a tribute to Susan Allen
I’m 93 now; I have an active studio of darling piano students who come to me each week to learn how to play. I follow the method started by a young Japanese man, Shinichi Suzuki, following the close of World War II. He was saddened by the ravages of the war; he felt that music would gladden minds and heal broken hearts. So he started his music school in Matsumoto and his following is world-wide now. Susie, however, needed no one to point the way for her. No anesthetic was used when she was born; I just wanted to be totally present when she arrived and I was totally rewarded in welcoming this beautiful little person. At two months she gurgled her greeting to her older sister. Her independent thinking started with that first greeting.
She always thought of herself as a teacher, I think. She always thought of herself as a teacher, I think. When she was about seven, I received no answer when I called her. I feared she was in trouble somewhere. I remember the sense of dread as I rushed through the house and around the yard, looking for her. Swinging around the corner of the room, there she was, with four little neighborhood children, ages 3 to 4, quietly sitting in front of a blackboard in the play room, listening intently as they tried, albeit with little understanding, to comprehend what Susie was saying to them! No one moved a muscle! They just sat there and stared at her . . . so much for the comprehension!
At five, Susie attended a school where French was taught along with English. She became enamored with the language and with the stories and pictures of Paris and the countryside. “I’m going to Paris some day,” she would say. And so she did!
At 13, Susie announced, “I want to play the harp”. She had studied some piano, but the harp remained a fascination. She had heard a lady at church, Suzanne Balderston, play the harp. Her father said that would be impossible. Her mother said we will just rent a harp and see. At 14 she had her first orchestra rehearsal at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara with Maurice Abravanel. She said afterwards, “I put my fingers on the strings and they just fell right through!” The conductor had said, “Miss Harp, please play good and loud so I can hear your mistakes!” She said she always wanted to make the harp an instrument for the 20th Century, not just leave it as an instrument for the 18th Century with just 18th Century glissandos to listen to!
Under Susie’s direction, the kids at the Academy would eat lunch under the trees and make up funny things to say - - - for Maurice: “More-eats-above-a-navel” and the names of operas: “The Tragic Fruit”, etc., etc. She accompanied the person who later became her step-father, Jeffrey Angwin, as they performed together, “The Sephardic Songs”, written for baritone and harp by Nuevo-Tedesco. Improvisation dawned gradually in her total being as her life unfolded.
And she went away to college, first to New England Conservatory, and then Cal Arts, where she stayed for more than 30 years. She has gone from my gaze now, but never from my experience of her as a loving, delightful, curious child and impeccable musician! I can go to her grave now and think back so many, many years . . . And she did make the harp an instrument not only for the 20th Century, but for the 21st Century as well!