It's always interesting to see who you might meet on the bus. Yesterday I talked with a woman I've nodded to many times as we passed each other jogging around the Central Park reservoir in early mornings.
It took us a minute to recognize each other yesterday, since each of us was dressed for work, not in our usual jogging shorts. Once we started talking, I realized I had the privilege of making a remarkable new friend who comes from a fascinating family.
Jill Totenberg is an accomplished professional with her own PR firm. She told me of her parents and the extraordinarily happy marriage they had. Turns out her father, Roman Totenberg, died last year at 101. A concert violinist of the highest order, he stopped making concert appearances at 95, but continued to teach. Jill said the family lore includes the story that he continued loving to hear his students play for him and his last words, uttered as one of his favorite students performed at his bedside, were a whispered..."too fast!"
Jill tells me that her father, who emigrated to America during the second World War, lived through truly interesting times. When a small boy, his family left Poland for Moscow and during the Russian famine he would play his violin in the street in exchange for food. Years later, he would frequently tell his children that life was to be enjoyed and one shouldn't waste time acquiring material things since they were unimportant and fleeting, especially when compared to music and the other truly priceless aspects of life.
The obituary of Roman Totenberg in the New York Times is inspirational. My favorite lines are attributed to Leon Botstein, the principal conductor for the American Symphony Orchestra (also President of Bard College), who said: “He personalized the making of music and turned it into an intensely expressive medium with all the nuance of the human voice. If modern violin playing is an undifferentiated carpet of sound, for this guy it was a voice of intimacy, a voice of drama. The violin wasn't a machine; it was a living vehicle of human expression."