The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music education: Last Sunday afternoon, we said good-bye to master music educator and Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra (WYSO) founder Marvin Rabin. The Ear thinks Rabin would have liked how he was celebrated and remembered.

January 2, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Sunday afternoon, as the winter sun was getting low in the sky and the thermometer was dropping even lower, we gathered to say good-bye to Marvin Rabin (below).

marvin rabin BW

Rabin, you may recall, died Dec. 5 at the age of 97. He was a pioneer in music education and in addition to achievements around the U.S. — especially Kentucky, Boston and Illinois — and around the globe, in 1966 Rabin came to Madison to found and direct the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, which still exists and is bigger and better than ever.

Here is a link to the WYSO website with more information:

http://wyso.music.wisc.edu

The crowd, which came from both coasts and around the U.S., was at capacity, a full house on the floor and in the balcony (below) of the sleek and contemporary Atrium auditorium at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. Apparently, even more people wanted to attend the memorial but couldn’t find seats or parking.

Rabin Memorial crowd

The Ear thinks it was exactly the kind of memorial that Marvin would have liked.

I say that for several reasons.

All the speakers — from the masterful host Dick Wolf (below top), who worked besides Marvin for decades at the University of Wisconsin-Extension, and radio host son David Rubin (below bottom) to friends, admirers and former students and members of the general public — kept their remarks short, dry-eyed and to the point.

Rabin memorial Dick Wolf

David Rubin

The impromptu speakers (below) also kept the mood just right: not too serious or reverent, but leavened with wit and stories that didn’t drag on forever. In short, the mood of the memorial modeled itself on the manner of Marvin himself, at least as far as I and many others knew him.

Rabin memorial speaker

His son-in-law Frank Widman read two poems by Rainer Maria Rilke that touched on music, especially “To Music” with its fitting line: “You speech, where speeches end … Music. Space that has outgrown us, heart-space.”

But most of all, I think that Marvin — who embodied The Wisconsin Idea of reaching everyone in the state and elsewhere —  would have enjoyed all the music that was played by current WYSO students as well as former WYSO students who are now professional educators and musicians themselves. (Forgive me, but they are too many to name individually.)

Under the baton of WYSO’s music director James Smith, who directs the conducting program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, the WYSO Chamber Orchestra turned in a moving and emotionally restrained performance of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.”

It was an appropriate choice not only for its universally appreciated sorrowful content (“the world’s saddist music”), but also because it has deep Madison ties: the world-famous work was given its world premiere in 1936 in Rome by the Pro Arte String Quartet, which has been in residence at the UW-Madison since 1940. That is what the famous conductor Arturo Toscanini heard and then asked the composer to add some string basses and orchestrate it.

Rabin memorial WYSO Chamber Orchestra

A WYSO Alumni Quartet (below, with the cellist hidden by the violist), made up of students from 1972, played the exquisite slow movement from the final string quartet, No. 16 in F Major, Op. 135, by Ludwig van Beethoven. (You can hear it played by the Artemis Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

It proved the perfect work for the occasion because it is a work where Beethoven moves from the futuristic Romanticism and Modernism of the late quartets and returns to more formal structure of a Classical aesthetic that Beethoven worked with in his early Op. 18 quartets. Such an embracing of diverse styles was typical of Marvin no less than of Ludwig.

Rabin memorial WYSO alumni quartet

Following open-mic reflections and memories of Rabin by perhaps a half-dozen people the WYSO String Quartet played the poignant “Intermezzo Sinfonico,” arranged for string quartet, from Pietro Mascagni’s opera “Cavalleria Rusticana.”

Rabin memorial WYSO string quartet

And the final touch was a slow but elegant reading, in Hebrew, of the Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer for the dead.

And then the relatively brief memorial was over, with some refreshments and small talk, exactly the kind of elbow-to-elbow socializing, where old friends reconnect, that Marvin excelled at and relished.

Even if you didn’t know Marvin Rabin in life, you grew to know him through the memorial.

What emerged was a man who was as devoted to life-long learning as he was to life-long teaching. And the judgment was unanimous: Marvin Rabin was a man who lived his life fully out of his love of music and his love of other people.

Rabin came across in remembrance exactly as he did in life: A zesty, energetic and witty man who was immensely smart and sensitive but who wore his gifts lightly and who was also anxious, even impatient, to share them with others.

Rabin portrait USE

And we can still learn from Marvin Rabin. His accumulated wealth came from giving himself away. And we – all of us — are the rich beneficiaries of his personal and professional generosity.

Is there any thing more to add besides: The world needs more Marvin Rabins – the more, the better; and the sooner, the better.


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