Chapter 5: Los Angeles to New York

I returned to the Music Academy of the West that summer. In 1972 Dave Peck (now principal in Houston,) had been my inspirational student clarinetist; in ’73 Bill Rappaport (now second clarinetist in Atlanta) was wailing with his Dixieland! I shared a rented house with my Eastman buddies, cellist Kathy Murphy (now a member of the Rochester Philharmonic) and pianist Martha Krasnican (who could sight read Brahms with her tiny hands.) It was a great summer.

I managed to work out the budget for one more academic year at USC, and prepared to graduate with my Bachelor of Music degree in Clarinet Performance in June. Mom was there for my senior recital—with homemade cookies brought from home for the reception. Dad came too, and afterwards took me to Disneyland—a promise he had made when we were just little kids, and finally fulfilled when I was 21. I was given the award for Outstanding Participation in Woodwind Chamber Music, an honor that pleased me greatly, being just a three-semester Trojan.

Now what?? Mom again made the situation very clear—“Once you graduate you are on your own; don’t expect any money from me.”

I knew I had to keep studying—my three hours per day practicing (minimum) had only been a habit for four years, and I knew I had more hours ahead of me to be able to compete in the field. I wanted to be the principal clarinetist of an orchestra. Auditions were fierce; the odds daunting. I wanted to work with the highly respected Robert Marcellus; in early spring I sent him a letter asking if he could accept me as a private student. I had no money, and my student loan to repay, so I figured I would be working and studying privately. He didn’t answer, and didn’t answer and didn’t answer. I wrote again, after my recital, with a copy of the tape. Still no answer. I consulted with Lurie and we finally decided on a different course—Leon Russianoff in New York was perhaps the best known teacher on the east coast, and Lurie called him up. The answer was “Sure, send her out.”

Then, Sunday morning, Mothers’ Day, 1974, my dorm room phone rings, waking me up at 7 a.m. to hear an operator ask if I would accept a collect call from Robert Marcellus. I almost started laughing, thinking it was a prank. Thank goodness, I said yes, I would accept the charge, and it was, in fact, Robert Marcellus calling, in response to my letter and tape. He said he could accept me as a private student, but because he was just in the process of moving to Chicago to teach at Northwestern, he didn’t know how much time he would have, and could only promise me a class every other week. His rate was $100 an hour. Since I had already made other arrangements, I thanked him and said I hoped to be able to work with him in the future. Only years later, when I finally did study with him, did I realized that, in 1974, Marcellus was going through the terrible experience of forced retirement from the Principal Clarinet chair of the Cleveland Orchestra. He had gone blind in one eye because of diabetes, and, in order to protect the sight in the other eye, he was under strict doctor’s orders not to play more than a few seconds at a time. The world was losing one of the most beautiful clarinet voices in its history.

Meanwhile, I attended the Claremont Music Festival the summer after graduation from USC, playing (among other things,) the Schubert Octet under the coaching of bassoonist Ben Kamins and violinist Ken Goldsmith, and the E-flat part on the Schoenberg orchestration of Brahms’ g minor Piano Quartet, under the baton of Giora Bernstein.

I went to see my family up in Seattle, and then packed up and headed out to New York. I remember crying on the plane—I had never been east of Moscow, Idaho, and the only person I knew in New York City was a friend I had graduated from high school with—Fred Bremer, now a graduate student at Columbia University. Fred had said I could stay at the apartment he rented with some other students until I found my own place. I had his address, phone number, and instructions to take the train from JFK to Penn Station, and then get a cab to the upper west side. I felt like I was flying into an abyss.

I followed Fred’s instructions and ended up at the front door of the apartment building at 532 West 111th Street. The nice cab driver carried my bag up the stairs and then sneered a bit when I so carefully gave him exact change. I asked Fred about it later—he explained I was lucky the cabbie hadn’t killed me. Oops—I was supposed to tip him??

Welcome to New York City, Kathy! You’re a long way from Eugene, Oregon…

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