My daughter, Simone Dinnerstein, is a rather incredible person, if I do say so myself! She’s a marvelous pianist who worked very hard her entire life to achieve the success that she is now enjoying. At the age of 4 she decided that she wanted to be a pianist. We were living in Rome because my husband, Simon, had received a Rome Prize for painting. Simon’s studio was at the beautiful American Academy and we had a lovely apartment nearby in the neighborhood, Monteverde Vecchio. We enrolled Simone in a ballet class for children, thinking that she would enjoy the dancing. Little did we know that the pianist who played Chopin while they went through their dance routines would mesmerize her. She began asking for lessons but, since both Simon and I had no musical background, we thought that she was too young to study piano. In addition, we did not have a piano!
The requests didn’t stop. Finally Simon asked the composer in residence, John Thow, what he would suggest and John advised us to begin her on recorder lessons. By this time, Simone was five years old. We bought her a recorder and found a lovely recorder teacher who agreed to instruct her. Her teacher was amazed at how quickly Simone picked up the music. She said that it was as though she had played it in another life.
We didn’t return to NYC until Simone was seven but as soon as we were settled in an apartment, Simone reminded us of our promise to let her have piano lessons when we returned to NY. We brought my mother’s spinet piano to Brooklyn, found a young woman in the neighborhood who gave lessons, and Simone’s life as a pianist began. She eventually went to the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College Division every Saturday until she graduated high school where she studied with Solomon Mikowsky (without missing one Saturday!), then to Juilliard, followed by studying in London with the renowned teacher, Maria Curcio and finally returning to NY to study with Peter Serkin.
The rest of her career is well documented in many articles and interviews, so I’ll skip over that and move right on to the reason for this blog entry.
I’ve always believed that it was my husband’s career as an artist that had the greatest influence on Simone but lately I’m realizing that she is also very much influenced by my career as a teacher. Simone has a deep commitment towards bringing music into the life of the community and also to the lives of young children. To this end she began a program called Neighborhood Classics in two New York City public schools, hoping that it will be replicated in other schools and communities.
This year she has added to that by creating her Bachpacking experiences, where she had gone directly into classrooms in 10 NYC schools and 10 Washington, D.C. schools so that she can play Bach for the children. Yamaha has donated the use of a digital piano and SONY has provided transportation for her. I sat in on two of her sessions with third graders at the UFT Charter School in Brooklyn. The children were totally engaged and eager to ask questions. (“Do you have to practice on your birthday?”). A second grade teacher at P.S. 142 in Manhattan sent me the following email message, “I want you to know this really brought a smile to my face. I can’t begin to tell you how inspired they were and immediately started writing about their experience. They also asked more questions about music today and so I explained some rudimentary things about the treble and bass clef and how notes are written on paper and read between left and right hand. We also discussed how their voices are really musical instruemts and practiced the scale DO RAE Me etc… They just can’t stop telling people about the concert and are trying their best to be so well behaved.I was also amazed how they managed to remember so many of the words they were taught. Did Simone tell you about the one little girl who started to cry because she was holding her breath to be picked to play so Simone was nice enough to allow her to play. She went home and told her mother all about how much she loved the music.”
In Yiddish there’s a word that signifies filling up with pride – kvelling. I guess I’m taking advantage of my blog to do some kvelling. But beyond my pride, it’s so obvious when one sees the children interacting with Simone how easily children take to music and how much joy and fulfillment it can bring to their lives. I hope that Simone’s work in the schools might inspire the powers that be to bring good music instruction and experiences back into the public schools.
“Only a society prepared by education can ever be truly a cultured society …Children must receive musical instruction naturally as food, and with as much pleasure as they derive from a ball game.”