If you’re a musician and you have a young child, do you start him on an instrument? If so, is it the same instrument you play? If so, do you teach him? Or do you make sure your kids steer clear of the musician’s life?
These are questions we ask ourselves all the time regarding our three kids! But a generation ago, Nathan’s parents were asking them. And Nathan’s father’s father asked the same questions a generation before that.
So in this special episode, Nathan takes advantage of a parental visit to chat with his parents about all this and more, including the path they chose for him through the Suzuki landscape of the early 1980s.
Nathan Cole: Hi, and welcome back to Stand Partners for Life.
Nathan Cole: This is a very special episode because today I have none other than my two parents here with me. Usually I’m saying “hi” to Akiko and thanking her for being here, thanking a guest for being here, but in this case I might as well say, “Thank you for bringing me into the world.”
Nathan Cole: But why don’t you guys say hello?
Gordon Cole: Hello.
Khristine Cole: Hello.
Nathan Cole: They’re visiting from Kentucky, where I grew up. Yeah, it’s a treat to talk to you guys because you’re really the only two that know most of the real story about how I got started on the violin. As Akiko and I have mentioned in some previous episodes, both of you guys are musicians, professional musicians, and that, of course, had a certain bearing on my growing up. But talk a little bit if you would, each of you, about just a quick overview about how you grew up and got started in music.
Nathan Cole: Who wants to start?
Gordon Cole: Well, I’ll start. My father was a flutist in the Philadelphia orchestra. The school that I was attending, grade school outside of Philadelphia, gave students an aptitude test at the end of third grade, and we were assigned instruments, and we were supposed to come back then for the beginning of fourth grad and play in band. My father had in mind that I should be a horn player, and he had arranged for Mason Jones to give me lessons. But the school sent me home as a flute player.
Nathan Cole: So Mason Jones was at that time-
Gordon Cole: Principal horn in the Philadelphia orchestra.
Nathan Cole: Okay.
Gordon Cole: But the school decided I would be a flute player since they knew that my father was a flute player. So my brother became the horn player, and I became a flute player. Nice.
Nathan Cole: Now you didn’t study with your dad right away.
Gordon Cole: Yes.
Nathan Cole: Okay, in the beginning you did.
Gordon Cole: Yes, I have no memory of what lessons may or may not have been like. He had me play on a Moennig flute that he had purchased in Europe on one of their trips. It was wooden with plated keys and a plated head joint, metal head joint. I can’t imagine what the band sounded like ’cause there were at least three metal clarinets-
Nathan Cole: Metal clarinets.
Gordon Cole: … in this grade school band. They were pretty common after the second world war, but I can’t imagine what the band sounded like and, thankfully, I have no memory of it.
Nathan Cole: So how was it studying with your own father?
Gordon Cole: Well, I really don’t remember much of anything until we moved from Philadelphia to Wisconsin, where my father taught at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. During my teenage years, evidently I was not very receptive to any sort of suggestions that he might have on how I should play something, so he farmed me out to a very good teacher in Madison for my sophomore and junior years, maybe ninth grade, I don’t remember.
Nathan Cole: Can’t imagine not being receptive as a teenager to your parents. To jump to your part of the story too, Mom, but you studied with your dad then in college.
Gordon Cole: Yes, and senior year in high school, I decided that I was mature enough then to take his suggestions as that and not as criticisms, personal criticisms. So I switched back to studying with my father my senior year in high school, then also at the university.
Nathan Cole: Okay, and-
Gordon Cole: For two years.
Nathan Cole: Mom, you were there. Actually take us there first if you would, from how you started.
Khristine Cole: Okay. Well my story’s not nearly as interesting as yours, but very similar, I think. We had a program also in our grade school where the high school students would come and demonstrate the band instruments, well and the string instruments too.
Nathan Cole: And where were you growing up?
Khristine Cole: This was in Janesville, Wisconsin. When the flute player played from the high school, I was just blown away, and that’s what I decided I wanted to play. So I brought a flute home and took to it really, really well, although the instrument that we had rented was not in very good condition, and it kept breaking down. My dad said, “Boy, if you break this flute one more time, that’s it.”
Khristine Cole: So eventually they discovered that it wasn’t a very good instrument and got me a good one, but … I played all through middle school and high school and really, really enjoyed it. It was a real release for me. I needed something outside the academic structure to keep my interest going. And I met Gordon’s father when I went to summer camp in the seventh grade.
Nathan Cole: Oh wow!
Khristine Cole: And was very impressed with him. And maintained contact through summer camp, and then when I decided that I wanted to be a music major, ended up going to the University of Wisconsin where he was teaching.
