The Growing Up Years

ruth early photosThis is the story of my musical life, rather than my personal life….but hopefully told in a personal way!!

I’ve always loved to sing, to write music, and to express the emotions of my heart through music.
I remember, as quite a young child, sitting at the piano before I even knew how to play! There was a particular book of songs that belonged to my father, and in it there were pictures at the beginning of each song, illustrating the song, I suppose. I couldn’t even read, but I would put the book up in front of me, and begin to play what I saw in the drawings. I remember that I especially loved imitating the elephants that were in one of the pictures, as I thumped the lower notes on the piano slowly and seriously! The beginning of my composition days? Who knows?

At the age of seven, I began to study the piano, after much begging. My older brother was learning, and I really wanted to play too! I didn’t practise very much, but I loved to play, and found that I was quite good at reading music. My elderly and very wise piano teacher, Mrs Ritchie, saw that the best way to get me playing was to do interesting duets during the lessons. That is when I was introduced to the music of Kodaly and Bartok. I remember one student recital when everyone was playing their piano piece, and I played a song by Schubert (The Wild Rose) which I sang whilst playing the piano part at the same time!

I began studying the violin at school. Not a great success, as it just seemed like too much work to me! However, it was the instrument that finally won my heart. As I was beginning to get interested in the violin, I had also moved from playing the piano to studying the organ. This I loved! Because my father was the vicar, we lived right next door to the church, which had a beautiful pipe organ. I certainly loved to practise the organ, but was not so keen on going into the empty church after it had got dark! Enter my trusty dog ‘Spot’! She and I would daily climb up to the organ loft. Spot hated that winding, narrow staircase, and I can still hear the sound of her toenails clicking on the stone steps! When the organist went away on summer holidays I was recruited to play the organ, and I would play regularly for the Sunday School each Sunday morning. I loved to sit at the organ and ‘improvise’!! The modern music of Olivier Messian was my inspiration, which gave me plenty of room to use all the colours of the organ!! I studied with my Godmother’s husband ‘Uncle David’ He was a wonderful teacher…. a very patient and gentle man. I remember the day when my father challenged me to learn Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, for the sum of five pounds. This was a tempting challenge for a thirteen year old, which I promptly met. What a great piece!

Around the time I was thirteen, a new violin teacher arrived at my school. Robert Jacoby, was a wonderful violinist, and I think he was taking a bit of a break from a hectic schedule. For the first time on the violin, I was truly inspired, and soon I realised that I wanted to express myself through this beautiful instrument. I was particularly in love with the Max Bruch 1st violin concerto, which I would listen to for hours, thinking that it would be worth practising my whole life in order to be able to play this piece; especially the slow movement. Well, that dream became reality, as several years later, I did play it as the soloist, with orchestra. It is still one of my most favourite pieces of music! It took a while for my violin playing to catch up with other aspects of my music making. In the meantime, I was encouraged at school to learn to play the timpani, as they needed someone to play in the school orchestra. I did learn, and also played in the local amateur orchestra, which my violin teacher conducted. My father spent countless hours taxiing me to and from rehearsals and concerts, with the timpani stashed in the back of his station wagon. Good thing we had a bigger size car at that time. I loved it, but did get a little tired of counting bars and bars of rests, whilst looking over to see the violinists happily playing throughout. After a couple of years, after doing much more practise on the violin, I switched to playing the violin in the orchestra!

My teenage years were also filled with teaching myself to play the guitar, singing songs of the Beatles, Peter,Paul and Mary, and Bob Dylan ( my ears glued to the record player, desperately trying to make out the words he was singing!) I sang with my guitar. I sang in the church choir. I wrote songs. LIfe was full of music.

Around Christmas in my 14th year, I met Jesus in a real way. A small group in my town had been formed as the result of the Billy Graham Crusade that had taken place in London that year. I went along to this little group in my hometown, and was surprised to meet people that were speaking about Jesus as though they actually knew him and talked with him every day! I had been used to going to church, and even to feeling the presence of God at certain times, but this was something different. It didn’t take much for me to want this kind of personal relationship with God, and so one evening just before Christmas, I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life. It was a new beginning. I’m so glad that He encountered me at this stage of my life, and that he gave me such an amazing group of people to share with at the beginning of my Christian walk. I was one of the youngest in this group that would meet twice a week. Once for prayer, and once for Bible Study. Sometimes there were about forty or fifty people that would show up to the bible study that was held in the large home of an older couple who lived in our town. It was always exciting and never dull. During this time I found myself creating songs about my new found relationship with Jesus. Because I was the one who played the piano for our school assembly, I had the opportunity to sing these songs at school. Amazing….

The following year, a wonderful opportunity came for me. My school was notified about a course for young musicians, at a college in south Devon. The course was intended to prepare young students for music college as an alternative to the final two years of high school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do exactly, but I knew it was music. So, I left school two years early, to attend Dartington College of Arts. I was accepted at Dartington at the tender age of 16, and thus began the rest of my life! It was at Dartington that I had the most wonderful teacher; Colin Sauer, who through his playing and personality caused me to work very hard. He was a player to emulate. Colin was the first violinist of the Dartington String Quartet, who were in residence at the college. They were wonderful, and regularly gave concerts in the 14th century “Great Hall” on the Dartington Estate. I can remember quietly sitting up in the balcony of this beautiful Medieval building, listening to them rehearsing for the evening concert. The atmosphere during these two years was charged with inspiration galore! Lots of violin playing. Lots of singing, and even some composing. It was here that I thought much about the art of practising the violin, and began to explore the idea that God knew everything about playing the violin. I wanted Him to teach me how to learn. What an amazing time! After two years it was time to leave Dartington. It was surely one of the saddest days of my life! But it was time to move on to music college in London.

