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My Mr. Berv

The First Lesson

Mr. Berv
Mr. Baryshnikov

I had taken the audition on a lark, but made the top orchestra in Juilliard Pre-College. Now, just a few months shy of my sixteenth birthday, I took the elevator (the one my friend, Kristen would 
ride later that semester with Mikhail Baryshnikov “He was sweaty and ahhhhh”) to the fifth floor to find Mr. Berv’s studio. 
The door dinged as it opened. Some cellists were eager to get on. I stepped out. There was a scrum of violinists and mothers outside Miss Delay’s studio (though I didn’t yet know who she was.)
I walked down the halls of golden carpet. I remember the carpet. It was nice, nicer than what we had at home, even nicer than the fancy carpet at the Bellevue Stratford, where I’d stayed in the past year on a youth orchestra tour. The carpet muffled sound, setting a hushed soundscape with an underlying, excited buzz of young adrenaline.
I checked my schedule and matched the door number. I knocked.
Juilliard at 66th and Broadway
Mr. Berv opened the door, his happy blue eyes smiling. “Hello, Suzanne,” he said. His voice was hoarse from a lifetime of singing and laughing. He was older than God, tall and thin, and his skin was so aged that it looked transparent and barely attached to him. He wore a fine, brown suit and a smart tie. His hair was slicked back and dapper. “I see you found my studio,” said. Mr. Berv. He stepped back and bowed me in.
I beamed. This was my first lesson at The Juilliard School. I unpacked my horn and proceeded to play for Mr. Berv. I don’t remember what I played, but I remember him challenging me. He’d sing a phrase. “Do it like that, Suzanne,” he’d say. “Make the phrase get to a peak, then finish it right. Don’t just let it flop.”
I’d play again and start to get what he was saying. He wrote the titles of books for me to buy and assigned my first etude in the Kling book: #1 in D flat horn. I had no fucking idea how to transpose in D flat, but I didn’t want to seem like a rube, so I just nodded and figured it out at home.


Standards

The next week, I played the etude in D flat, but I could play it faster in F. Mr. Berv was not pleased. “Now Suzanne, this isn’t up to scratch,” he said. “You need this to be as smooth and polished as when you play it in F. I don’t like assigning the same etude two weeks in a row, but I’m going to do it this one time because it’s just not ready. You need to play to the standards here.”
I was embarrassed but not discouraged. My standards were lower than his. I worked on that damned etude for a two hours a day all week. I came back the next week with the Kling etude flowing like freakin’ Mozart. I was rewarded by a smile and a twinkle in Mr. Berv’s eye. “Now you’re cookin’ with gas!” he said. He’d say that whenever I did something pretty swell. That was the first time he said it. I’ll never forget.
Tom and Roger

Rep Class
After my lesson was wind rep. class. Mr. Berv was the conductor. I remember Roger and Ray Riccomini playing Mahler. They used to get this look on their faces like “THIS IS THE SHIT AND NOTHING BUT THE SHIT. AWESOME!!!!!!” and blow Mahler 1 or Mahler 3. I had no clue what the hell Mahler was before those classes, but Roger’s big, other-worldly rendition of the trombone solos opened my eyes. He and Tim Hutchinson used to duke it out over who could play Mahler 3 better. It was pretty damned sexy, and the two of them were my first crushes at Juilliard. Rep.class was fun that way.
Me at 15
So Mr. Berv introduced me to Mahler and Strauss. I already knew Mozart, but Mr. Berv helped me play him better too. To this day I regret not going to the upper school at Juilliard where I would have continued to study with Mr. Berv. I was young and stupid. Mr. Berv never put me down or puffed himself up. I had no idea how wonderful he was until I experience assholery in the studios of other teachers. But do any of us ever really appreciate greatness when we are first with it? Greatness is what makes God God, but we don’t really appreciate how He paints a sunset or puts a twinkle in our first mentor’s eyes. There are a lot of things I didn’t appreciate when I was 15—Mr. Berv was one of them.


I studied with a legend

My Mr. Berv lived to be nearly 100. I never told him that he was one of the finest musicians I’ve ever known and that I am proud to have been his student. I regret that. I hope that he can forgive me. But he was. He was quirky and curmudgeonly at times, but he had great stories about Toscanini (he said TUSKA-ninny) and Stokowski and Fritz Reiner. He got exasperated with my adolescent high-spirits and would say, “Suzanne, I don’t understand you,” while shaking his head. He was often a crotchety old man, but he was good to me and he really cared.
I hope I can be like Mr. Berv to my students. I hope I can leave them with a love of horn playing and an appreciation for music that Mr. Berv left to me. Mr. Berv never demonstrated what he wanted. He sung it. He described it. He led me down the path for me to find my own way. Lessons with Mr. Berv weren’t about Mr. Berv; they were about Strauss and Mozart, and they were always about Suzanne.

Harry Berv plays third horn. Look at 1'44". He's the horn furthest to your left.


Courage to be himself

Years after my last lesson with Mr. Berv, I took a lesson with another old-timer. That man made a slur against Mr. Berv. A few things happened when I heard that slur.
·         I lost respect for the man who made the slur.
·         I gained more respect for Mr. Berv.
Harry Berv was born in 1911 to Polish and Russian immigrant parents. He came of age in the roaring 20s and the 30s, not a time when non-WASPs had an easy time of it. 
Harry entered the Curtis Institute at age 12, joined the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 15, and the NBC Symphony (Tuska-ninny) at 16. Harry and his brothers, Art and Jack, designed the Conn 8D. The Conn 8D became the sound of American horn playing for generations: the sound of Jaws, Star Wars, and Star Trek.
Harry Berv lived his life with elegance and humor. When I think of him I feel the prestige of that Juilliard studio, smell the dust of the old Giardinelli’s shop, see the blue of his eyes, and hear his voice saying, “Suzanne, now you’re cooking with gas!”
Just for the record…

Thank you, Harry Berv!

