Dick’s Forum – No. 4
I met John Coppin in Montebello, California, at a music store where he was teaching. It was about 1952 and my fathers search for a new violin teacher had led him there and to John. John was a prominent member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra sitting just behind David Frisina, the concertmaster. With his bushy auburn hair, piercing eyes and friendly manner I liked him right from our first meeting.
He told my father and I that I was too old to be pursuing a major career in violin playing as most kids doing that were successful advanced players by the time they were my age (fourteen), where as I was just getting started. Although I had taken lessons a number of years I had not progressed and was seriously behind in my development.
About that time a series of things happened that began to change all of that. First, I heard John play the violin. I had never heard such sounds come from a violin. Instantly, I was filled with a passion to be able to create the sounds I heard coming from him. As I studied with John I became convinced I could succeed. I was up at 5:00 in the morning to practice scales for an hour every day before school. Scales in thirds, then sixths, octaves, and tenths. After school, etudes, studies, and concertos for another two to three hours everyday. I lost interest in sports, dating, and any other activity that would not help me perfect my ability to play the violin. I kept this up for the three years I studied with John.
Television was a new invention in those days and one evening I saw the movie “The Magic Bow” starring, I think, Stuart Granger. It was the life story of Nicolo Paganini, the great Italian violinist. The violin music throughout the movie was played by Yehudi Menuhin and, again, I was struck with the sound of the violin - music such as I had never heard.
I also attended a Saturday afternoon concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and that did it!!! As an encore to their concert, the entire first violin section stood and in unison played the Perpetuum Mobile of Paganini from memory. John Coppin, my teacher, was one of them. I sat there with my mouth open, my heart racing in disbelief and wonder. I had just witnessed the winning team score the winning touchdown in the most magnificent manner imaginable.
As I began to realize I was going to create those sounds, my passion for the violin was complete. I was giving recitals, playing as the concertmaster of John’s orchestra the Montebello Symphony, playing on the radio, and performing in a variety of religious activities. I might have started late, but I was catching up quickly.
I studied piano with John and later his sister Marie for about two years. John insisted I learn piano as an adjunct to my violin studies. My parents enrolled me in the Sherwood Music School Course for Piano which included studies in performance, technique, theory, harmony, and history. It was in these activities where I met composer Frank Sanucci, who represented the Sherwood Music School in Los Angeles and composed the scores of a number of Hollywood films. Being around Frank was like being around John. They were high caliber musicians who made me feel that I wanted to be one of their kind of people. They had a calm assurance about who they were and what they were doing that I had never seen at that point in my life. I didn’t see it again until I came to know my Uncle Bob Miller, the Fire Chief of Marysville, California. But that is a story for another Forum.
The stormy relationship with my father continued through these years and began to change when he and my mother were divorced when I was sixteen. Only later did I realize the effect that event had on my life.