all my medals, awards, certificates of achievement, and trophies. I would have the luxury of an eternity to either admire them or figure out what to do with them.
Julian can be in charge of their placement.
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Ha, I have done something like that with the liner I made for the box that holds my husband’s ashes. A sewing miscalculation fix yielded a little row of pockets where I can tuck things such as a motorcycle key and other special items. Honestly, your plan sounds wonderful because it will surround you with fantastic memories throughout your life of when your talent brought joy to others.
I love this, Arnold. And I know a little of that wonderfully curious side of Julian, and that wonderfully humble side of you, laced with humor – both of you! Thanks for your stories. Keep them coming, please.
PS does Natasha now have a car named Arnold?
Thank you for sharing with us these monthly stories Mister Steinhardt. With admiration, PF
Or…Stick around a few more decades and enjoy the novelty of showing them as ancient artifacts!?
But seriously, the world needs you around much longer. You are one of the towering influences in our beloved profession…and recordings alone (as incomparable as they are) are not enough…you have more explaining to do!? The pool is shallow these days in certain respects, and your take on things, and outlook based on your wealth of unique experience is one of the links to a world I see all too infrequently any more.
Old guys unite! (Wearing medals optional)?
I have been waiting with bated breath for this latest story to know that you are well and I hope still “quarantined away” in Santa Fe. Houston is not a pleasant place to be most of the year and now that summer’s heat has arrived, coupled with the crazy response here to the Pandemic I am wishing to be elsewhere with even greater fervor than usual. I was in Wien and Salzburg and Amsterdam in December and my return was painful by comparison. Now, I am locked away unable to play with any of the 5 groups I normally enjoy and so your story is a welcome diversion. I had planned to be attending the SF Opera this month and to be in touch with you then but that is not to be.
All the best, be well,
Mikell Becker, former June Music Festival Board Member
I read all of your stories, but especially love this one, not the least because my own son is named Julian. He had the same advanced sets of questions at that age. Fast forward: he is leaving the law behind( boiler-plate,he says) and, at age 41, starting a Stanford Ph.D in Philosophy (with a little Jurisprudence for spice)! I hope you are healthy and safe.
such fancy pen + inkwork on your certificate! I’m sure Julian will be an able custodian of your medal placements. On the thread of past accomplishments, I was honored to help you open Chamber Music Northwest’s 50th annual virtual festival. You four + David Shifrin were the second piece, replaying the Brahms Clarinet Quintet from 27 June 2009. I watched the whole concert through three times. thank you for my daily dose of Brahms!
Lovely, well-written, as usual. Trust Dorethea (sp? and you are well and are safe. Santa Fe or Copake? I’ll call you one of these days.
Arnold – this is such a bittersweet story – with a wonderful message that all the awards and honors in the world do not compare with the love of family – especially a grandson like Julian(same name as my beloved grandfather). Also, in this small world, the Esther Award is very moving – my grandmother’s name was Esther (Julians wife). Please thank your Julian for me for his curiosity as a child and tell him I thank you for your kindness toward me and the joy of music you have given to the world.
I am enjoying your stories so much and I look forward to your next story. With the musical world going through the terrible turmoil brought on by the corona virus, it means a lot to have a connection to you through your stories. I grew up in Cleveland. As a teen at the Cleveland Musical School Settlement, I attended many performances of yours with the Cleveland Orch as assistant concert master to Joseph Gingold. It was a. thrilling experience to be there every time.
Dear beloved bedecked distinguished Arnold, I love this tale. But I’m not so sure you should take them to the grave with you. These are precisely the tokens of memory and affection grandchildren adore, if their parents will let them have them! I’m a very old child, but thinking of my parent’s youth eons before I was born would not be the same without my mother’s music medal ( she never listened to music and to be sure, wouldn’t have a piano in the house so she wouldn’t have to ever listen to us practice), and my fathers running medals . He was apparently quite fast in high school, but by the time I knew him he was plagued and sidelined by gout. I loved and kept the evidence of parts of their life I never knew, and only thinking about it now realize they couldn’t take pride in those medals and accomplishments whatever they were, because they weren’t famous for them the way you are. I think you must leave them to your children or your grandchildren, not the coffin.
Hugs and thanks for another good one. Xox. K
I enjoy very much reading your stories. Please keep them coming!
Arnold, you absolutely never fail to surprise and astonish me!
Arnold, as usual, your thoughts were thought-provoking as I filled out for the 34th time my yearly Professional Development Report for Salem College. I used to think it was a good thing to list each year all the concerts, workshops, articles, awards (paltry compared to yours!), etc. But now I find myself asking, “Why?” “To what end?” And the inevitable “Who cares?” At my tender age (hahaha), will I someday gather Chloe, my pets, my stuffed animals and any lingering students around me on an overstuffed sofa and read them aloud? It seems all of that really matters…until it doesn’t really matter. I hope you and yours are well and enjoying life fully in these strange times.
Mr. Steinhardt, I love your postings here so much. I was lucky enough to visit and play for you once in high school and it was you who connected me with my longtime teacher, Masuko Ushioda, for which I will be eternally grateful. But regarding this post, please contact me if ever you or family want to find new homes for these medals! As a dealer of antiquarian music and memorabilia (Schubertiade Music & Arts), I deal in such things and I can assure that they ARE of interest to people. Your music making has meant so much to me personally, but also to very many, and while it is the memories of performances and the joy of revisiting cherished recordings that are the most sustaining, many passionate lovers of music find joy and meaning in connecting with the physical talismans associated with their musical heroes. Be it medals or anything else, I would love to assist in finding the right homes for them. Anyway, I hope this note finds you well. Warmly, Gabe
Congratulations Dr. Steinhardt! Your stories are always an inspiration to me as I tap away on my computer, trying my darnedest to write anything near as humorous and touching as you do. With much admiration and xoxo Judi
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