Gail Weinstein's 1965 GHS commencement address
What Eve Ilsen has been up to since graduation in 1965
It's been interesting! Here goes:
1965-1967 Sarah Lawrence College
1967-1968 Leave of absence---what they now call a "gap year"— to reorient
1968-1970 Completed BA at SLC, with Joseph Campbell as my don. Today, it would be described as an interdisciplinary degree in somatic and transpersonal psychology
1970-1971 Gerda Alexander School of Eutonia in Copenhagen; earned my living au pair — thank G-d I could cook
1971-1972 Assisting professor Katya Delakova in establishing Dept. of Eastern Skills and the Art of Movement at Sarah Lawrence
1972-1973 Working in San Diego (therapeutic massage)
1973-1974 Working in Los Angeles (therapeutic massage)
1974-1978 Working and living in San Francisco; MA in Humanistic/Somatic Psychology at California State College, Sonoma
1978-1979 Flying to rural villages in Alaska with the school system, delivering special ed materials and activities — and occasional massage
1980-1986 Israel: intensive Hebrew study, freelance work as a therapist; apprenticed in therapeutic use of Imagery with Mme. Colette Aboulker-Muscat, Jerusalem
1987-1996 Philadelphia; small private practice, and working in partnership with Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Created the Wisdom School together. Began storytelling performances
1995 Married Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (and became instantly stepmother of 10...)
1996 We moved to Boulder, Colorado; small short-lived private practice; teaching workshops together with Zalman; suddenly stepmother to 11-year- old living with us; (to my shock) housewife; first 90-minute storytelling concert for conference in San Diego, "The Saint of the Cemetery"
2000 Gave my first live concert, "Songs My Mother Sang Me"
2001 Second live concert, "Romantic Love, the Full Catastrophe"
2002 Third live concert, "If We Only Have Love"
2002—2014 little bits of all of the above, plus co-leading Jewish liturgical and holiday events, while keeping my beloved husband well and thriving
2008 Ordained as a Rabbinic Pastor
Harpist Paula Page was born in Texas, and returned to the Lone Star State to play principal harp with the Houston Symphony for the last 30 years. Newly retired after three decades with the orchestra, Page talks with fellow orchestral harpist Nancy Lendrim of the Toledo Symphony about her years with the orchestra, her years studying with Alice Chalifoux, and what lies ahead in the next chapter of her life. —by Nancy Lendrim
Harp Column: Congratulations on your recent retirement from the Houston Symphony. How does it feel to have the season begin this weekend without you?
Paula Page: I was a little concerned about that. You know the beginning of the season has always felt like the first day of school, and it’s always been something I looked forward to and felt excited about because it’s a new season and a new start. So I wasn’t quite sure how I’d feel about it. But as it turned out, I feel fine. I thought a long time about retiring before I actually sent my letter. Having done that, I have not looked back ever and thought I shouldn’t have or maybe I should have waited. I knew the time felt right to me for a lot of different reasons. It’s been fine. I felt okay about it.
HC: I’m curious if the Houston Symphony has any traditions for retiring musicians.
PP: We haven’t really had formal traditions for retirees, but they did several nice things, one of which was that they had made a special quilt for me because they know I’m into quilting, and it was very touching that they took that into consideration. The quilt was made for me to hang on my wall, and they quilted into the panels things that mean a lot to me. Obviously there was a panel of an orchestra and a panel that included the logo of Rice University, and a panel of my grandchildren and my dog, and one of wildflowers, and one of sewing. It was really touching that they did that for me.
HC: Let’s go back 30 years and talk about your thinking when you won the Houston audition. What was that audition like for you, and how do you think that audition told you what it would be like, if it did, to be a member of the Houston Symphony?