Nathan Cole: And you guys had met maybe briefly before starting college at the same time?
Khristine Cole: We did. We met as seniors. I was in the youth orchestra, the Wisconsin youth orchestra, and Gordon’s brother John was playing horn in it. So I met John, and then one of the other fellows in the orchestra introduced Gordon and I.
Nathan Cole: Okay.
Gordon Cole: Mother took an immediate dislike to me.
Khristine Cole: Oh, you always say that.
Nathan Cole: Well, it’s so funny, ’cause the same with me and Akiko.
Khristine Cole: That’s true!
Nathan Cole: She took an immediate dislike to me.
Khristine Cole: Right, right.
Nathan Cole: Well, good how these things work out. Well, eventually something changed in school, right? You had the same teacher, you were thrown together a certain amount and started taking a liking at some point.
Gordon Cole: Well, I was taking lessons and playing in the band, but I was a geology major my first year in school.
Khristine Cole: Oh yeah, I forgot.
Gordon Cole: And because my dad had said, “Music is hard, there’s not a lot of openings, so if there’s anything else that you would like to do, do it.”
Nathan Cole: Right.
Gordon Cole: And I had liked earth science in high school, so I started out as a geology major and just hated it. The big lectures, and I enjoyed being around the other music majors, and so then my second year, I changed majors and became a music major.
Nathan Cole: Did you, Mom, I mean did you both pretty much go into school thinking that you wanted to perform at the end of your studies, or was it less certain?
Khristine Cole: I wanted to be an orchestral player. That was my goal. The more I studied, the more I realized that the competition was pretty fierce. Lots of flute players, very few jobs. I thought more about just becoming perhaps a college teacher or having a large studio.
Nathan Cole: And how about you, Dad?
Gordon Cole: I hadn’t really thought that far ahead. And then when they had the first draft lottery and I got a low number, I wrote the service bands in Washington, and the Army had an immediate opening. ‘Cause none of the bands knew whether or not they’d have an opening when I graduated, and I didn’t want to be drafted. So I flew out to Washington and auditioned and got into the Army band. So I quit school at the end of the semester and was in Washington for three years in the band.
Nathan Cole: And so you would have been how old?
Gordon Cole: Well, I was 19.
Nathan Cole: Wow. And so, Mom, you stayed in school, finished your bachelor’s degree.
Khristine Cole: Right, right.
Nathan Cole: Okay.
Gordon Cole: Then we got married when she graduated.
Nathan Cole: Okay. Where did you get married again? In Janesville, right?
Khristine Cole: Yes, uh huh.
Nathan Cole: And so then you joined Dad in DC?
Khristine Cole: Right. Right.
Nathan Cole: And we were just there as part of our tour, actually, I was … Did you live in Arlington?
Gordon Cole: Yes.
Nathan Cole: Okay. Yeah, we did a little run, Akiko and I.
Khristine Cole: Oh, did you?
Nathan Cole: Went by there, so we were remembering that you lived there.
Gordon Cole: Yes.
Khristine Cole: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: And what was your term of service?
Gordon Cole: It was a three-year commitment.
Nathan Cole: Okay.
Gordon Cole: For the Army band. The other bands were four years, but they didn’t have to go to basic training. The Army band was only three years, but you had to do basic training like anyone else in the Army.
Nathan Cole: I mean, I would be terrible at that, but what was that like?
Gordon Cole: Well, it was a lot of running and obstacle courses, and shooting. You had to be experienced once with tear gas.
Nathan Cole: Oh, right. That’s when you said they made you go into a room with your masks on and then at a certain point they released the gas and-
Gordon Cole: Well, I’m not even sure we had masks. We went in with-
Nathan Cole: That’s hard core.
Gordon Cole: … with our eyes closed and then they made sure that we opened our eyes.
Nathan Cole: And that was to teach you the consequences of not wearing your masks?
Gordon Cole: Yeah. I’m blessed with a poor memory, so we may have had masks that we took off. I honestly don’t remember.
Nathan Cole: And I remember you mentioned at one point, too … I forget if it was during basic training or after, but there was some contest between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Gordon Cole: And that had occurred before I got into the band.
Nathan Cole: Oh, okay.
Gordon Cole: People usually had to requalify on their weapons, but the band always scored so high and evidently embarrassed a lot of the military district of Washington, and so they stopped having the band members requalify on their weapons before I got in.
Nathan Cole: Why do you think that was?
Gordon Cole: Well, it could be because we knew we weren’t gonna have to go into combat and we could shoot without worrying about it at targets. Or it may have been because we are used to concentrating and often have good eye-hand coordination. Or we’re good at following directions. I have no idea. But all I know is I never had to requalify.
