“Former wunderkind”. “Class Act”. “A firecracker”. These are only a few of the innumerable descriptors from awed and intrigued former students. For decades, violinist LINDA SHARON CERONE was one-half of “The Cerones”, a veritable teaching institution that consisted of Linda and her husband, violinist David Cerone. Faculty members at Oberlin, Cleveland Institute of Music, and ENCORE School for Strings (which they founded in 1985), Mrs. Cerone has mentored many of today’s most important soloists, orchestral members, chamber musicians, and current pedagogues. Her students speak of Mrs. Cerone’s innate wisdom – her complete understanding of the repertoire, the psychology of speaking to and molding a student, and her irrepressible charm. As a bonafide child prodigy, Mrs. Cerone made her orchestral debut at age 8 with the Dayton Philharmonic (Mendelssohn), and embarked on myriad of solo tours for the next fourteen years. Married in her early twenties, her priorities shifted, and teaching was the name of the game for the next five decades. With minimal biographical information available about Mrs. Cerone’s past, former student Andrew Sords set out to unearth her memories of Ivan Galamian, the basis for founding ENCORE, and what makes Mrs. Cerone ‘tick’ in the studio – yielding the most comprehensive story of this famed violinist and pedagogue to date.
Andrew Sords – You’re from Cincinnati – describe your musical upbringing in southwest Ohio.
Linda Sharon Cerone – When I was three years old, I would go to the piano and play the songs that I had heard my older sister practice. My mother, who was a Curtis Institute of Music graduate with a double major in piano and composition, asked me whether I would prefer to study the violin or the cello (the piano not being an option as she felt it would be better if my sister and I studied different instruments). Opting for the violin, I studied briefly with a Cincinnati Symphony violinist, but it was my mother who offered the most guidance. I remember her experimenting with various violin methods, one of them being Maia Bang, and actually teaching herself in the process. I then was fortunate to study with Paul Katz (who taught at the Cincinnati Conservatory as well as the Conductor for the Dayton Philharmonic). He was a devoted teacher (with a penchant for scales) who had studied with Leopold Auer, and we frequently drove to his home in Dayton for extra lessons, which were at least two hours long. I hated to practice, loved to perform, and had to be reprimanded by my mother for yawning during lessons. After years with Mr. Katz and frequent recital performances and appearances with orchestra, I attended the Meadowmount School of Music and studied with Ivan Galamian. Mr. Galamian offered to teach me in New York (for the second time, since I previously played for him in New York at age 7), but this was not something my family wanted. Mr. Galamian recommended that I study with a former student of his, Walter Levin, who (with his La Salle Quartet) was joining the faculty of the Cincinnati Conservatory. Walter taught me in his home, and arranged a piano trio with Jimmy Levine and Bob Martin, which he coached for three years before I went to Curtis.
As for early orchestral experience – at age 6, I played for Eugene Goossens who offered to take me on tour, and I performed regularly with the Cincinnati Symphony under Thor Johnson (who also led the orchestra in a short composition of mine) and Max Rudolph (with whom I also read sonatas).
AS – What is your first musical memory?
LSC – My mother rehearsing Leonard Bernstein’s “I Hate Music But I Love To Sing” with another member of the Euterpe Club. Also, her rehearsals with another Euterpe Club member – the Gabriel Faure Op. 13 violin sonata.
AS – What came easily to you as a violinist, and what did you have to work on?
LSC – Lyricism was part of my nature. Dedication and focus were not.
AS – As a child, tell me about your practice habits.
LSC – They were ‘enforced’. I remember my mother hiring a conservatory student to practice with me when she and my father had to go away before an important orchestral performance. I would excuse myself from these sessions on the pretext of using the bathroom, during which time I would climb up on the refrigerator so that I could reach the clock and push the minute hand ahead – then go back and tell him that our time together had elapsed. I think that this person, if he noticed, probably appreciated the almost effortless salary he was earning. When my mother returned, she was horrified at the state of my violinism. Oh, how I admired Jimmy Levine’s inated dedication and ability to sit for hours at the piano.