PP: Well the audition was stressful, as all auditions are. I had made the finals in other auditions but this was the only one where we were asked to come back and play an audition in the orchestra, to play whatever excerpts and cadenzas they chose. There were two of us who were finalists, and they asked each of us to play about 15 minutes with the orchestra with whatever they called out. Then the other candidate and I also split the subscription concert and also split the rehearsals for that concert. So it was stressful; as I said, all auditions are stressful. When I made the finals, they shipped my harp down here from Pittsburgh so that I could play on my own instrument. I remember that that really impressed me because it was expensive for them to ship the harp. It was impressive to me that they understood the importance. The orchestra at that time didn’t own a harp, so it was important to me that they understood how meaningful it was to me to be able to play on my own harp. I took that as a sign that their priorities were right in terms of trying to make me as comfortable as possible.
HC: Have you always combined performing with teaching, or did you play with the symphony for a while before you started teaching? I’m curious about that.
PP: Well, my first job was with the Oklahoma Symphony—at that time it was called the Oklahoma City Symphony—and I was there for two years. When I was in Oklahoma, I was on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and I only had a couple of students. That was difficult because I was just a couple of years older than the students there. It was a little bit awkward, I’m sure, for them and for me. Then I went to Pittsburgh where my official title was second harp and double on keyboard instruments. They wanted to hire a second harpist full time, but they wanted to be able to justify the salary, so they made it a dual position of harp and keyboard. After I was there a couple of years I started teaching at Carnegie Mellon University. And then when I came to Houston I didn’t teach for the first couple of years because my predecessor Bea Rose was still on the faculty at the University of Houston and at Rice. So I didn’t do any teaching except some private teaching at first, and I didn’t join the faculty at Rice until two or three years after I got here.
HC: And you also have a family.
HC: So here you are with this very important job combining many roles. You have grandchildren now?
PP: Yes, I have two children—I have a daughter and a son and they’re 37 and 33—and I have three grandchildren.
HC: So your children were young when you were embarking on this incredible career of performing and teaching. Our teacher Alice Chalifoux was an incredible example of that, of how to teach and perform. Did you purposely not teach as much when your children were younger? Is it something that you increased as they got older? Or did it just sort of organically happen?
PP: It organically happened, but as I look back I’m so glad that it happened that way because once I began doing a lot of teaching at the universities, I found it really hard to balance things. For most of my career I have found it hard to balance things between personal time and family time and work time, and that became even more difficult once I started teaching more. The other thing I had in common with Miss Chalifoux is that we both raised children by ourselves. I got divorced when my children were still quite young, and shortly after that my ex-husband left Houston. I found that very, very difficult. As I look back, I’m not sure how I did it. I remember that there were a lot of times I said, “I’m going to do this one day at a time,” because it was overwhelming at times. I know that balance thing has always been something I’ve struggled with, and I think a lot of professional musicians do.
HC: I completely agree. Depends on the day of the week, certain things are more on a front burner than other things. If you’re performing Ein Heldenleben, it has to be on a front burner, obviously. But yes, it’s very difficult.
PP: And you can’t do it all, at least I couldn’t do it all. You have to pick and choose what it is you’re going to do, and what’s most important. I couldn’t do everything. I couldn’t play five solo recitals and chamber music recitals and raise my children by myself and handle the principal harp position and teach also. I was constantly balancing that way.
HC: Well, you have to do the best you can on any given day. To go back to your teaching for just a few minutes, how do you think your teaching has changed over the years? Or do you think it has?
PP: I’m sure I’m a better teacher now than I was at first because I’ve learned so much through the years about what works and how to try to communicate with students. I do find, even 45 years later, I’ll still hear Miss Chalifoux talking to me. I still hear things that she used to say to me or that I heard her say to students when I would observe her teaching. I have learned what kinds of things tend to work, but I’m always learning more too. That’s one of the things I enjoy about teaching: it’s a constant challenge.
HC: With the different schools at which you are, how many lessons on average are you teaching weekly right now? It’s probably different now than it was even a year ago, right?
PP: Yes, right now I’m teaching at the Shepherd School at Rice University, the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, and I’m also teaching at Sam Houston State University, which is up in Huntsville, Texas. I have 12 harp majors right now, therefore I really limit private students because I don’t have the time. So I’m teaching at least 12 hours a week.
