A Letter to Jascha Heifetz

10.02.2012 § 2 Comments

I like Noh theatre and Japanese music. This morning while driving to work, instead of having my CD play, the WFMT radio station got turned on by mistake, and violin music flew out in such a passionate and expressive way that it stopped me from switching back to the music I had intended to play. I was awed by the impact made by the contrast: while my mind was ready for the stoic theatre of the east, the powerful music and the violinist’s prowess seized me. I stayed in the parking lot to finish the concerto just to find out who was playing. It was Jascha Heifetz playing Tchaifovsky’s violin concerto in D major with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the 1957 RCA recording.

Ah, yes, Heifetz, one of the greatest violinists of all time. I wrote to him once, his identity unbeknown to me.


In the second year of my graduate study at Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio, a bunch of Chinese music students came to study with a well known Chinese music couple who taught at the school at that time. Most of the Chinese students were from accomplished music families and were already proficient. I admired their musical abilities and often volunteered to make snacks for their recitals. The year was 1979 when China was still very plain fashion-wise. One of the violinists was from Beijing, a daughter of a great brass musician. I don’t remember what she wore in those days, not Mao’s suit but definitely not gowns for her recitals. I anxiously offered her two of my evening gowns, and she gladly accepted. I remember one of the gowns was an orange chiffon with a V-shaped collar. She later gave me a picture of herself sitting in front of a grand piano, resting her chin on her right hand and wearing that gown. So she knew that I would help her if she ever needed anything.

The next year, she came to me and told me that she wanted to go to California to study violin. I did not ask why, but she needed me to help her write a letter to the professor she wanted to study with because her English was almost nonexistent. I gladly agreed, though my English was marginal then; writing a simple letter was not that much of a task. We were still using the manual typewriter in those days. The image of that letter and the carbonic letters are still vivid to me until this day.

By happenstance I ended up living in Chicago and ran into my violin friend who was already a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. We got reconnected, and I invited her to come to my house to give a few tips to my boys who were practicing violin at that time. They admired Heifetz, so as we chatted on the subject of Heifetz, she said to me, “Do you know you wrote to Heifetz?” I replied, “What?”

It turns out that the professor she went to study with in California was Jascha Heifetz. She told me Heifetz was astonished that she spoke no English, saying, “but you wrote me a letter.” Ha Ha, that was not the first time I had ghost-written for people. Maybe I will tell more of those stories later. According to my friend, she was one of, if not the, last student of Heifetz.

Jascha Heifetz

Jascha Heifetz

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