AS – At the Curtis Institute of Music [in Philadelphia, PA], you worked with Ivan Galamian. How many years did you work with him, what is your fondest memory, and do you think of him often to this day?
LSC – I worked with Mr. Galamian for seven years as a student at Curtis and for 19 years as a faculty member of the Meadowmount School of Music [Galamian’s summer music school in upstate new York]. Not a day goes by that I do not think of him with the deepest gratitude. Not only was he a superb teacher, but a model human being. He was infinitely wise, kind, and dedicated – and he had a rather wry sense of humor. Were it not for him, I likely would have chosen a career outside of music.
AS – Fill in the blank – “My most exciting performance collaboration was…”
LSC – That blank is impossible to fill. There were so many meaningful collaborations which were exciting because of the opportunity to learn from and share with colleagues. But the first really exciting performance (other than my debut with orchestra at age 8 which was more frightening than exciting) was my performance of the Prokofiev Concerto in g minor with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. I had prepared thoroughly, and the rehearsals and performances were pure pleasure.
AS – What drew you to teaching?
LSC – I had always envied people with any type of musical career, perhaps because my father had forbidden my mother to lead any type of professional life, and he was against my doing so as well. So, when I married and moved to Oberlin, teaching was a natural and logical option.
AS – The ENCORE festival was touted by many as THE summer home for string studies. What was the inspiration in founding this iconic festival?
LSC – When my husband was asked to become President of the Cleveland Institute of Music, we thought that this would be an opportunity to begin a summer school in the Cleveland area. Thanks to our experiences with Mr. Galamian and to Mr. Cerone’s experiences with Mischa Mischakoff at Chautauqua, we felt qualified to do this. ENCORE turned out to be a great joy for both of us.
AS – As your former student, I can vouch for your discipline, involvement, and mentoring of your students. What moves you most in the studio?
LSC – Simply the ability to prepare a student to do justice to a work of art. The discipline and technique are essential to arriving at a high level of sensitivity.
AS – In the studio, you uniquely used the Locatelli “Caprices” and Ysaye “Dix Preludes” – for the conservatory student reading this, what etude regimen would you suggest?
LSC – For a beginner, in progressive order: scales and arpeggios, Sevcik Op. 3, Trott Double Stops, Levinson “Introducing the Positions”, Sitt etudes, Mazas two etude books, Dont Op. 37, Kreutzer, Dont Op. 35, Gavinies, Paganini Caprices along with the Ysaye Preludies and Locatelli, Ernst etudes. There are certainly other etude books of value, but those that I have listed are the ones with which I am most familiar.
AS – Fill in the blank – “If I could vacation anywhere for a month, it would be…”
LSC – That’s a no brainer. Right at home in our ‘paradise’ on Siesta Key. We have been to so many of the United States and fabulous cities in Europe, South America and Asia (often for professional purposes), and have enjoyed every moment. We and a group of friends still keep up the tradition of traveling to many exotic places.
AS – After an illustrious performing and teaching career spanning several decades, what prompted retirement, and what musical endeavors are next?
LSC – After 65 years of playing the violin, I felt that this was enough. Also, our marriage has been the top priority in my life. Mr. Cerone was an extremely effective President at CIM for 24 years – rewarding albeit demanding. After completing a $40 million Capital Campaign to build an important new facility for CIM, it was time for us to retire.
Since retirement, our summers have been filled with masterclasses, teaching engagements, and adjudication. I recently took out my violin so that I could warm up for a few weeks in order to perform with my husband at our son’s upcoming wedding. This was at the request of our son and his lovely fiancée that we felt we should honor. However, I suspect that the violin will return to its somnambulant status after the ceremony. We have had many requests for private lessons, and we might entertain the idea under special circumstances.