Nathan Cole: And, Mom, what were you doing during this time, during these couple of years?
Khristine Cole: Well, I took over some of Dad’s teaching that he had established before we got married, so I was working at a couple of music stores teaching, probably about 20 students a week.
Nathan Cole: Twenty?
Khristine Cole: Yeah. We had a lot of flute students in that area, and quite a need for teachers, so …
Nathan Cole: And had you been teaching at this point yet, Dad?
Gordon Cole: Yes, I actually started teaching perhaps senior year of high school.
Nathan Cole: Okay.
Gordon Cole: The teacher that Mother and I studied with couldn’t take all of the students that wanted to study with her, so she and Dad agreed that I was probably qualified to teach some of the young ones. So I would teach on Saturday mornings, and when I left for the Army I had 20 students.
Nathan Cole: What do you remember about teaching at that age?
Gordon Cole: Well, I just used my father’s philosophy, which was always have them do scales and exercises and be very particular with how they were to do it, not let them get away with anything.
Nathan Cole: That’s good.
Gordon Cole: And he said, “Give them four lessons and if they’re not following your suggestions, get rid of them.”
Nathan Cole: That’s good. I like this. What about you, Mom?
Khristine Cole: I started, I think I might have been … Gosh, maybe ninth or tenth grader when I started giving some lessons to people that wanted to start. And I was just thinking when Gordon was talking about starting his students. I believe I charged $1 a lesson when I started.
Nathan Cole: Wow!
Khristine Cole: And that was great. But it was the same thing. I was very interested in making sure that my students started with a good sound, because so many of the other kids in the band didn’t have a very good sound, so I wanted to really concentrate on that. And I also wanted to make sure that my students could read music. There were so many people in my band that couldn’t read music. They were just listening to other people, and they couldn’t count, I guess. So that was always something I was real fundamentally interested in.
Nathan Cole: That’s reminding me of … well, so the three of us have one more thing in common, that we had the same college conductor, Otto-Werner Mueller. I had him at Curtis and you guys had him 30 years earlier in Wisconsin. One of the things he would say wasn’t about reading music or not, necessary, but if you weren’t looking up at him for key moments, he would yell out, “Otherwise you are relying on your stand partner, who is also wrong.”
Khristine Cole: And he was right.
Gordon Cole: The way, at least for us, that he would mark the parts, I don’t see how anyone could get lost, ’cause he would rebar measures rest to correspond with phrases instead of 42 bars of rest. He would write in a few notes of the cue. It was wonderful.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, even I remember him changing rehearsal letters and rehearsal numbers. He had a real fetish about that, and he was right. A lot of publishers would just put them in anywhere they’d put … I guess one thing that I still see all the time now is the rehearsal letter will be at the beginning of a bar that has a pickup at the end. He would claim, and I think rightly so, he would claim that when dumb orchestra players, when we saw the letter, we’d play that downbeat really strong, when it was actually the next downbeat that should be.
Khristine Cole: Ah, yeah.
Nathan Cole: You know, I think he had something there. Well, so here we are. Mom has her bachelor’s and, Dad, you don’t have any degree at this point.
Gordon Cole: Correct.
Nathan Cole: You finished your term in the Army and then what happens?
Gordon Cole: Well, Mother encouraged me to apply for a TA position. It was actually not TA, it was an adjunct position at the University of New Hampshire ’cause they were looking for a part-time flute teacher.
Nathan Cole: Now can I ask, at that time … I mean now it seems like every teaching position is adjunct. I mean there’s fewer and fewer full teaching positions now, but back then was that also the case where a normal teaching position was adjunct?
Gordon Cole: Only at the smaller schools. New Hampshire was not really a large school. After I left, I can’t remember the time frame, but it became a full-time position incorporated with teaching theory.
Nathan Cole: And so you got that.
Gordon Cole: Right. I got that because two of the faculty members there had gotten graduate degrees at Wisconsin and knew my father and had people that they could call to find out what my playing was like. They thought there was a good chance that I would stay there for at least three years, since I didn’t have a degree, and I would have the benefit of the G.I. Bill, and they were correct. So I got a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree, actually in history, because they didn’t offer a performance master’s degree there.
Nathan Cole: Music history?
Gordon Cole: Music history, yes. So I studied with myself, I guess, for two years.
Nathan Cole: The best kind of study.
Khristine Cole: Right.
Gordon Cole: I had the opportunity when I was in the Army band the first year to take a series of six lessons or so with Julie Baker up in New York, but they could only be with his schedule once every six weeks or something. I needed something more regular.
