Story by MARY ELLEN THOMPSON
Photography by JOHN WOLLWERTH
A gracious, gregarious, and very talented young woman, Ami Rabinowitz is a musical whirlwind. She performs in The Beaufort Symphony Orchestra, she teaches violin, viola, and beginning cello in her studio and she teaches two Youth Orchestras as well as teaching in three schools.
Ami began studying and playing music as a young girl. “I was nine when I found out about the String Project at the Community Music School at USC in Columbia SC. They came to my school and I was inspired by them to want to learn to play. I had wanted to play the cello but started out on the viola; I was really into it.” When Ami was six, she had a very brief love affair with ballet, as many little girls do, but it proved not to be her forte. “I wanted to take ballet but got kicked out of the class because I couldn’t stand still and had to switch to gymnastics. I’ve always loved ballet though. When I was at the Governor’s School, I had three ballerinas as room-mates.” Now she is happy to play that music, rather than dance to it.
“I was raised by my grandparents, Louis and the late Kris Rabinowitz. When I was in the tenth grade, I moved with them to Beaufort where I went to Beaufort High School for one year, then I was accepted to the South Carolina Governors School for Arts and Humanities in Greenville SC, where I graduated. Then I went onto The Hartt School, which is the performing arts conservatory of the University of Hartford in Connecticut. I wanted to go there because it had a strings project modeled after the USC Strings Project. I was inspired by my many great teachers and also the great musicians I’ve had opportunity to play with.”
“At age fifteen, when I was attending Beaufort High, I was performing in the Youth Orchestra and also started playing in the Beaufort Symphony Orchestra, where I was the youngest member, at the time, as well as playing in The Savannah Youth Orchestra. I moved away for school and college, but then I came back. Fred Devyatkin saw me and asked me to come back and play in the Orchestra. We’re so lucky to have him!” What are Ami’s own musical aspirations? “I would like to play and perform with more musicians and travel to play with other symphonies that are close to our area.”
What, exactly, is the difference between the violin, the viola, and the cello? Ami explains, “The viola is bigger and heavier than the violin and they are different registers and have a different timbre, they read different clefs; the viola is alto clef, the violin is treble, and the cello is bass. Someone could maybe play the viola and the violin but the cello is different altogether, due to holding it vertically, whereas one holds the violin and viola horizontally.” She also says, “In middle school I got bored so I tried some different instruments such as the oboe and the bassoon. I’d love to learn to play the guitar and the piano, so I could accompany my students. The difference between playing the viola and the guitar is that the guitar is based on rhythmic chords and the viola is based on melodic line.”
Some of her students are as young as three, they start out on an instrument resembling a violin that Ami has fashioned out of a tissue box and a ruler so they can learn to hold it under their chins. “Those three year olds had older siblings that play and they really wanted to learn also. Ages two to six are really a musical sensory period in a child’s development.” Her face absolutely lights up when she talks about her students and music: “I’ve been teaching for five years now and I find great joy in listening to them as they continue to get better. I really enjoy teaching; seeing the kids want to create music with their friends, and have the confidence to play independently – that’s really exciting!”
Ami’s biggest group of students is the First Orchestra, which is now a group that numbers about twenty. “The music is pretty hard for the students. The second to sixth graders learn how to play in a group, and follow a conductor.” The First Orchestra began three years ago as part of the after school program at Artworks, but the music may have been a bit disruptive to the other programs so Ami took it over and moved it to the Beth Israel Synagogue, where they still hold some of the concerts, and then to her studio. It is composed of students from various schools as well as home-schooled students, so it is a diverse group. She also teaches three string quartets who play gigs, weddings, and community events.
Between playing in the Orchestra and teaching, Ami admits that she doesn’t have much free time these days. Her tastes run to the the more complex and thought-provoking in music, art and literature. When she had more leisure time, she preferred authors such as Ayn Rand, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell. Her favorite viola player is Yuri Bashmet; and on the list of her most admired composers are the classics – Beethoven, Bach (The Cello Suites), Hindemith, as well as Dvorak, and the Russians – Stravinsky (Firebird and Rite of Spring) and Tchaikovsky (Nutcracker). Ami smilingly admits, “I like the Russian composers, I’m a great fan of the romantic era!” She also enjoys going to art museums when she has the chance.
Where does Ami see herself in five to ten years? “I would like to have an additional studio, so that I could have more teachers and reach more students, and expand my two orchestras. I love to see when older students coach the younger ones because you notice things about your own playing when you teach.” What are some of the obstacles she faces? “In addition to paying for the lessons, the parents have to make a commitment to oversee their children’s practice; even the very little ones should practice for ten minutes three times a day, until they can focus for a 30 minute practice session. But the payoff is worth it – the students develop focus, the ability to follow directions, and the discipline of practicing to achieve a goal. Students learn how to express themselves through their playing and develop a lifetime love of music; and if they keep with it, it is a great way to get great scholarships to college. It would be nice to have some angels who would pay for lessons for those children who can’t afford it, and the donation of any of the instruments I teach would be so very welcome!
“I feel like it is important for our community to realize there is an outlet for classical music in our town, especially with the depletion and lack of support for string programs and teachers in our area public schools. Sure all the students want to play pop music at first on their instruments, but there is a reason that the music of Mozart and Beethoven has been played for the last 300 years and is still continually being performed. Many of my parents don’t even realize there is a symphony in town when their children start lessons. Symphonies are dying all over the country due to the instant satisfaction of being able to listen to music whenever people want, i.e. ipods and youtube. We have a thriving symphony in Beaufort, and we need to support the culture to ensure it’s sustainability.”
Coming up on the Beaufort Symphony Orchestra’s schedule are two concerts that Ami is looking forward to with great anticipation, especially since one of her students just joined the Orchestra. On April 18 and 21 is a special event which The Beaufort Symphony Orchestra’s website describes as: “‘Hollywood Extravaganza,’ our final concert, will offer something unique to Beaufort concertgoers! “Film Score in Reverse” is designed to have our own Beaufort Symphony provide the live music on stage, while a movie screen projects sequenced clips from some of the most famous movies of the Silent Age. This program, known as ‘Flicker,’ includes musical selections from A Night On Bald Mountain, Danse Macabre, Peer Gynt Suite, Finlandia and The Firebird Suite.”
The other event is a Side by Side Concert which will be held on Sunday, May 19 at Beaufort High School where the Beaufort Youth Orchestra members will sit next to the Beaufort Symphony Orchestra members playing the same instruments. This is a first for Beaufort and everyone involved is quite excited about it as there will be at least eighty musicians on the stage. The program will include pieces from Les Miserables, West Side Story, and classical selections from Vivaldi and others. (TIckets are only $20, students $5; please visit the website: www.beaufortorchestra.org, or call Greta Maddox at 843-476-1310, for more information.)