Most musicians can identify the moment they discovered their chosen instrument, as well as the person who introduced them to it. For Christine Danoff, this moment came from her father, a public school music teacher.
When he would practice at home, Danoff recalls, “I would sit on the floor, by the end of the endpin, so I could feel the vibrations. I fell in love with the sound, and with the very human quality of the instrument.”
Many musicians, both young and old, still have that reaction to the cello’s sound. Danoff’s current students range in age from 7 to 65, though she’s had students as young as 4 and a half.
With students who start out very young, Danoff is mindful of their development and level of interest. “It’s something I always concerned about: Have they had enough of it? How much are they personally invested?” With encouragement along the way, she aims to keep even the youngest students motivated and on track.
For her individual students as well as her chamber music groups—she currently has two: one all-cello ensemble and one standard string quartet—she encourages regular performances as a way of getting comfortable on stage and assessing themselves in performance.
“One of the most wonderful things about Settlement is that students don’t have to wait until the big the concert or the big audition to gain experience on stage,” she says. “They have such great access to playing in concerts.”
The intimacy of chamber music among Danoff’s students expands a bit each spring with the “Cello-bration,” which has been held at the Willow Grove Branch’s Open House since 2011. This past spring, the cello choir contained 26 players, the most Danoff had ever had.
Each year, after various combinations of students perform in duets and small ensembles, the full choir always performs “Tango” by Carole Neuen-Rabinowitz, which has become a sort of official anthem for Danoff’s cello studio.
“It’s something I can do for everyone, including my many younger or intermediate students.”
This large-scale experience becomes another way of building a deep connection to an instrument that seems to grab hold of musicians of all ages. Maybe, Danoff says, it comes from the way you hold the instrument when playing it.
“You embrace it,” she says. “You just give it a hug.”