Monday, July 15, 2013

Samuel Applebaum and the "New Jersey" Violin School

Melanie Kupchynsky mentions Samuel Applebaum in the forthcoming memoir about her father, Jerry Kupchynsky, that she wrote with Joanne Lipman. (There will be an extensive forthcoming blogpost about the book closer to its release date of October 1.)  I never really associated Samuel Applebaum with any place in particular, but when I was in New Jersey this past weekend, I got a sense of violin-ness about the place.  I had my violin with me because Michael and I were there to play at a memorial service for a friend we always played with in New Jersey (every year for more years than I can count), and there was plenty of travel time for me to think about the book I had just read, and to think about Samuel Applebaum, and how much he meant to me.

My first encounter with Samuel Applebaum (who I never met in person) happened in the fourth grade when I started violin lessons with Clara Benson.  String Builder was the book we used.  It was the book everybody used, along with Wohlfahrt and Seitz.  We also used String Builder books for orchestral music.  When I stopped playing violin at the end of the sixth grade (I believe that the Seitz Concerto #5 was my "ultimate" piece), I tucked Mr. Applebaum's name fondly into my memory, and went on to other things.

My father had a volume of The Way They Playa rather dowdy book of interviews and photographs of violinists.  He had that volume in his library because there was a photograph of one of the instruments he used to play in it.  The violinists and other string players in the books were photographed in dowdy houses sitting on dowdy sofas, and they talked about their bow strokes, the way they practiced, their teachers, their instruments, and about music in general.  There was no glamour, but I was fascinated. The books were inexpensively printed, and the covers were direct and to the point, like the String Builder books.  This was the same Samuel Applebaum.


I didn't think much about Samuel Applebaum until I read the whole 13-volume run of The Way They Play when I arrived at my nesting spot, flute in hand, in Charleston, Illinois.  The books were in the university library, and reading them had a great deal to do with my decision to re-claim my identity as a string player.  I also learned that Michael Tree, the violist of the Guarneri Quartet, was Samuel Applebaum's son (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, right?).  Being partial to the dynamics of musical families, I found this relationship rather interesting.

When I first decided to try my hand at the violin again, I found a book in the String Builder series that discussed the bowstrokes that you can do on the violin.  I understood the importance of articulation on the flute.  There are a couple of ways you can vary tonguing on the flute, but most of the conscious articulation choices have to do with whether to slur or tongue, not in which way you slur or tongue. Applebaum explained in absolute and physical terms exactly what the bow could do, how you make the strokes, where you make the strokes, and, most of all, why you make the strokes.  Violin natives understand this stuff from observation and years and years of imitation, but since I was not really a violin native at the time (I was in my early 30s when I started playing again), I needed clarification.

I was happy to see that Jerry Kupchynsky had studied with Samuel Applebaum at Rutgers.  Melanie Kupchynsky refers to Samuel Applebaum as his mentor, which speaks volumes to me.

Applebaum's legacy lives on, but only in a small way.  In 1981 he founded the Society of Musical Arts in New Jersey, and their website reveals that they keep the dowdy values (i.e. non slick values) of their founder.  There is very little about Samuel Applebaum on line.  I found this discussion, but wasn't able to find anything else out about this man who gave so much to so many string players, including Jerry Kupchynsky.

Now volumes of The Way They Play are extremely expensive, and Michael Tree, Applebaum's son, is one of the patricians of the viola.  During the 1970s the Suzuki method of teaching (teaching very young children to play at a rather high technical level before they can read music) eclipsed Applebaum's no nonsense approach to learning to read music at the same time you learn to play (and perhaps at not so young an age).  Perhaps the success of Strings Attached (and it's sure to be successful because it is a great book), will lead people to value the dowdy world of string playing in New Jersey.

Update: you can listen to a recording of Samuel Applebaum explain how to make the various bow strokes used on the violin and the viola here.

6 comments:

Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi said...

Hi Elaine,

I have many of the Applebaum books in my library. And, of course, the treasured series "The Way They Play".

The string builder books are helpful and fun. Applebaum was Erick Friedman's first violin teacher. I assumed it was a good match, that Friedman was fortunate to have had such a mentor. But the teaching style didn't necessarily jibe with Erick,who learned mostly from observation and deep analysis of concertizing artists. Just goes to show how many of the gifted ones are practically able to teach themselves. In their cases, they sometimes require for the teacher to basically step out of the way. I'm so looking forward to reading "Strings Attached"!

Connie Sunday said...

Correction, if I may: Michael Tree is not Applebaum's father, Michael Tree is Samual Applebaum's son. You got it backwards (accidentally, I am sure).

csp123 said...

