Many people can point back to one or two mentors who had a profound impact on their life. For me, that person is Robert van Sice. I met Bob briefly in 2005 while I was still in high school, but I didn’t really get to know him until I attended a masterclass of his at the Juilliard Pre-College in 2006. I watched him teach a group of high school students that he had never met before with an incredible amount of generosity and honesty, and I was blown away by the passion with which he spoke about music.
I reached out to him, and ended up going to Yale to take a lesson with him. He spent something like 3 hours with a young musician he barely knew, and only cut it short because it was Mother’s Day, and his family was in town. Shortly after, I transferred to Peabody, and I studied with Bob both there and at Yale for the next 5 years.
Bob transformed me as a percussionist – he taught me to be an artist first and a percussionist second, that technique was nothing more than a means to a musical end, he taught me to apply principles on instruments I was naturally good at to instruments I wasn’t, and he taught me how to play chamber music – but those lessons feel secondary. What he really taught me was that the only way to do anything in life is to do it with all of your heart and all of your being. He inspired me to work as hard as I could to communicate the voices of countless 20th and 21st-century composers to an audience who had never heard them before, and he is directly responsible for the professional life I have chosen.
Your relationship with Bob doesn’t end when you graduate, and over the past 7 years, I’ve had the honor of transitioning from one of Bob’s students to one of his friends. He makes himself available to all of us whenever we need anything, somehow finding the time on top of his three studios, other professional activities, and his family. He continues to teach by example.
This year, Bob celebrates his 20th year of teaching at Yale, and for the past week, I’ve joined a group of incredible percussionists from the past, present, and future (and Bob himself) to prepare and present a concert in his honor at Yale. It has been moving (to say the least) to see so much talent and dedication in one room, and humbling to realize that Bob has inspired and touched the lives of so many people, just as he did to me.
Our concert is tonight (Saturday, March 3) at Sprague Hall at the Yale School of Music, and is free. It will also be streamed live right here.
Thank you Bob – you’ve inspired a generation of artists, and we’re all more grateful to you than we can express.