Nathan Cole: Was he principal of New York at that time?
Gordon Cole: Yes, Yes. So then for the next two years, I arranged semester, not weekly, but 12 or 13 lessons a semester, with Britton Johnson in the Baltimore Symphony.
Nathan Cole: Okay. And you did that on your own?
Gordon Cole: Yes.
Nathan Cole: And after New Hampshire, you got the job in Lexington, Kentucky, which is how me and my sister came to be. And did you keep teaching in New Hampshire, Mom?
Khristine Cole: Yes, I taught quite a few students in New Hampshire, and did a little bit of teaching at the university too. I did some extra students that wanted to take that Gordon didn’t have room for.
Gordon Cole: And you taught at Phillips Exeter Academy.
Khristine Cole: Yes, I taught, yes.
Nathan Cole: Were there any auditions during these years?
Gordon Cole: I took four auditions when I was in the Army band and nearing the time when I’d have to decide to get out or re-up, which I never considered. And those four auditions convinced me that I did not have the nerves or the concentration or preparation skills or technical control to survive a good audition.
Nathan Cole: Did you ever work with your dad for auditions? I forget.
Gordon Cole: No.
Nathan Cole: Or any of the lessons you were taking, was that more on solo repertoire, or was that orchestra sometimes?
Gordon Cole: It was both, yes. We didn’t do any solo stuff, really, it was all orchestral excerpts and etudes. I was enjoying teaching at the college level, and so I decided that that’s probably really what I was cut out to do.
Nathan Cole: And was there anything particular about the Kentucky position that was attractive, or just it was available?
Gordon Cole: They offered it to me.
Nathan Cole: That’s always-
Gordon Cole: And it included a woodwind quintet, which I had really enjoyed in New Hampshire.
Nathan Cole: Oh, right.
Khristine Cole: And the school seemed to be well-funded. They seemed to have a lot of money for all kinds of things in the music department.
Gordon Cole: Scholarships.
Khristine Cole: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: Well, had you always planned on having kids right away, or did you-
Khristine Cole: I think we were like any other couple. We kept waiting until the time was right, and then there comes a time when you think, “Well, we better just do this.”
Nathan Cole: Yes, so it’s exactly the same.
Khristine Cole: Yeah, exactly.
Gordon Cole: You know, when we were in the Army, we didn’t know what was going to happen afterwards. And then, New Hampshire, knew it wasn’t full-time and it wasn’t going to pay anything after I wasn’t getting the G.I. Bill anymore.
Nathan Cole: Right.
Gordon Cole: Then once we felt settled in Lexington and, as Mother says, the timing was right, then …
Khristine Cole: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: So now we get to make it all about me. This is my broadcast.
Nathan Cole: No, actually, this is still gonna be about you because there’s so much I don’t know about how you helped start me on the violin. Then what I think I remember, but this is just secondhand from you, so I just asked about playing something because all your friends were musicians. It seemed like everybody was a musician and that’s just what you did?
Khristine Cole: Well, it was helped along by all these Suzuki teachers that we knew that, when they would see you, they would say, “Well, Nathan, when are you going to start playing the violin?”
Nathan Cole: Oh, Okay.
Khristine Cole: I mean, it was that prompting that started it. There were probably five or six different people that were asking you that question all the time when you were three or four years old.
Nathan Cole: It seemed like there were a lot of Suzuki teachers and Suzuki camps around Lexington.
Khristine Cole: Yes, there was a real hotbed of Suzuki-ism there.
Nathan Cole: Huh! And when I started there did you have to think very much about Suzuki versus non-Suzuki, ’cause people agonize about that nowadays.
Khristine Cole: No. I didn’t at all. I had heard a touring group of Japanese children when I was in college at the University of Wisconsin. Marvin Rabin had brought in a group of Japanese Suzuki students that just blew my socks off. They were maybe six and eight years old, playing the Bach double and switching parts, and marching around, one person playing their bow on another person’s violin. It looked to me like they were having a blast, and I thought, “Gosh, I wish I could have done that at that age. That looks like so much fun.”
Nathan Cole: That’s nice to hear. I feel like, a lot of times when people think about the group aspect of Suzuki, they think it’s like the military, it’s like drilling. But from reading what he actually wrote, it’s supposed to be fun.
Khristine Cole: Yeah, it just looked like a ball to me, and we would never had considered starting you on conventional violin, especially at that age, at four.
Nathan Cole: So yeah, what was it like? ‘Cause we’ve just started Hana, who is now five years old, we started her last summer in Suzuki. As a parent, and I don’t teach her, she has a wonderful teacher, Laurie Niles, but I practice with her and so does Akiko, and it seems so slow going. What do remember about those beginning stages?