Oh, my, how this takes me back. I started violin with the Mueller-Ruesch books and the first of Applebaum's _Building Technic with Beautiful Music_ series.

And I had no idea (unless you told me yourself and I forgot) that Michael Tree is Applebaum's son.

Ronda Respess said...

I just found your blog. I was a student of Sam Applebaum in my "junior high"(called that at that time) and high school years. He prepared me well to enter Indiana University and subsequently go on to a long professional orchestra and teaching career. I remember him well of course and remember taking at least one lesson from his son, Michael. That was a big deal to me then. Michael was 12 years older than me. I still love Sam's study books, even when put up against newer ones. He always marked what part of the bow to play in at what times, which isn't taught much any more since the popularity of the Suzuki method which takes the easy way out and sticks to the middle of the bow. Applebaum kids learned to use the whole bow and use it well! I went to many ASTA conferences with him growing up and he helped me considerably in my first years of private teaching. He was a kind, loving person and I remember him fondly.

Marilyn Klerx-Hardie said...

I studied with Mr. Applebaum in Newark and Maplewood, from 7 the through 12 the grade (let's see... 1958--1964) He was WONDERFUL. He urged me to join the New Jersey Symphony Junior Orchestra AND to audition for All State.

A memory. When Applebaum's son, Michael Tree, made his Town Hall debut in New York, Mr. Applebaum invited many of his students to attend. Michael Tree played the first half on violin and the second on viola. We all got an autographed picture.

Fast forward at least 30 years, and Mr Tree was giving a master class in Marian, Mass., near where my parents lived on Cape Cod. I attended with my mother. As good luck would have it, my Dad had been looking through an old suitcase filled with family pictures and there, on top, was my signed picture of Michael Tree!

So I took it along and showed it to him before the class began. He moaned "That was when I was young and beautiful! " We laughed and I asked him to sign it again.

( His Master Class took me back to my time with his father, who was such a gentle man. His passion was teaching kids, preparing them for college. He taught from about 7:00 a.m. through to 10 pm, even eating his meals during lessons! His wife would take the little ones upstairs for beginning theory lessons. I guess I knew enough theory ( my patents were music teachers) so I didn't take her lessons.

My lessons were made up of what he called "a balanced musical diet. " First, scales and arpeggios in two, then 3 octaves. Then Sevcik shifting etudes. Then Wohlfahrt, then Kreutzer etudes, then a concerto or sonata or "party piece" such as "Flight of the Bumblebee" or Perpetuum Mobile. , and, last but not least, a duet such as Pleyel or Mazas.

All of my weekly assignments were written on an oblong piece of posterboard, I think it's called. He wrote in pencil, and erased the card the next week, to use again. I often lost it, or forgot it, and he would gently reprimand me for wasting it.


The first series of his books was called With the Artists. He gave me a copy when it came out He really knew everybody in the string world and was genuinely passionate about plumbing their knowledge so that string players everywhere could LEARN. Yes, later I sometimes heard people chuckling over his style... What someone above calls Dowdy. But he truly did know and respect the people he interviewed.

His studio was practically papered with photos of him with all the greats. He had studied with Leopold Auer, for goodness sake! The greats came to his home to play chamber music with him!

I was a teenager when the TV series 77 Sunset Strip was on, starring Dream Zimbalist JUNIOR, son of the great violinist. At one lesson, Mr. Applebaum said to me "Too bad you weren't here a half an hour ago. Efram Zimbalist AND HIS SON were just here! " (My emphasis!)

At the time, his first violin method Learning Technique With Beautiful Music was very successful. The GENIUS of this method was That it used no boring exercises but taught all technique using lovely folksongs. AND at the top of each song was a simple but accurate explanation of the technique to be learned. The four volumes cover everything up to and including third or fifth position and all bowing strokes, up to and including Riccochet.

At that point, the young student wants to spread his or her wings into "Etudes", preferably in the professional looking Schirmer editions! A perfect progression.

Mr. Applebaum was writing the Beautiful Music for Two Violins books and sometimes would ask me to play a part while he thought about it. He sat in his Ted leather recliner next to the piano. When he wanted to play with me, he would tip the recliner back so that he could read the music with me.

The remark "dowdy" kind of sticks in my craw. Perhaps in these times one expects a great musician to be a kind of rock star. Samuel Applebaum was REAL

Elaine Fine said...

Thanks for this beautiful set of memories. And I assure the term "dowdy" is a most affectionate one. My husband and I call the black and white world of thoughtful integrity the "dowdy world," to contrast with the world of technicolor flash.