We have a teacher-student bond that’s like family-Thula’s reflections on studying with Alan de Veritch

This week’s Utah Viola Society guest blogger is violist and composer Nokuthula Nwgenyama. Not only is she one of the viola superstars of next weekend’s Alan de Veritch Tribute/Primrose Memorial Concert, but she will also be presenting a Utah Viola Society Masterclass on September 21 at 6pm in Dumke Recital Hall at the University of Utah. See you there!

I worked with Alan de Veritch from 1989 to 1993. He was my first viola teacher after I switched from violin, and he put in tremendous effort in teaching me ‘the system’: reworking my bow arm and hold to the Franco-Belgian school. It’s all about tirez and poussez [pull and push] and contact point. He had a great ability to communicate how to draw sound from the instrument, exemplified by the sounds he would create during lessons. I learned just as much from the demonstrations as from his guidance, including the occasional “Do as I say, not as I do!”

I worked with him through the Colburn Community School for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles, CA. Lessons would either be in South Central at the annex or at his home in Valencia, CA. Sometimes we’d have a lesson in Port Hueneme, which was always a nice drive up the coast and through the strawberry fields.

The structure of my lessons with Alan depended on what was coming up. Initially it was training, so we focused on a lot of technique and less on repertoire work. As the technique solidified and I was able to manage it without as much supervision, we began worked on building the repertoire.

Tasks set for the week were expected to be accomplished. It’s not that Alan was strict, but we both knew we had work to do and did it. My lessons with Alan were long, 2-3 hours at times. If I was working on a piece it was generally practiced and ready. There was a lot of playing in my lessons. Exercises were prepared and scrutinized; phrases were equally scrutinized. The goal was always to be a more relaxed player, a better musician, a clearer performer, to continue to grow and build, to not let the little things slide, and to be ready for the next opportunity, whatever it might be, a la Walk on the Northside. His fingerings are the perfect combination of expression and function with inside Primrose-isms!  Alan had the ability to effectively analyze Primrose’s flair, from shifting, to vibrato, to bow contact, to living in the upper third of the bow. He shared his observations freely and with such loving humor. It’s a fun and deeply meaningful legacy to be a part of. The Walton fingerings and bowings are the best and only, they are true war horses! And Alan’s story behind them are priceless.

I rely upon ‘the system’ with a few additions to maintain the machinery. Schradieck, Flesch scales, especially the scales on one string, are great ways to center the playing. Everything is built on basics, and those he gave me remain a huge part of playing and teaching life. “Lead with the wrist,” “pinky flexibility,” “flat hair on the down bows,” “weight in the string,” “bow division,” “contact point,” and “breathe” forever!

What I admire about Alan’s teaching is its logic, intelligence, and his directness. It’s all about the basics!

We have a teacher-student bond that’s like family. It’s been like that from the beginning, and that is very Alan.

Paul Neubauer, Alan de Veritch, and Nokuthula Ngwenyama. Photo courtesty of Dwight Pounds

Training and preparing for the Primrose Competition is a particular highlight of our relationship, and a testament to his nurturing and intelligence. He was a complete teacher and mentor, in the sense that he thought about the cultivation of the entire person, not simply the approach to the instrument. The great teachers are like that. No discussion about it was really had until witnessing the 1991 Primrose Competition, which he brought me to with his lovely wife Evie. Afterwards he asked if I thought I could be ready for 1993. When I replied yes, the preparation program flashed in his eyes, and in that moment I knew there was work to do! We’ve gotten to share some profound musical and professional experiences.

Thula in 1993 after winning the Primrose Competition. Kathryn Lockwood, the Second Prize winner, looks on. Photo courtesty of Dwight Pounds.

I look forward to seeing Alan and sharing stories, of which there are so many! It’s also wonderful to commune with fellow students and brethren from LA. Both Jim and Paul are inspiring artists, pedagogues, and people I’m proud to call studio mates. We’re rarely in the same place at the same time. Doing so to celebrate Alan, whose personality may eclipse us all, ensures Provo is in for a real treat!

One thought on “We have a teacher-student bond that’s like family-Thula’s reflections on studying with Alan de Veritch

  1. […] pedagogy: ““The System” that Thula refers to [in her UVS guest blogger post] is one of the most valuable things I truly believe I have done. It derived from a series I created […]

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