Khristine Cole: Well, first of all, I felt like we had to make a commitment to do whatever the teacher said, even if I had a different idea about how things should go. I decided we would have to be totally committed to the Suzuki system, and we did do everything that the teacher told us to do. I didn’t think it was that slow, actually. I knew they were trying to make things interesting and fun. But there were so many skills involved, I mean just the way that you needed to stand and hold the violin when you weren’t playing, and the bow grip and everything. It just seemed like there was a lot going on, so the actual playing aspect of it, I thought went along pretty quickly.
Nathan Cole: And does the usual system, I supposed, where in the beginning it wasn’t even a real violin, right? It was cardboard box with a-
Khristine Cole: Right.
Nathan Cole: And only group lessons to start?
Khristine Cole: No, there were group and private right away, right from the beginning.
Nathan Cole: Okay. And you were the one, Mom, usually practicing with me? Or always practicing with me?
Khristine Cole: Right.
Gordon Cole: I practiced with you one time.
Nathan Cole: One time?
Gordon Cole: I can’t remember, I think Mother was over in Frankfort teaching, so it fell upon me to teach you. You had your do and done jar, and you took something out of the do jar and played it and said, “How was it?”
Gordon Cole: And I said, “Well, what did you play?”
Gordon Cole: And you said, “Mother looks I the book.”
Gordon Cole: So I get the book, and there’s two or three different Suzuki books in there, and I didn’t know what you played so I couldn’t look it up. And I said, “What was it you?” And you said, “Well, Mother can read music. Can you read music?”
Nathan Cole: And I didn’t know the name of the song, probably?
Gordon Cole: Oh, I imagine you did.
Nathan Cole: I just wasn’t saying.
Gordon Cole: Eventually I found it, but I may have had you play it again while I was looking at the music so I would know what you were doing.
Nathan Cole: And did you always have your flute out when-
Khristine Cole: Quite often, yeah, I did. I didn’t know any other way to try and correct your pitch or slow you down if I needed to, so …
Nathan Cole: Oh, so were you playing with me?
Khristine Cole: Often, yes.
Nathan Cole: Oh, okay. Doing things over again? Because it’s pretty hard to get Hana to do anything over again.
Khristine Cole: Yeah, there’s a real fine line there between keeping you happy and engaged and turning it into drudgery. Sometimes we’d say, “You need to do this five times.” We used stickers and things like that to make sure you kept focused and happy.
Nathan Cole: Okay.
Khristine Cole: But given a choice between making you do it a bunch of times and keeping you happy, it was always keeping you happy.
Nathan Cole: Okay. I sound like a terror when I’m mad.
Khristine Cole: No, you just lose your focus once it becomes a chore.
Gordon Cole: We wanted you to enjoy music.
Nathan Cole: Yeah! No, that’s great. That is what we want for Hana too.
Khristine Cole: Sure.
Nathan Cole: There are days at a time when it seems like she doesn’t, even if we’re trying to keep her happy, but …
Khristine Cole: Yeah. You have your periods of time where it’s more a chore than anything else, but that’s when you just have to come up with a new twist on things.
Nathan Cole: And did, ’cause people always ask me, or they’ll tell me actually, “You must have loved playing right from the beginning.” Or, “Did you ever want to quit?” And that, I just don’t really know the answer to those.
Khristine Cole: Well, for sure, you never wanted to practice.
Nathan Cole: Okay.
Khristine Cole: Which I don’t think any kid does. We used several different approaches to get you to practice. And once you got your violin out, you always enjoyed it. But it was just initially getting it out and getting started. And there was a time, I think in junior high, when your friends were out playing basketball and you were inside practicing, where you thought a little bit about not playing. But I think you enjoyed youth orchestra and the camps that you were going to so much that it was a toss-up which way it was gonna go.
Gordon Cole: And you never practiced that long. Luckily you took to it quickly and could learn things right away, so we didn’t have to drill you over and over. Or Mother didn’t have to drill you over and over.
Nathan Cole: Well there was so much. We had the Suzuki records and tapes. I was supposed to be listening to that.
Khristine Cole: Right.
Nathan Cole: All the time, and the idea was to imitate what you heard on the recording. It did allow things to progress pretty quickly without any note reading or anything like that. And that … At what point, at a certain point, you guys decided I needed to learn to read music ’cause they were so slow about it in Suzuki at that time.
Khristine Cole: Well, yeah. I really felt like you should have started learning reading music long before you actually did. But, once again, we decided we were gonna stick to whatever the teacher said to do. And at that time, I think they were wanting to wait until you could read well academically. Most kids weren’t starting to learn to read until a little bit later.
