Living a Musical Legacy

music miscellany May 02, 2014

Each of us is a product of our upbringing. That’s no less true in music than in a family. Our teachers have a profound effect on us. For those of us who go on to make music an important part of our lives, we realize the impact of our teachers in our work every day. We recognize the place we hold, the responsibility we have to continue traditions and walk further down the musical road.

My teacher, Marilyn Costello, embodied the harp for me, since I began studying harp at age 8. I had long wanted to play the harp, and my piano teacher insisted that my parents take me to play for her. We lived in the Philadelphia area, and it was relatively easy to arrange an interview.

Miss Costello did not usually take young students, so she arranged lessons for me with a Curtis student for my first year. After that, she took me on herself. I studied with her until my graduation from Curtis, and was privileged to know her well long after that.

But she shaped my musical experience in other ways as well.

She was a student of Salzedo, having studied with him at Curtis, so the Salzedo tradition became mine too. It went deeper than just the legends and the stories, and even deeper than the technique. Salzedo was a palpable force in her teaching and playing. Sometimes, especially when I was at Curtis, I could almost feel his presence in the room, pushing me to do better, to do more and to do it right.

And then there was the repertoire. Some of the pieces I most closely identity with Miss Costello are Salzedo compositions. I loved to hear her play the Five Poetical Studies in the Modern Study book. Those were pieces she studied with Salzedo, and yet she made them her own in every note and every gesture. I remember feeling honored and a more than a little apprehensive when she assigned them to me. I still play those pieces, and I feel a connection to her every time.

Even more importantly, she taught me how to be a generous teacher. She felt the responsibility of sharing what she had been taught, and building on that foundation to help her students. Through her teaching and performing, she lived the legacy she had earned and passed it on to her students. And through her example, I strive to do the same. It is the most important thing I do.

I think what I will always remember about her is her remarkable hands. They were strong, calm and made the most warm, rich, liquid sound I ever heard. For me, her sound WAS the sound of the harp. And to a great extent, it always will be.

What is your musical legacy?
Note: Miss Costello did not like photos of herself, and she would not have liked this one. But it was taken at my house after my Philadelphia Orchestra debut, and so it’s special to me. I also think it shows her characteristic vitality and humor. So I present it here with my apologies…

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