The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Let us now praise Marvin Rabin — who founded the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO), who excelled as a music educator and performer, who was the Leonard Bernstein of Madison

December 8, 2013
16 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Marvin Rabin  (below, seen at an award banquet in 2011) was always surprising people, even his biggest fans like me, with his boundless energy and persistence, his attentiveness and keen intelligence — all combined with his deep compassion and unending kindness and good humor.

Even when he was well into his 90s, and when his eyesight and hearing were failing and his walking was unstable, there would be Marvin Rabin, arriving at a concert just when you least expected to see him and you would have completely understood his absence.

He would usually take a seat up close to the stage, often helped by friends like Margaret Andreason or family, especially his violin-maker son Ralph Rabin.

But no longer.

Marvin Rabin died Thursday at the age of 97.

Rabin portrait USE

Marvin’s life was devoted to music, and especially to the young students who make it.

And how he knew those orchestral scores, so many of which he had conducted himself during his days of leading youth orchestras in Lexington, Kentucky; Boston, Massachusetts; and Madison, Wisconsin. Decades after he had performed a work, he would talk about it in details as if it were a fresh and new experience. His memory and knowledge were nothing short of phenomenal.

But it was in Madison that so much of his earlier career (recapitulated in a video seen below) came to full fruition. It was Marvin Rabin who in 1966 founded the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra while he was a professor the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Over the years, more than 5,000 students from more than 100 communities in southcentral Wisconsin benefitted from WYSO – which is to say Marvin Rabin.

Here is a link to the WYSO website with lots of information:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

For more background about Marvin Rabin, here is a link to a terrific story done 2011 for The Wisconsin State Journal by Gayle Worland in the same year that Marvin won only the third Lifetime Achievement award given by the statewide Wisconsin School Music Association.

http://host.madison.com/entertainment/music/marvin-rabin-a-wisconsin-music-treasure/article_e7e9bb7e-0da4-55c6-9619-1e6b0e4b02e4.html

Rabin video

Until near the end Marvin kept travelling around the country to see friends and former students, and to consult about music education.

Marvin Rabin was the Leonard Bernstein of Madison. He had a regional, national and international reputation. He played at The White House. And he made understanding music and making music seem like completely natural and totally necessary, even inevitable, acts. He was a coach, an arts coach, whose enthusiasm moved people to achieve more than they ever thought they could.

Increasingly, research studies have demonstrated the lifelong benefits of studying instruments and making music as a young person, no matter what career you later take up. (Below are young violinists performing at his award ceremony.)

Rabin Young players 2

Marvin was way ahead of the curve of the score. Long ago, he knew firsthand the successes that learning to make music prepared you for with its discipline, its teamwork and cooperation, and its lifelong appreciation for the hard work of making beauty.

Little wonder, then, that when Marvin received his award, friends, colleagues and former students came from around the country to honor him. The event (below) was sold-out and crowded with grateful admirers.

Rabin crowd

The world of the performing arts, and especially the world of local music making, seems a smaller and less joyful place today without its ever-upbeat cheerleader, Marvin Rabin.

But his was a long life that was well lived, both for himself and for countless others. It’s just that we need more Marvin Rabins – today more than ever, given the shrinking budgets for arts education and the anti-intellectual attack from the right wing on serious cultural values.

Please: If you have a message about Marvin Rabin for his family and friends, his colleagues and students, leave it in the COMMENT section.

If you have a story to tell or a recollection to share, also please leave it in the COMMENT section.

I have yet to see a full obituary and plans for a memorial service. But when I do, I will post them and share them with you.

And here is a YouTube video of WYSO playing the special piece that University of Wisconsin tuba professor and composer John Stevens, composed to honor Marvin Rabin when he received his award and conducted by the composer.

It is called, fittingly, “Fanfare for an Uncommon Man.”

Marvin’s own voice may have been silenced, but his larger voice — the one he carried about most and cultured in so many young people — continues on and will always be heard .


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