Khristine Cole: Now you were an early reader, so I think we could have started you a lot sooner. And the Suzuki approach to learning to read notes was really a scatter gun approach. It was like they tried to teach everything at the same time. Notes, rythym, all kinds of things all at once. I just decided it was too much all at once, so we broke it down into a little bit smaller aspects, and you caught on very quickly, so …
Nathan Cole: I sort of remember some early sight-reading just being terrible for me ’cause I could play things without looking at the music so much better than I could … All of a sudden, when I had to read music, I felt like I was going back to book one again.
Khristine Cole: Oh, okay. Well, what I remember is when you could read music you were very confident about what you were playing. They had this little ensemble group that got together after they introduced note reading and played very simple music. I thought I saw you playing with a lot of confidence when you could read that music.
Nathan Cole: Oh, okay. Now how much time are we talking practicing like in the beginning?
Khristine Cole: Ten or fifteen minutes.
Nathan Cole: Okay. All right, good, so we’re not that far off track with Hana.
Khristine Cole: No, no, huh uh.
Nathan Cole: ‘Cause that’s about all we can-
Khristine Cole: Yeah. You’ve got to just use the window of opportunity that you have. And that’s a pretty long time span for somebody that’s four or five years old.
Nathan Cole: Any my first teacher, Donna Wiehe, who I stayed with through all the ten Suzuki books until I was what, ten or eleven?
Khristine Cole: Yeah.
Nathan Cole: How hard was it to find her starting out, and then how did you know that she was the one to stay with for so many years?
Khristine Cole: Well, she had some excellent students, and she was highly recommended by the other Suzuki teachers, so that’s why we started with her. And, as far as staying with her for as long as we did, you were making pretty fast progress and we decided that the logical place to end that relationship was when you finished book ten, which was then you were what? Ten then?
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I think so.
Khristine Cole: Yeah. So-
Nathan Cole: And hardly anybody stays that long-
Khristine Cole: No.
Nathan Cole: Even then, I think. And now, never.
Khristine Cole: Yeah. Yeah. We could have switched earlier, but it just turned out to be a good time and a good place.
Nathan Cole: What were her special skills as far as relating to children?
Khristine Cole: She was very patient and she really understood the fundamentals very well. Was always, you probably remember, she was always on you about straight bow, and she just never let up on those things. She was real consistent about that kind of thing, and very excited about the literature and the classes and the recitals, and very complimentary of the older students that she had, and wanting you to look up to those students.
Gordon Cole: She also supplemented the Suzuki material with other things to keep you around longer.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I remember all the ragtime stuff and some double stop etudes that seemed to impossible in the beginning.
Khristine Cole: Right. And Polish dance with you called polish dance.
Nathan Cole: I know I have a recital, a Suzuki recital, from when I was seven years old … yeah, I think seven years old … that I’ve digitized and have on my computer, and when I look at that, I just think … Well, for one thing, I don’t change facial expressions ever, and I just look like I’m mowing through the stuff with not much care.
Khristine Cole: Well, yeah.
Gordon Cole: You never let the notes get in the way of the tempo.
Nathan Cole: But performing, from what I remember, there was a lot of performing, even if it wasn’t all formal. There was just constantly getting up in front of the group and playing a song.
Khristine Cole: Right, yeah. There was a lot of community stuff too where they would take groups of you and have you play here and there. I’d say every group lesson that you had every week, you would play for a small group of people, so …
Nathan Cole: ‘Cause I look back on that now and think how nice that was to just have performing be something regular, routine. There’s a point … you mentioned junior high, and somewhere around there, those performances started to get more laden with meaning somehow. Nerves start to become a factor, which they never were at that age.
Khristine Cole: Right.
Nathan Cole: There is that moment around middle school or early high school where they’ve got to decide, or their teacher or parents decide, to tackle the harder repertoire and put in more time. I know in my case putting in more time was relative. I think maybe a maximum of two hours practicing.
Gordon Cole: You never got up to that. Maybe when you were to memorize the stuff for Curtis audition.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I think for college auditions that I was.
Gordon Cole: Otherwise, Dan was always hoping you would do an hour.
Nathan Cole: Now that would be Dan Mason, my teacher after Mrs. Wihi, who was your colleague at the University of Kentucky. He was also a wonderful teacher. He had studied with Heifetz out here in the 70s. Working with him was very different. For one thing, it was longer lessons, not always by design.
Khristine Cole: That’s true.
Nathan Cole: It was great. He didn’t exactly charge us the market rate, if I remember correctly. He’d just go as long as you waited to pick me up. And didn’t I beg you to make sure and come on time?
