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Randall Goosby: The Greatest See Greatness in Young Violinist

Mike Lawson • • April 10, 2019

“There are many opportunities that have come my way that didn’t have to happen,” says violinist Randall Goosby. “They happened because people were generous and kind enough to make them happen.”

Goosby is a brilliant young musician, and no amount of generosity or kindness would have propelled him to his level of success if he were not so remarkable and hardworking. Yet, he’s right to acknowledge the support he’s received. If his parents had not poured time and resources into Goosby’s development, he would never have studied with celebrated musician Philippe Quint, who in turn led the young musician to study with Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho, who paved the way for Goosby to earn scholarships to Juilliard.

Most recently the winner of the Young Concert Artists Auditions in New York City, Goosby is now a Master’s degree student who also devotes time to the Opportunity Music Project, which provides instruments and lessons to underserved youth in New

York City. He also performs with Concerts in Motion, a program that brings live music into the homes of housebound music patrons who can no longer attend concert hall performances. When we spoke, he was also gearing up to perform Bach’s Concerto for 2 Violins with the Grand Rapids Symphony, alongside his teacher Itzhak Perlman.

How did you get started playing violin?

When I was about six, my mom asked me and my younger siblings what instrument we wanted to play. Both of my siblings chose piano, but for some reason, I randomly blurted out “violin.”

So, my mom took me to a music store in Jacksonville, Florida, where we were living at the time. We asked about learning violin, and the man at the counter said, “I think he is too young and small to pick up the violin.” We didn’t know yet that many of the world’s top players start when they’re two or three. In the meantime, I took piano lessons for a couple of months, but I said, “Mom, this is not it.” So, we found a Suzuki teacher in the area, and it all started from there. I couldn’t put it down once I picked it up.

How far did you go with that first teacher?

After about a year, my teacher said, “He’s progressing much more quickly than I would have expected, and he should find a teacher who can further advance his playing.” To this day, I’m grateful for that. My teachers always really had my best interests at heart. My mom very early on saw potential in me, too. I don’t know how, because she basically learned about it alongside me; she was always sitting next to me and taking notes in my lessons, and paying close attention, which was a huge part of my success I would say.

Who was your next teacher?

We found a teacher, Routa Kroumovitch-Gomez, at Stetson University in Daytona, about an hour-and-a- half from Jacksonville. My mother made that round trip every week for a few years. Then as I was getting into middle school, we moved to Memphis, and things started to get busy, because my mother and I started flying to New York and back once a month after we met Philippe Quint.

Philippe is a Juilliard graduate, and I had taken a couple of weeks of lessons with him at a festival in Colorado in 2007. My mother, again, was sitting in on my lessons and saw that we had some sort of chemistry. That was enough for her and my father to ask Philippe to take me on as a student, knowing that he lived in New York and maintained a very rigorous soloist schedule.

My mother and I would fly up for one weekend a month to New York. We’d leave on Friday night or Saturday morning and have a three-hour lesson with Philippe on Saturday, where my mother took notes and recorded the lessons with a video camera, so I could refer to them later. I would practice Saturday night, go back for another lesson Sunday, and then fly home. I made enormous progress for the first couple of years, and I got my first full-sized violin during that period. It was made in China and my mother ordered it off eBay for $200.

Then I went to my lessons with Philippe—a world-famous violinist— and he was like, “What is this?” Philippe put me in touch with the Stradivarius Society in Chicago and I was fortunate enough to be loaned an amazing instrument: an Italian violin made by Giovanni Maggini in 1590. I was 13 years old with a 400-year-old instrument.

How did it work for your family for you to do all of that travel?

It was a huge sacrifice, honestly. Things got pretty difficult financially, and it was taxing for other reasons. That’s a pretty rigorous schedule for a 13 year old.

How long did you keep that going?

I spent about three years with Philippe, and then my progress started to plateau for a number of reasons, the first being that six hours of lessons per month crammed into one weekend is far from ideal. It was difficult for me to retain and build upon the things we did in the lesson for a month after that without seeing him. Philippe saw that I needed more consistent regular instruction. He encouraged me to apply for the Perlman Music Program, the six-week intensive music school that was founded by Itzhak Perlman’s wife, Toby Perlman, on Shelter Island every summer, and I was accepted.

What was the Shelter Island program like? Can you take us through typical day?