The following are a sampling of facebook comments on this post. I have edited the post to avoid a law suit. Life is too short. I don't want to fight with Mr. Berv's heirs and loved ones. Dishonoring him was never the point of this article.
  • Sarah Kashin Klein Oh, Dear Suzanne!!!!! I practically cried reading this. I am going to share it, of course.
    I shared so many of those feelings with you. That saying "now your cooking with gas"- I just hear his voice in my head. I also remember my first day (same as
    your first day) in his studio, and the feeling of the Juillard School, the talent all around. Oh, and Giardinelli's music shop- I *loved* just walking up and down the isles there smelling the dusty music and looking at everything. I loved the orchestra scores, I hoped I'd have money to buy them some day.
    I also have so many fond memories of Mr. Berv. Remember horn class at 7:30 am on Saturdays? He'd tease us with how we sit in our chairs (Sarah, you've always got a foot hooked behind a chair leg. why do you do that, Sarah?")
    The twinkle, the translucent skin, the singing, although I was dying to hear him play, he hung up his horn long before that age, I'm sure.
    Well, I could go on and on, but you already have. And for that I thank you my friend! And oh... I also remember when Kristen was in the elevator with Barishnakov. Thanks for these memories! Makes me want to pick up my horn and play again.
  • Sue Miville ...thanks for sharing...it's a beautiful tribute!
  • Jennifer Moore What a beautiful tribute. You brought back so many memories of Juilliard for me too...the smells, sights and sounds. Julie Landsman was that teacher for me. And the Giardinelli shop...what an amazing little place. By the way, Mr. Berv did a great job with you. You are one of the finest horn players I have ever had the pleasure to perform with.
A COMMENT BY MR. BERV'S NEPHEW

As I was not able to have space to fully correct the factual errors and moral issues raises in Suzanne G.'s reminiscence of my Uncle Harry on "herding
cats" blog, I feel compelled to do so here.
My grandparents were Polish AND Russian. Harry and Jack (
Dad) went to the Curtís 1933-35 (ages 23 and 25). They never officially were members of the Philly, although they subbed and played extra horn and Tuban.
Harry and Dad entered the NBC in it's second year (ages 28 and 30). Toscanini had been very disapppinted with the Met Horn section the first year. (Chotzinoff,
manager, had told the brothers they were "too young and inexperienced." When AT heard them on Tubans that year he fired the Met
Section and took Arthur, too, who did not like Ormandy-and was offered $20,000 instead of the $5,000 he made as principal in Philly.
It was Arthur who played asst to Horner at age 16. Stokowski wanted him to replace his teacher as he took less responsibility and sent Art to Cleveland under Vladimir Sokoloff to gain experience before returning to as first Horn.
Although Jewish, their talent protected them from the worst problems, and they were quite secular, even though they had come
from a distinguished line of scholars.
Aside from whatever his identification, Harry was
and came from a different era, a time of elegant (and sometimes repressed) discretion. He himself was known as "Dapper Dan" for his impeccable dress and pocket handkerchief. Attempting to "out" him 8 years after his death at 95 (not 100) is malicious at best, and potentially libelous. He was known, to a fault, as a "ladies' man", who married (another grossly incorrect fact), had my three cousins, and after his divorce did much "cherchez les femmes" in París where he introduced the 8D and the Berv style. Whether or not he had other interests is unknown to me-and having spent my life with a close relationship to a treasured uncle and artist ( my Dad and I often played duets and trios with him-his sound was like
running your hand over crushed velvet)and he came over to consult with my father, who had exquisite musical taste, whenever he had a solo or artistic question. Since I have been in touch with many who knew him and studied with him, I would think I or his brothers would have had some notion of "other" interests. Notwithstanding the truth, "outing" a revered artist and teacher years after his death in the service of proving "heroísm" in the face of adversity seems obscene to me.
Believe me, Jack and Harry had plenty of adversity during the Depression and after Curtís, facing many ruthless audítions (Or
-mandy auditoned them from the bathroom, ending the hearing with a flush and "Thank you, gentlemen." (He had it in for the younger brothers, as his first Horn knew he was a "phony" and Eugene was not unhappy when Arthur left for NYC and the NBC. They had the Radio City gig which was three shows a day, and five on weekends. Dad lost 35
pounds. At one point, frustrated with lack of work, they played for there buddy
Harry Glantz's teacher, Schlossberg, the dean of US brass playing-"stick with it, boys, you have a great future."

Suzanne says: I believe in Mr. Berv's rendition of his Curtis attendance. Curtis does not admit students over the age of 21 and tends to skew quite young. He had wonderful stories about shenanigans when he was a teenager. I later checked out the names he told me with the student pictures in the halls of Curtis.

Comments

Unknown said…
Back in 1974,75, I had the pleasure to have Mr. Harry Berv as a horn teacher while attending the University of Bridgeport in Ct. He was also our orchestra's brass coach and he was simply awesome! He came in with a beautiful young lady on his arm named Elaine Rintell, another horn student of his. She played on Harry's old Kruspe horn with his name engraved on the bell. I had the chance to play on that horn during one of our orchestra rehearsals I must must say, that was the finest horn that I ever had to pleasure to play on. Top to bottom, every note notches so well and the intonation was spot on! I never forgot that or Mr. Berv. A true treasure for sure. As far as the young lady glued to his arm, I'm sure he was a lady'd man later in his life. Always so well dressed and a great smile. She got his horn which I tried to buy from her but she refused. The rest is history. Rest in peace Harry Berv. You were truly one of the greatest horn players that has ever lived! I miss you! Raymond LaRoche, Bridgeport, CT.

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