HC: Yes, that’s a lot. So you are a Salzedo player. Do you accept non-Salzedo players at the schools where you teach? And if you do, what is your approach for teaching those students who are coming to you from a non-Salzedo background?
PP: Frequently students who are applying to one of these universities will ask me what method I teach and whether I am “strictly Salzedo.” I am a Salzedo player because all of my teachers were Salzedo-trained, and that way of playing is the one that I know and have had a lot of success with, not only personally but also the success that my students have experienced. I know many wonderful harpists that are not Salzedo-trained. So it isn’t a question of one method being better than any other. Clearly, in teaching any student, Salzedo-trained or not, my purpose is always to help him or her perform at a higher level. And to do that, I share what has worked for me and the students I have been fortunate to teach for the last 45 years. Ultimately, I think our goal is to be true to the music and the music transcends all discussions about methods, technique, or the personalities of various teachers. So I do accept students who are not Salzedo-trained, but I’m very clear with them that because that’s the method I know that’s what I’m going to be teaching.
PP: I think the only thing I might say as far as young harpists are concerned, and musicians in general, is that at this point in time, I think harpists, well I should say all musicians, need to be thinking of ways to reinvent what we do because the world is changing so quickly. For me it was really pretty simple. I knew I wanted to play in an orchestra, and I worked really hard and took auditions and was very fortunate to have an orchestra career. It’s not that simple anymore, and there’s certainly a lot more competition, a lot more gifted people out there. I think because of the difficulties presented by popular culture and the difficulties of non-profits and money and all the rest of it, I think students today have to be very open-minded and creative about finding ways to reinvent what we do. We’re so fortunate with the harp that we play an instrument that is as versatile as it is. I think I would just want to encourage all those harpists out there who are passionate about playing harp not to give up because there’s a lot we can do.
HC: Well, you are clearly practicing what you preach, looking at your student Mason Morton, who made the finals of America’s Got Talent [with his group Sons of Serendip]. Clearly he’s reinvented himself with your support and encouragement.
PP: Yes, and I’ve had other students who are doing different things, and I really salute them for that. Juliana Beckel, who got her master’s at Rice, is now playing in Hong Kong. And another, Meghan Caulkett started her project in Houston called 47 Strings that has really taken off.. I had another student Mollie Marcuson who played in Harptallica. So the fact that they were all open to those kinds of possibilities I think is really positive.
HC: You’re right; reinventing ourselves is the key to success in today’s environment. I love what you said earlier about hearing Miss Chalifoux’s voice. I completely understand having studied with her myself. Let’s talk for just a couple of minutes and reflect back on your time with Miss Chalifoux. You first started studying with her as a college student at the Cleveland Institute of Music, is that correct?
PP: Yes. I didn’t start the harp until I was a junior in high school. I come from a family of singers, and so I took voice lessons and piano lessons. When I was a junior in high school, at Girls High School in Philadelphia, we had an assembly where the orchestra played. And the conductor was introducing the instruments and the harpist played a glissando or something. And the conductor turned around and said, “This is a harp and we’re very fortunate in this school that we not only have a harp, but we have a harp teacher who comes here. So if anybody’s interested, we do have a harp here.” I thought it was so beautiful. I thought the sound was so beautiful that I went home and asked my parents if I could take lessons. What I was thinking was that I was just trying to understand what an orchestral instrument was like. And you know it wasn’t going to cost my parents anything so they said, “Yeah, sure. Go ahead if you want to.” So I started taking lessons through the school and, ironically, the high school that I went to is also where Ann Hobson Pilot andSusanDederich-Pejovichboth started.So it was a wonderful program. It was a public school, and we were very fortunate that they had something like that. When I was a senior, I had applied to three universities as a voice major and I was accepted at all of them. And my father was thinking, “Well maybe you should continue with harp lessons in college, maybe as a minor or just continue [studying].” So he took me to play for a couple of people in Philadelphia, and when I played for Edna Phillips [former principal harpist with the Philadelphia Orchestra]she said, “I’d like to give you a scholarship to continue studying with me.” So I studied with her most of my senior year. I was so impressed with her. I loved her personality; she was magical to me. She made such an impression that I thought, “Maybe I should think about playing the harp.” So I told Ms. Phillips, and she said, “Well, if you want to stay with the harp, dear, there’s only one person for you to study with, and that’s Alice Chalifoux.” This was now April, and so I turned down my acceptances at the other universities and she wrote a letter for me to Miss Chalifoux. My family happened to be in Maine that summer, and I went to the Salzedo House and tried to play something—I was really not very good—just so we could meet and she could kind of see who I was. I started with her that September as a freshman.
