Blue Hill Maine,, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

The shrinking world of music

To put it lightly, degrees of separation in our musical cosmos are melting rapidly. By example, a Facebook post to my profile page from my 1960s era Orchestra teacher, led to a long lost neighbor who was the youngest member of the New York Philharmonic.

To backtrack a bit, Herbert Gardner, a time-honored music director at J.H.S. 143 (John Peter Tetard) in the Bronx,  glided easily over the 80-year benchmark, rejuvenating his conducting career, post-retirement in Florida. At the same time, he circulated his teaching materials and compositions through an international free music database. (

Gardner, my former music mentor, had kept in touch through social networking channels as he reeled off names of ex-students (from my era and beyond) who’d earned a lingering musical spotlight. (Nardo Poy, violist with the Met Orchestra was among his star-studded graduates)

“Mr. Gardner,” a task master in the good sense, would throw board erasers in the direction of brass and woodwind players when they missed their cues, blubbered notes, or chatted among themselves. (At ground zero, in my role as concert master, seated at the foot of the podium, I watched missiles fly by, reaching their target with A-1 accuracy.) Relentlessly, the energy-packed band and orchestra director whipped his troops into line, teaching task-centered practicing and lifelong discipline. He made sure our music-making was as important as mastering the 3Rs.

Gardener at JHS 143

Fast forward to 2014: Gardner’s FACEBOOK entry on my profile page, was a reflection of his devoted life’s work:  (His comment on Leon Fleisher’s quote: “Hear it, Before you Play it,” resonated loud and clear: “Exactly,” Gardner added, “it’s called Ear Training for us teachers.”)

Herbert Gardner by the lake

He didn’t skip a beat, linking me directly to his educational materials:

“Check out my ed stuff under “composers,” “Gardner, Herbert Straus.”

As my Junior High Years flew by, memories were blurred by my overlapping membership in the Manhattan Borough-wide Orchestra where repertoire was often duplicated.

Nonetheless, I was nearly certain that Marche Slave and the Von Suppe Overture had been on the Top Ten at the JHS 44, W. 77th Street rehearsal venue for the Borough-Wide, and simultaneously on the rack at JHS 143 in the north Bronx.

Still, one link deserved another…

Gardner’s dad, Samuel, became my violin teacher in the early 60s. A member of the Kneisel Quartet based in Blue Hill Maine, his pedagogical materials and compositions (“From the Canebrake,” a well known encore piece) had been archived at the University of South Florida. (The Kneisel connection will soon surface in the course of this narrative)

Samuel Gardner young image


Samuel Gardner bestowed my first violin of value. It was a Hornsteiner 1799 that he personally selected for me at a Paris auction.

side view my violin 1799 Hornsteiner  Mittenwald Germany
Before drawing the bow over this beauty, I had been enslaved to a “cigar box” that barely pumped out the “Exodus” theme at a Junior High School music festival held in Brooklyn. But to its credit, the fiddle led to my acquiring a Stradivarius copy, that was leased to me by the School District. (Gardner had promptly delivered sobering news that violin facsimiles such as mine were a dime a dozen and worth less than $200.)

As time passed my interest in the violin waned and being an alumna of Tetard’s Orchestra took second tier to forging ahead with piano studies.

Herbert Gardner, Sam’s son, nevertheless, invited me to perform as a pianist, at a JHS 143 event, which was a tribute to his respect for musical choices and diverse journeys.

Meanwhile, Nardo Poy, regaled by our well-celebrated Junior High music mentor, traveled from the Tetard orchestra to the Met, which by association led to Jerry Grossman, cellist. (Poy, it turned out conducted a New York-based chamber ensemble where Grossman was a member, and both were affiliated with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra)

So how did Jerry, a principle Chair, fit into my cosmos?

Jerry Grossman thumbnailIn the early 1970s, while a single girl residing on 74th and Amsterdam, I bumped into new neighbor, “Jerry,” who’d just become the youngest member of the New York Philharmonic. Naturally, I was infatuated from the start wanting to set up a musical collaboration. Another neighbor on our floor, Flautist, David, had rehearsed a Mozart concerto with me, alongside a Pergolesi composition, so why not add a cellist to the mix.

Grossman, a wiry fellow, with his cello case contoured perfectly to his body, didn’t seem interested. Perhaps it was because he was unhappy at the Phil, his having briefly shared these misgivings with me.

I’d gleaned from our conversations that forming a quartet was one of his keen desires, but after I left the Big Apple in the late 1970’s, I lost contact with Jerry and many other musical acquaintances.

How ironic, then, to have a reunion, decades later, by You Tube!