I had won a place at the Guildhall School of Music, to study with Eli Goren. Eli was the 1st violinist of the Allegri String Quartet for many years, and he was now the concertmaster of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Eli was a wonderful teacher with many innovative ideas. I lived in London for three years, close to the River Thames on the south side of the river, with the Imperial War Museum at one end of the street, and the Royal Festival Hall just across Westminster Bridge. I attended so many concerts there, and listened to many great performers of that era. At the Guildhall, I was practising many hours a day. I played in the orchestras, and studied chamber music, which was my great love. These years in London were rich in so many ways. I graduated after three years.

Although I was studying at the Guildhall, I was also influenced by another teacher that I had met at the Dartington Summer School of Music, just before I began my course in London.I met Nell Gotkovsky when I played at a master class at the Summer School. Nell lived in France, just outside the city of Versailles, and I had determined that when I finished my studies in London, I would go and study with her in France. This is exactly what I did. In fact I studied with Nell for two years. For the first year I lived in Paris, supported by a French Government scholarship, and in the following year I lived in London, and through the funds of another scholarship, I was able to travel once a month to Paris for a violin lesson. I loved to take the train to Nell’s home in the countryside, which always routed through Versailles. Sometimes I would make time to go and visit the beautiful palace of Versailles, and wander around the magnificent gardens. My trips to my violin lessons in the small town of Auffargis was the time when I got my taste for espresso coffee! As I sat in the train station waiting to catch the connecting train, I would sip my espresso, and go through my thoughts on the music that I was to play at my lesson. These were wonderful years of growing as a musician, and continuing to learn how to communicate through playing the violin.

I had wonderful teachers and influences throughout my time in London and Paris. Most special to me was Yona Ettlinger. Yona was a clarinet player of extraordinary quality. Even though he was a clarinettist, he was responsible for founding the Tel Aviv String Quartet… just so he could play the Brahms and the Mozart Clarinet quintets with them!! Yona was maybe the biggest musical influence in my life. He taught me so much about phrasing, and expression…just how to think about music. I am so grateful to him. He and his wife also had a flat in Paris, and I would often visit them. Sadly he died a couple of years after I left England to come to live in Canada.

Canada and Onwards

After being married in 1974, we decided to emigrate to Canada. When I arrived in Canada in 1975, I had to begin all over again to make contacts. But soon I was playing with the National Ballet Orchestra of Canada, and was able to go on tour out West, to see the beauty of Alberta and British Columbia. The following year I played with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and this time went on tour out East. So, now I had seen the expanse of Canada in one short year! Beautiful! Work was plentiful in Toronto, and I was also involved in playing in the Cecelia String Quartet for a few years. A wonderful opportunity to play all the string quartet repertoire that I love so much. I played with the Canadian Opera Company, The Toronto Chamber Players conducted by Agnes Grossman, and Sinfonia Mississauga conducted by John Barnum.

In 2000, I found myself beginning to compose again. I suppose I knew that someday I would do this, but it happened in such a sudden way, as I found myself beginning to work on a major piece for choirs, soloists and orchestra, called Oratorio Terezin. The writing of this piece filled my life for about three years, as I wove together the poetry of children from the holocaust with portions of the Hebrew scriptures. I don’t think I have ever felt so ‘commissioned’ by God to do something. It was as though I really had no choice! Truly I would say that my life has never been the same.

In the midst of writing the Oratorio, I wrote another work – The Seven Last Words of Christ for spoken voice, orchestra and solo violin. In 2002, I performed and recorded this with Sinfonia Mississauga. In 2003, Oratorio Terezin ,was performed in Toronto. I led the orchestra, and Kirk Trevor conducted. (Kirk and I were at Dartington together, as well as at the Guildhall School of Music). Many of my wonderful colleagues from Toronto performed in the premier performance in Toronto. The Oratorio was subsequently performed in Europe, Israel and New York. Performing Oratorio Terezin was the focus of my life for five full years. Wonderful!

Another long-time performing colleague has been conductor, Noel Edison. For many years I have been the concertmaster for his Elora Festival Orchestra and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir Orchestra. Playing the choral repertoire is one of my favourite things to do! In so many ways, the choral repertoire brings together the many aspects of who I am as a musician.

In  2009, I wrote and recorded “Awakening- A Symphonic Vision”.  I chose Bratislava, Slovakia to record, collaborating with the Slovak Radio Orchestra, and conductor and friend, KIrk Trevor, who had performed the Oratorio during the Oratorio tour in 2004. The Bratislava Boys Choir and the Slovak Chamber Choir also performed, as well as the wonderful baritone from Indianapolis, Kyle Ferrill.

I have been blessed to be able to experience so much, and to be able to share all that God has given me with audiences all over the world. I am so grateful. Not only do I write music and play the violin, but I also sing and lead worship in my capacity as a Christian worship leader. In the past few years, this has taken me all over Europe, US and Canada as well as to Israel.

Since 2011 I have spent much time in  Israel, and I could never have imagined the doors that the Father would open for me. You only need to click on the ISRAEL tab at the top of the page, to see all that is going on now! What a privilege it is to find myself  in the centre of God’s heartbeat.  Every day is new!  

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