HC: Wow. Phenomenal story. I just love that story.
PP: And I know, “If it hadn’t been for her I never would have made it.” She was a fabulous teacher.
HC: So when you were at the Institute you had some incredible classmates who have also had amazing success. I’m thinking of Ann Hobson Pilot who was a few years older, I believe.
PP: Yes, she was a senior and I was a freshman. And then when I was a senior, SusanDederich-Pejovich was a freshman. So we were each three years apart.
HC: It’s so interesting how phenomenal Philadelphia High School for Girls is.
PP: When the American Harp Society had their conference in Philadelphia [in 2004], the three of us played a concerto by Kevin Kaska that was commissioned for us.
HC: That’s terrific!
PP:And then we played it again in Vancouver at the World Harp Congress. That was really fun for the three of us to be able to do that. But all three of us ended up at the Institute.
HC: And also Lisa Wellbaum.
PP: Yes, Lisa Wellbaum, obviously from the Cleveland Orchestra, and Judie Beattie who went to the Atlanta Symphony, and Jeanne Norton who went to the Florida Symphony Orchestra, and Danis Kelly went to Milwaukee. I think that’s everybody. But we all graduated that same year, and we all got jobs.
HC: It’s so unusual for that many harpists, successful harpists, to graduate within such a short time of each other. Do you think that it was just circumstances or do you think that Miss Chalifoux had some sort of especially nurturing atmosphere there at the time?
PP: Yes, it was unusual. We all went together to these various auditions to try out, and it just happened that we all got jobs.
HC: I know that you had an especially close friendship and bond with Miss Chalifoux. I remember first actually meeting you, Paula, at the Salzedo House and you were cleaning. You were there visiting and you were cleaning. And I think probably every summer that I was there, you would come for a visit just to stay with Miss Chalifoux. Could you tell us a little bit about your friendship with Miss Chalifoux?
PP: Well, the first summer I went to camp was after my sophomore year, and the first couple of years that I went I stayed with landladies, like most of us did. I stayed for six weeks and really worked hard and made a lot of progress. Then the third year Miss Chalifoux needed someone to stay at the house with her because it was good for her to have someone to help answer the phone and help with cooking and stuff. So every year after that I’ve stayed with her. Once I got the Pittsburgh Symphony job, which was fulltime, I couldn’t stay for as long, but I would always go up to see her for at least a week or two and would try to do whatever I could to try to help her because she worked so hard. I would help with moving the harps, you remember, the harps used to come in on the trucks. Over that time, I don’t know why, but we did become close because I spent a lot of time with her. And I might add that I continued to study with her even though I got my job in Oklahoma City and I got my job in Pittsburgh; I continued to go and play for her and have lessons. When I lived in Pittsburgh, I frequently went to Cleveland because it was only a three-hour drive, so before I started having children I frequently went over to see her and hear the kids at the Institute play and observe her teaching and that kind of thing.
HC: Well, that was one of the wonderful things about Miss Chalifoux, she was always welcoming of students and former students and never thought of them as just a former student—you were a student and you were there to continue to learn from her. Can you share some of your thoughts about studying with her in Camden?