Khristine Cole: Yes, you did.
Nathan Cole: Ring the doorbell.
Khristine Cole: You did, often. Make sure that you’re there right at the hour.
Nathan Cole: And he eventually would catch me looking at the clock and so he would start putting every clock at a different time.
Khristine Cole: Oh my gosh.
Nathan Cole: Would turn into like an M. C. Escher thing. What do you remember about him, as far as steering me toward getting more serious, or not steering me?
Gordon Cole: Well, we made it clear to him that we didn’t necessarily expect you to become a professional musician. We wanted him to keep you enjoying playing the violin and enjoying playing music. That’s the whole point.
Khristine Cole: Yeah, he was very good at keeping you interested. I think he talked a lot of history. He did a lot of physical things with you too, stretching and warming up, and things that you were interested in.
Nathan Cole: Really?
Khristine Cole: And he was able to tell you a lot of stories about Heifetz and things that he’d done. I think he just kept your interest intellectually. I mean, he was a good teacher too for you at that point. But yeah, he was able to keep your interest and keep you focused.
Nathan Cole: And what about other parents? I know Akiko’s mom always had to … Or what’s a better way to say it? The format of her lessons would be all the parents bring the kids to Julliard or Manhattan school or wherever it might be. And they’re all sitting around one big room or waiting area, and one by one the kids go in to have their lessons and the moms are vying for favor and constantly trying to suss out who’s got what concerts coming up. Did you interact much with other parents, and was that ever difficult or tense?
Khristine Cole: No. It was a very community-oriented group of parents. I think everybody was interested in everybody else’s kids, what they were doing outside of music. I think the Suzuki program promoted that good citizen type student. They wanted good character and wanted to make sure that you weren’t bragging about which song you were on, and that kind of thing. It was a very supportive community. I never felt any competition or any jealousy or any self-serving amongst any of the parents.
Nathan Cole: That’s nice. I know there were some kids around my age either from Lexington or nearby, and they were kind of doing a different track, really traveling for lessons.
Gordon Cole: We didn’t see any reason to drive you up to Cincinnati for lessons. You can get the same schooling information in Lexington.
Khristine Cole: Well, you had other things that you were interested in too. You were playing tennis and chess and doing some other things. We wanted to make sure that you were doing all the things that you wanted to do rather than just one thing that we might have wanted you to do.
Gordon Cole: Honestly, you would have quit if we would have tried to encourage you to take a whole Saturday to go up to Cincinnati just for violin stuff.
Nathan Cole: Well, and I remember when I would have started going to my first summer programs. The idea was always kind of floated, maybe by Dan, to do one of the programs like Meadowmount or I think eventually Encore when that got started. I remember just being terrified of having to do something like that where everyone practices for four or five hours a day.
Gordon Cole: And so we were very careful to find places that were not like that.
Nathan Cole: Not the practice prisons.
Khristine Cole: Yes. Yes.
Nathan Cole: Now was I playing for any other teachers around this time? I mean, were you trying to get me to … were you seeking other opinions? I know that in the summers I had to have a lesson at least every summer with Marilyn McDonald because you were playing in the Peninsula Music Festival with her, and she was on faculty at Overland.
Gordon Cole: While we were in Lexington, unless Dan would have you play for someone else, no. We weren’t looking to have you play for anybody else.
Nathan Cole: Do you remember a time where it seemed like I wanted to get more serious about things? And I ask mostly because this is a very important question for either the students themselves or their parents. They always want … you know, what’s the time, what should we be looking for. And of course, it’s going to be different, I imagine, for everybody.
Khristine Cole: I think when you came home from that camp in Washington, DC, that-
Nathan Cole: Oh, when I was 15.
Khristine Cole: Yeah. I think you had decided that you really wanted to play in an orchestra.
Nathan Cole: That’s funny. That’s what I remember myself too.
Khristine Cole: Yeah. Before that, I don’t think there was any real strong desire to do it more than just what you were doing, playing in an orchestra at the high school level or the college level or something. But it seemed like after that camp, after hearing the national symphony and participating in that camp, that that’s when you decided that’s what you wanted to do.
Nathan Cole: And then when it came time to look at schools we just sort of took Dan’s advice and tried to include at least one university that wasn’t a conservatory?
Khristine Cole: Right.
Gordon Cole: We knew that we wanted you to audition at Curtis, if you could, ’cause there was no tuition.
Nathan Cole: Yeah!
Gordon Cole: And it was a fabulous school, and your grandfather had gone there.
Nathan Cole: Right.
