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Au revoir Germaine

It is with great sadness that we hear of the death of Germaine Lorenzini. Our company enjoyed a warm and deep relationship with her for many years; it was a privilege to know her. She died peacefully on Saturday, February 4th, 2017, at her home in Lyon.

Germaine Lorenzini

“Teaching is not only something I like and find interesting. It’s much more than that. I am passionate about teaching. It is an incredible privilege for me to be able to pass on my experience – and also to discover a new person, to come to understand each pupil psychologically, to respect them, help them to flourish and to evolve as musicians. It is fabulous.”

A great pedagogue is born, not made. One teacher will proceed pleasantly and competently, and yet you will exit the lesson feeling that you cannot play the harp at all. Another teacher will shout, grab your arms, drop cigarette ash in your coffee, and tell you no, not like that, never again, do it again. And yet – you will leave inspired and rejuvenated, in fiery love with music all over again. It is a phenomenon everybody who has known great teaching will recognise, and it’s certainly something everybody who knew Germaine will recognise, for Germaine Lorenzini was such a teacher.

Best-known as a teacher as she is, it’s striking how little we actually discuss her teaching. Mediocre teachers are praised for how they have helped a student with their technique, or because they are “a really good teacher”, without being more specific. Great teachers are their own, boundless subject. When we remember Germaine, we talk about her. We think of her cooking, her irrepressible smoking, her indefatigable joie-de-vivre, her wonderful disregard for what anyone might think, and her glorious conversation about everything from keystones of philosophy, to usefully expanding the French language (“la nullité de Hollande”). We value her clarity, her rigour and her refusal to compromise. Top-level teachers have to be clear and uncompromising in order to be fair, and Germaine – even if she was giving you the answer you did not want to hear – was always fair. Marked by experiences to the contrary in her own studies, she never humiliated anyone. “Humiliation is what injures people most deeply of all. A teacher has a duty to be constructive, not destructive.” Everyone has their favourite Germaine moments, some public, some private. We all remember her wisdom, her integrity, her warmth, her justice, and her hauteur de vue.

In short, what really makes its mark is a great teacher’s personality. It was also personality that Germaine consistently emphasised and valued in her students.

“Plenty of people can understand or learn to understand music. But without personality, it’s just plucking the right strings. It is the dialogue between the composer’s text and the individual personality which makes a performance unique.” She was truly interested in all her students, and she remained so after their studies with her had ended. She delighted in them, and they were part of her delight in music. “You have the chance to discover a new personality! Each is completely unique. This is such a marvellous aspect of humanity, and music is the same. Music is full of emotion, in all its forms: funny, serious, sensual, austere, intellectual, playful, tragic, overflowing with joy…in music, we find everything that is alive, and which makes us human. One of the functions of great art is to show us that we are not alone.”

Perhaps this was her secret, for it is usually love that unlocks the best in everyone.

In the end, nobody can pinpoint how a great teacher is great, any more than you can define what mysterious boundary an excellent musician transcends, when they emerge as a great artist. But when they are a great teacher, or a great artist, or both – you always know, and you never forget. It doesn’t matter how “educated” an audience is (whatever that means). Everyone immediately senses this quality, this talent, this love.

We will miss you sorely, Germaine, indeed we don’t yet know what we will do without you. But nobody who ever met you, will forget you. You live on in the legacy of wonderful artists you taught and sent out into music, of course. You are also loved and remembered by those of us in the harp world who are not harpists. From Moscow, a technician writes of his sorrow and of his memories; from Germany, an orchestral musician remembers the cigarette he shared with you outside a competition hall. Some people knew you very well, others not so well, but everyone who knew you was touched by you. Whether they were there to play the harp or not, they left you feeling better than they had before. You made us all feel less alone. For an artist, a teacher, or a human being, there can be no greater accolade.

Helen Leitner

One Reply to “Au revoir Germaine”

  1. Carl Swanson says:

    I never knew Lorenzini. Never met her. But I heard over and over again what an incredible teacher she was. About a 4 hour masterclass that she once gave on Tournier’s Au Matin. About her smoking. About her quirky sense of humor. I’m saddened as much as those who knew her by the loss of this incredible personality.

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