We had 7am wakeup and breakfast. Then one of the faculty there would lead us in stretches and warmup exercises to get us ready for all the playing we were going to do. Starting at 8:30, we had four hours of practice; we would do four 50-minute increments, each followed by a 10-minute break, and then we’d have lunch. After lunch everyone had a slightly varied schedule, including private lessons, chamber music coaching, and rehearsals. We played in string quartets, quintets, or trios, which was new to me at the time, and I absolutely fell in love with that kind of collaboration.

Then we would have chorus rehearsal. Chorus is a big part of the curriculum there because the Perlmans have found that singing and breathing— all that’s required to produce a healthy sound with your voice—does wonders for your playing. Then we had dinner, and after dinner we would have two or three hours of orchestra rehearsal, led by Mr. Perlman. We’d finish about 9pm or 9:30, have an hour or two to socialize with our friends, and bedtime was 10:30 or 11.

What was it like working with Itzhak Perlman?

My first day on campus, Mr. Perlman was in the lunch line getting chicken nuggets— the same as everyone else—and kids were passing by, tapping him on the shoulder, saying, “Hey, Mr. P!” Inside, I’m going, Whoa! Do you know who that is? Mr. P? I was shaking in my boots a little, but all of the violinists take lessons from Mr. Perlman, and in my first lesson I realized he’s one of the most approachable, down-to-earth people I’d ever met.

I remember he said that he practiced three hours a day on average till he was about 18, and after that point, he didn’t practice regularly because he was on such a heavy performance schedule that he was playing for hours each day anyway. He was also so naturally gifted that, after a certain point, he didn’t need to think about what he was doing; he was just responding to the harmonies and how the music made him feel.

At the time, that was something I was not very comfortable with. I was technically focused on what my hands and fingers were doing, but he said, “You work these things out in practice, but when you’re onstage, you’re not thinking about that. You’re enjoying, you’re feeling. There’s give and take with your collaborators.”

That first summer I spent at Shelter Island was the turning point to where I knew this was what I wanted to do. It was my first time to be around people who were like-minded in terms of interests, passion, and skill level. When my parents came to pick me up, I had tears in my eyes, because it had been such a transformative experience.

Meanwhile, Philippe advised my parents to email the Perlmans for advice about my future, and they did. The Perlmans were pleased that they did, because they do not discuss a child’s future unless the parents inquire about it. My parents told the Perlmans about Philippe and our situation before coming into the program, and the Perlmans answered,

“We’re glad you’ve written to us. We want to help.” What came out of that was a scholarship to the Juilliard pre-college program.

What did that program involve?

I started flying every week to New York. I had a generous sponsor from the Perlman program that covered my travel and accommodations. I’d have a full day of classes, lessons, and rehearsals every Saturday, including a weekly lesson with Mr. Perlman or Catherine Cho. Many of my friends who went to the Perlman summer program were already enrolled in the pre-college program, too.

After you progressed to the college level, what were some of your most formative experiences at Juilliard?

I continued studying with Mr. Perlman and with Catherine Cho all through pre-college and my undergraduate studies. Catherine Cho was just as integral to my development as Mr. Perlman. Her approach was more detail-oriented—not as intuition based—but she really helped me find and cultivate my own voice and bring out what I feel is meaningful in anything I play. I studied with her and Mr. Perlman through all four years of undergraduate studies. I switched to a different teacher for my Master’s, but Ms. Cho is always that voice in the back of my head.

What has it meant for you to win the Young Concert Artists Auditions?

They provide professional artist management for three years under a contract. So, soon I’ll begin performing mostly solo recitals as a part of their roster. I’m also still very involved with my string quartet at Juilliard. We’re going to the Perlman program this summer as an ensemble. I used to be of the mindset that I wanted a traveling solo career, just like Mr. Perlman, but I really have fallen in love with chamber music playing and I would love for that to be a big part of my livelihood.

I know you’re doing a lot of outreach, too. What does it mean to you to give back through music?

I consider myself incredibly lucky. I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for countless people who had my best interests in mind. And in this day and age with so much turmoil in the world, I’ve found that music is a universal rock that people can lean on. Hopefully I can use that platform to spread the same love and energy that I’ve been blessed to receive.

Journalist Barbara Schultz has been writing about music production and performance for 25 years.

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