Gordon Cole: Both Mother and I had auditioned, and we were down to the final three, and they luckily chose the third person, or we wouldn’t have gotten married and you wouldn’t be here.
Nathan Cole: I know, yeah. Akiko and I were just talking because part of our recent LA field tour went through Boston, and since Akiko did her undergraduate at Harvard … Back then, Harvard didn’t have a music performance degree and it still doesn’t, so she was there for English. And at that point, honestly, she was just kind of tired of the whole violin thing. So even toward the end of her undergrad, she was applying to law schools. And as we were taking a rainy walk through Cambridge, she saw the law school, and she said, “Yeah, if I’d gotten accepted there, I would have gone.” And then we were thinking, “Yeah, then we wouldn’t have met.”
Nathan Cole: But then we thought again, maybe we still would have met. Maybe she would have practiced law in Chicago or LA or something.
Khristine Cole: True.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I mean it couldn’t have gone any worse than it did when we actually met.
Khristine Cole: Yeah, I feel the same way.
Nathan Cole: That’s probably a good place for us to wrap up. But is there any other recollection you want to add at this point?
Khristine Cole: I think the only thing I’ve been thinking about is, it’s hard when you’re a musician and you have a child, and you think, “Do I want to encourage my child to be a musician, or do I want to not encourage them.” It’s a difficult decision. You’ve had so much joy being a musician that you’d like to share that with your child, but you don’t want to push them. So you’re always walking a fine line there.
Khristine Cole: You’re doing well with Hana. She’s enjoying it.
Nathan Cole: She just had her first performance of a real song, begin Twinkle and its variations.
Khristine Cole: Yes, Yes.
Nathan Cole: Which it sounds like she got through.
Khristine Cole: She did. She did a mighty good job.
Nathan Cole: We were away on tour when it happened, so you guys had to shepherd her though that.
Khristine Cole: We had that privilege.
Gordon Cole: As far as you were concerned, we tried to make it very clear to you that we did not expect you to become a professional musician. It had to be your decision. We weren’t going to be disappointed if you didn’t.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I remember that. I mean, I remember that feeling. Yeah. I just sort of remember thinking that if I had a chance at it, I wanted to see if I would be good enough to do it. But, yeah, I don’t remember any pressure from you guys.
Nathan Cole: One thing I forgot to ask about, did I ever watch you guys teach? ‘Cause I sort of remember, I think I had to be along some of the time, like if there was no babysitter or something. Wouldn’t you bundle me in the car and-
Khristine Cole: We did that when you were very small. We would often, especially in the summer, we’d spread a blanket out even where we were teaching and have one of the students watch you while we were teaching. But you were pretty small.
Khristine Cole: You were often in the living room when we were in another room teaching. I’m sure you heard things that were going on.
Nathan Cole: Yeah, ’cause there’s that story you tell about me barging, or crawling, into someone’s room and-
Gordon Cole: That was … We were looking for a new clarinet teacher, and he was warming up one of the candidates. He was actually from the University of Wisconsin. I didn’t know him, but my brother did. And of course my father did. So we had him out to the house and he was warming up in the back bedroom, just peeling the paint off the walls, and you went into the room and said, “Could you play a little louder please?”
Gordon Cole: And he freaked out. He thought, boy, if this little toddler thinks I’m not projecting-
Nathan Cole: Yeah, I just had heard one of you say that though in a lesson.
Khristine Cole: Oh, I’m sure.
Gordon Cole: Oh, you heard us say it constantly.
Nathan Cole: That’s what I mean. I must have been around somehow.
Gordon Cole: It’s a wind instrument. Put some air into it.
Nathan Cole: Well, it’s nice, when we have auditions here in LA or when we had auditions in Chicago, it’s nice because I feel like I have that sound in my ear from Grandpa and both of you guys.
Khristine Cole: Sure.
Nathan Cole: I know what a quality flute sound is. I don’t pretend to know as well as out flutists, but I feel like there’s some language I have to at least describe what I’m looking for. I just had it so clearly in my ear what’s real and what’s good and what’s not fake.
Khristine Cole: Good.
Nathan Cole: So thank you for that.
Khristine Cole: You’re welcome.
Nathan Cole: Well, that’s great. Thank you guys so much for being willing to sacrifice a little of your vacation time here to come onto Stand Partners.
Gordon Cole: We enjoyed it.
Khristine Cole: Yeah, it was fun.
Nathan Cole: Great. And so we’ll cook some dinner and hope that the other two kids are still napping and just try and survive the evening.
Khristine Cole: We can do it.
Nathan Cole: All right. Thank you, and see you next time on Stand Partners for Life.