One URL connected to another, and before I knew it, I was watching a substantial interview with Jerry (circa 2012), before I flipped to another with interspersed footage of Grossman playing in an All Star Ochestra conducted by Gerard Schwarz, my former classmate at the New York City High School of Performing Arts.

More melting degrees of separation.

I soon learned that Jerry had spent his summers in Blue Hill, Maine at a Kneisel Chamber Music convergence. (Samuel Gardner and the Kneisel Quartet were ironically, synonymous)

And yet another link in the chain surfaced. Murray Perahia (Performing Arts High classmate) had often frequented Blue Hill as a chamber player, while he participated at the Marlboro Festival under by Rudolf Serkin’s direction. Jerry Grossman, had made the same double journey.

Finally, to cap this whole narrative with its web-woven links, Beth Levin, pianist who’s a Facebook Friend of Jerry’s, connected to Fresno where I lived for a time. In the 1980’s she gave a local Keyboard Concert recital before turning up 30 plus years later in my social network loop.

At first I couldn’t quite place the name and event, but soon enough I tracked down the concert where Beth had stunningly rendered Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata and definitively, we had our cyber-reunion.

Beth Levin, pic, A Single Breath

The musical world is shrinking by the minute, and the Internet brings us even closer to a family of musicians who would be otherwise lost in the crush of time. For this, we should be grateful.

Shrinking Degrees of Separation in the Music World

10 thoughts on “The shrinking world of music”

  1. Shirley: Wow, talk about time-binding and inter-connections! Quite a story. You might add this bit. I gave a televised trumpet lesson to Gerard Schwartz, when he was in high school. It was broadcast on WNYE-TV. The topic was focussed on ways to play one of the solos in “Symphonie Fantastique.”
    Herb G


    1. Amazing bit of info. In those days, of course Gerry was trumpeting, and then he went to the NY Phil, beside Roger Voisin. At Performing Arts, they sent us to the WNYC studio for YOUNG AMERICA PLAYS. I remember rendering Mozart K. 311.


  2. Hi, Shirley,

    I’m very touched that you and Herb Gardner refer to me as a “star”, but that statement may have a touch of hyperbole in. ;-). I have been playing at the Metropolitan Opera as an Associate Musician since 1990, but certainly not in the capacity as principal violist. I joined the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra many years before I began at the Met and I remain a member to this day. I’m also principal violist with the American Symphony Orchestra and play with many other ensembles. I started as a violinist at Tetard and then was required to play viola in the senior orchestra at the High School of Music and Art in my last semester, something that totally changed the course of my life, when I eventually decided to switch for good. I was a fourth-year student at the Mannes College of music at the time Of that switch. That photo you posted of Mr. Gardner’s music class is my class, by the way, and I’m somewhere in that photo.

    I owe so much of where I am today to Herb Gardner. He was a dedicated, serious teacher and understood what it took to get a student to be enthusiastic about music. Yes, I remember the erasers, chalk and keys being tossed in the direction of those who decided not to pay attention at any given moment, but I never considered that mean-spirited. There was always a sense of humor behind such a startling act. Herb G. saw talent in me very early on and encouraged me all the way. I don’t know that I’d be doing what I’m doing now if it weren’t for him. We were indeed fortunate to have gone to what was back then such an excellent school.

    Jerry Grossman is, of course, one of my colleagues at the Met and Gerry Schwartz and I were in the All-City High School Orchestra in 1965.

    Anyway, after such a long-winded post, I mostly wanted to correct the record regarding my position in the Met Orchestra. 🙂


    Nardo Poy


    1. Thanks for the correction, Nardo. And say Hi to Jerry Grossman. He might not remember that I was his neighbor at 170 W. 74th, NY NY in the 1970s. Yes of course Herb threw the erasers without mean intention. I thought I made that clear. My friend Elaine Comparone, harpsichordist said she once played with you. It’s a small musical world. We probably know many more mutual musicians.. such as perhaps Toby
      Appel (viola).. Diana Halperin (deceased)–The list goes on.


  3. Yes, Shirley – I remember playing with Elaine. That was decades ago. I know Toby very well – one of my favorite violists and a fabulous cook. I did know Diana Halperin, but I can’t remember from where. Richard Goode was also at Mannes when Murray and I were there. He and Murray were actually conducting students. I think they were there to avoid the draft during the Vietnam war. 🙂


    1. Toby was at the Appel Farm Music camp in the resident family quartet. I was a camper. I heard Goode in a Masterclass at Mannes—under Karl Ulrich Schnabel. He played the Schumann Fantasie quite stunningly.. Perahia was a great conductor even before enrolling at Mannes. He directed the PA orchestra during his exams…a Haydn late symphony. I was principle second.


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