I was accompanist to the ultimate violin teacher

I was accompanist to the ultimate violin teacher


norman lebrecht

January 28, 2016

Margaret Pardee, who died on Tuesday aged 95, taught violin and viola at the Juilliard School for 60 years until her retirement in 2008. She was a legend at the school, less formidable than Dorothy DeLay but no less devoted.

The pianist Karen Schwartz, a student at the school, served as accompanist at her classes from 1983 to 1988.

She contributes this personal memoir to Slipped Disc.

margaret pardee

Everyone addressed her as Miss Pardee, the perfect name for a Southern lady. She had a lovely lilt of an accent.

Always seated at her desk, Miss Pardee focused intently on each and every student. She was present, diligent and prepared with index cards reminding her what pieces everybody was playing. Her demeanor could be serious. She was slightly taciturn.

The cat-eye glasses were a little unnerving.

Then as a smile emerged, her whole face would immediately light up. The environment in her studio was audition-like, focused, so professional. Yet there was always a warm feeling, because it was evident Miss Pardee truly loved her job.

Occasionally a student would saunter in, playing one scale for an entire hour. R E A L L Y S L O W L Y.

“No, honey, that’s just out of tune,” she’d say in a singsongy tone.

Other students would waltz in, bursting into song with an entire concerto from memory, a good 30 minutes worth.

“Do it again, but this time hold your instrument up higher,” she’d say in a soft voice. Another 30 minutes elapsed, barely a word said. Lesson over.


Clearly she was preparing her students for the real world, the one beyond the walls of the Juilliard School. Students practiced, perfected and polished their auditions, concert, and jury repertoire with the support of a woman who clearly believed in them.

Steadfast and always supportive, she was revered as a mentor, coach and friend. The ultimate teacher, Margaret Pardee was a pillar of strength to many.

(c) Karen Schwartz/Slipped Disc


  • Kevin Lawrence says:

    She not only loved her job, but she loved her students too – truly a wonderful teacher and a wonderful human being!

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Karen, I remember those days and your work in the studio. Your words are so nice to read, and those were indeed lucky days, weren’t they? Here’s something I remember that few can share: when I took the LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) to Juilliard four days a week from the Hicksville station, the next stop is Westbury. Ms. Pardee got on at Westbury and we used to share nice conversations. Add the #1 subway from Penn Station to 66th Street! She was a formidable personality, and always had a brilliant class of students. I hope her students will share some good memories here with examples of her words and her advice, and recollections of their lessons.

  • Domingo Mujica says:

    Indee Karen !
    Your words are so well put into this article ! Miss Pardee was for many of us “the path to understand how one most play the violin or the viola” in my case, she had so much experience teaching that every thing seem to be simple. I’m really great full for all she did for me !
    Thanks for writing about a great women and teacher !

    • Karen Schwartz says:

      With Miss Pardee’s guidance, your dedication to your art certainly paved the way for a
      very bright future, Domingo!

  • Larry Fried says:

    Marge was concertmistress of the old Great Neck (NY) Symphony when I was the timpanist, in the early ’70s. She had a great sense of humor and everyone loved her, even us “non string” players. We had a very difficult music director in those days — no names, please — and Marge always handled him beautifully.

    The last time I saw her (ca. 1997 or ’98) she was in the audience with a bunch of her students in Avery Fisher Hall listening to the Emerson Quartet play all 6 Bartok quartets in one concert, a Herculean effort if ever there was one. I was in the row right in front of her. After the final note of the sixth quartet ended, we all jumped to our feet shouting “bravo.” One of her (very young) students turned to Marge and said: “Do you think they’ll play an encore?”

  • Steven Frucht says:

    I was a student of hers at Precollege in the early 1980s and at Meadowmount in 1983. She was regal, committed, and had the unique ability of all great teachers to inspire and demand excellence in her students without uttering a harsh word. Much of the Juilliard string instrument collection of violins and their bows is from her bequest. Amazing considering that she used to walk to Juilliard as a student to save the nickel subway fare.

    • Mason says:

      Too bad she couldn’t arrange a heart transplant so you wouldn’t continue playing like a soul less bot. Can’t you do something about those wooden fingers? You display about as much expression as one would expect from a violinist whose fingertips had been injected with novacaine.

  • Braighdan O'Hara says:

    Miss Pardee was a true lady, and a execellent teacher, I personally preferred her over Miss DeLay…and made that very clear to Miss Delay…

  • Irina Ltsiovskaia says:

    I am Russian girl—Irina LESIOvskaia. And i was a student of Miss Pardee in1960—1964/ My father worked in the U.N. i allways remembered her. I love her allways. Students who remember me—find me.Irina lessiovskaia. or Lesiovskaia.