I was born on May 16, 1930 exactly one year before the Academy Awards were born. Record...
players were very primitive, and folks relied on live concerts and music teachers to provide access to the great music of the world. Almost every household had a piano or some kind of instrument that could be played. My grandpa Britton had a violin with a one-piece back that was very unusual. I never heard him play it, but evidently he did, although his job was being in charge of the switchyard at the Pennsylvania Railroad in Buffalo New York. When I was eight years old, in the summer of 1938 I went to visit my grandparents in Buffalo where I was taught how to play the violin by my beautiful aunt June who had become a concert violinist at the age of 18. She loaned me a three quarter size violin that she had learned to play on, and I loved her so very much that I practiced faithfully every day until I had mastered the ability to read the notes on a simple score of violin music. By the end of that summer I had grown enough so that my grandpa gave me his violin, and my parents continued my musical education by sending me to Northwestern University where I studied violin for the next two years. After that, I continued my studies at Lincoln grade school in Evanston Illinois where music was in every day part of our education. I played second violin in a school orchestra that had been formed At Nichols School which was a school for eighth and ninth graders. We did many concerts and I fell in love with the first violinist who occupied a share just in front of mine. I do not remember her name, but I remember being smitten by her beauty. Alas, I never got a chance to talk to her except for a brief conversation when I told her that her first violin score seemed easier to play than mine. That was not exactly the best way to develop a friendship.
On December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, my father was summoned to the headquarters of the Firestone tire and rubber Company where he was employed as an accountant. We moved to the small town of Hudson, Ohio. There my violin lessons continued at Western Reserve Academy where I would later become a student, but had the opportunity to be taught the six positions up the neck of the violin and the scales that could be played in a very high register. However, my young friends teased me and because I was very small and could not defend myself they would take my violin case, which contained my grandfather's violin, away from me and throw it down the street where it fortunately would survive. But, I quit my lessons because I could not handle the ridicule.
I told my mother I wanted to play the piano. I wanted to play like she did, but she would not teach me because she was angry about all the expense that my parents had gone to to provide me with my violin lessons.
A distant relative of mine willed me his Chickering square piano when he passed away. It was a very beautiful, large instrument crafted of rare woods, particularly Rosewood which is very beautiful, but very heavy. It took all my strength to open the top even a little bit.
The piano was very old and the strings could not be brought to ordinary concert pitch without breaking, so our piano tuner tuned it one half tone lower than A 440. My mother could play Rachmaninoff's piano Concerto in C sharp minor, but of course it actually sounded like it was being played in C minor. I wanted to take piano lessons and learn to play like she did, but she would not teach me and she would not pay for the lessons thinking I would not apply myself.
I was so desperate to learn Rachmaninoff's piano Concerto in C sharp minor that I took her music score and taught myself by learning the notes one bar at a time. I would practice each bar of music until I could play it flawlessly. When I was confident that I had completely remembered it, I would add the next bar and so on. It took me several weeks before I could play the whole piece through because, although I could read violin music, the piano score contained a bass clef that I had to learn. Although I was only a student in the eighth grade I practiced like I was possessed. As a result, I impressed our landlord so much that she donated a $500 war bond to my education, and that enabled my parents to enroll me as a freshman at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio.