Practicing what they teach

Itzhak and Toby Perlman’s music program, which this year takes place in Jerusalem, is all about empowering young musicians and helping them feel at ease with their playing.

ItzhakAndTobyPerlman311 (photo credit: .)
(photo credit: .)
‘The idea behind the Perlman Music Program was somewhat idealistic,” smiled Toby Perlman, the charismatic founder and head of the course, which this year takes place between May 20 and June 6 at the Jerusalem Music Center (JMC), for the first time in the 16 years of the program’s existence. Perlman spoke to The Jerusalem Post in March, when her husband, renowned master violinist Itzhak Perlman, was in Israel to perform with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and she was finalizing the last details of the summer program.
“We wanted to create an environment that would be friendly, healthy, nurturing and noncompetitive, and in which the kids could be what they really are,” she said. “This is what we did, and in this regard our course is unique in the world.
“My husband and I used to send our own children to excellent summer camps,” recollected Perlman, a mother of five. “And each time I visited them I thought that I would have run a summer course differently. So, when my kids grew, I felt it was about time to do other things in my life.
“I do not believe that much can come out of negativity. If you are nice you have a better chance to get somebody to make something... I run the course the way I run my house; I am open and honest, I have some simple rules, and I just expect them to behave in a certain way. You need to be a psychologist. Most of them come from homes where they are the center of everything. Expectations of them to become stars are terrible, while expectations to make their bed and to do the dishes don’t exist. This is an awful burden and it is not healthy.”
The program, Perlman noted, has found ways to make the children feel more at ease. “We are open and honest with them, and already at the end of the first day they know that they have come to the right place.”
The Perlman Music Program summer residency usually takes place at Shelter Island, New York. The program admits kids aged 12 to 18; a two-and-a-half-week workshop for chamber ensembles, oriented for older students, takes place in August. There also is a two-week winter residency in Sarasota, Florida, as well as ongoing activity throughout the year.
“We have a secret to our success – we are a tiny course. The residency admits 42 to 45 students from all over the world, and only eight quartets come to our chamber music workshop,” Perlman said.
Regarding the faculty, Perlman emphasized that “we are not interested in hiring famous performers, because it still does not mean they can teach – and teaching is a gift. Their names probably do not say much to the general public, but are well known in the music world.”
This year, she said, the faculty includes international teachers, such as violinist Cathy Cho, violist Heidi Castleman, cellist Paul Katz, double bassist Rachel Calin and others.
IT WAS at that point that the biggest name in the program’s lineup, Itzhak Perlman – just back from  rehearsing with the IPO – joined the conversation.
“I believe that teaching is not only about what to say, but also [about] what not to say, especially when you are dealing with talented kids,” he said. “Because they try very hard – sometimes too hard – so that they simply squash themselves. Another thing is how to criticize. You can do it positively and negatively. Like, instead of saying, ‘You play it too loud,’ you can say, ‘I think that music here calls for something softer.’
“There is a common belief that the more you practice the better. I say you should practice with a plan. Some kids are too young to know how to practice, and those who do know can achieve better results than those who are even more talented.”
So how does Perlman teach them to teach themselves?
“I try not to show them,” he said, “because they would probably repeat it. But if you can talk to them and then they change their playing – these are their own results. For me, this is a more genuine way of teaching.
“The thing is that quite often people play and think that this is the only way to play it, and they don’t realize they have the freedom to do it differently. This is one of the challenges of teaching – to tell the musicians that they have a choice; to give your student the independence – this is the true goal of the teacher.”

The course, which this year includes 42 students – half from Israel and half from abroad – takes place at the Jerusalem Music Center between May 20 and June 6. It features individual lessons, master classes, orchestra playing, and concerts, as well as other music activities. The gala concert, which serves as the culmination of this inspiring residency, will take place during the Israel Festival at the Henry Crown Hall on June 3. Most of the events are open to the public for NIS 20 per ticket. The full program can be found at Or, you can call the JMC at (02) 624-1041.