PP: Yes, it was an experience that nobody forgets. It’s very hard to describe what was so special and unique about it. Anyone who went there knows it’s just a bond that we all have. It was a very special place, special primarily because of her, but of course Camden was beautiful.
PP: I think most of us who went there developed very close friendships with other harpists. It wasn’t just feeling close to Miss Chalifoux, we really became close friends with other harpists. It was just the nature of the place, and it was something that was nurtured by Miss Chalifoux. I was heartbroken like most people when she closed the school, and yet I understand why it happened. I don’t always like change, but change is with us always.
HC: Well, change is hard, but like you said at the beginning of our conversation, it happens and you obviously feel good about the changes that are happening in your life.
HC: And I know that Miss Chalifoux was always very much a proponent of making a change, be it moving from Cleveland to northern Virginia, and retiring at the age of 90 from the Cleveland Institute of Music and Oberlin.
PP: What would she used to say, “Carry on, regardless?”
HC: Carry on. Exactly. How are you going to “carry on” in terms of other projects you have with and without the harp? What do you think retirement will bring for you in the coming weeks and months?
PP: Well, I’m sure I’ll remain challenged in trying to balance everything out. But what I’m hoping is that I will continue to play the things I want to play. I will continue to teach because I enjoy teaching. There’s no question that the grandchildren were a big factor in my deciding to retire at this time because I want memories and time with them. I also want time to experience things I haven’t had time for because when you have a job in a symphony orchestra, it’s relentless, it’s on-going. Things like being in a book club or bridge club or volunteering are things that are almost impossible to do because the schedule of the orchestra changes so much and there’s touring. In terms of volunteering there’s one project I’d definitely like to get involved with. About eight years ago, I took a course and became certified as a Texas Master Naturalist—it’s similar to a master gardener program, but broader than just plants. It’s a volunteer program and one of the purposes of it is to help children and adults learn about Texas’ natural resources. To remain certified you have to volunteer 40 hours a year and spend eight hours a year in some kind of advanced training course. So, of course, I had put my certification on hold, partly because the advanced training courses are usually on weekends, and with the orchestra’s schedule, I couldn’t participate. So one of the things I want to do in retirement is activate that membership and volunteer wherever they may need me. It can be things like teaching children about growing vegetables by helping build garden beds at schools or establishing trails, restoring habitats, that kind of thing. Texas is a major birding state; we have some fabulous natural resources, so I want to do some work with that. I want to be outdoors and help expose children—especially those who grow up in the cities—to the natural world. I’m trying to keep my teaching during the week so I have my weekends free to do this.
HC: That’s so exciting and rewarding, and it’s something you can share and pass on to your grandchildren.
PP: Yes, so I’m hoping to add all of those things, and of course, like I said, I like to garden and I like to cook and I like to sew. I won’t be bored; I know that. •
A Poem by Sandy Diamond Choukroun
Here is a poem I wrote as part of a collection titled "Reflections on a Winter Journey to Iceland and the Northern Lights" based on a trip that my husband, Jean-Marc, and I made there in November, 2013.
The book is available at http://www.blurb.com/b/5898093-reflections-on-a-winter-journey-to-iceland-and-the.
In this cold northern country
people wear woolen long underwear,
warm hats, gloves, jackets and scarves.
Traditional Icelandic sweaters contain
a soft inner layer of wool
and a course outer layer,
making them practically waterproof.
The sweaters are hard to resist
with their muted patterns
of gray, brown and white
reflecting winter landscape colors
Yet in my closet in Philadelphia
are beautiful sweaters
that haven’t emerged
from their dry cleaning bags
Despite the occasional three-foot snowstorm,
the weather isn’t often as cold as I recall
from my childhood
when our power went out;
my resourceful dad built up the fire
in the living room fireplace
and we slept there that night
wrapped in blankets.
So I didn’t let myself look at
the superbly crafted sweaters for sale
or the wool dresses of stylish perfection.
If it ever gets cold enough in Philadelphia