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What did you do with your first Oberlin summer vacation?

MV: I have my own master class in the Czech Republic, in Litomysl, the birthplace of Smetana, for three weeks every summer. Last summer three students from Oberlin participated along with students from Denmark and Sweden. I limit the summer class to 12 students. They have lessons every second day, and we have many concerts.

With such an international roster of students, do you find differences in students' early training? Do some countries do a better job of preparing young violinists than others?

MV: I don't think so. You can find good training and bad training in any country.

Have you ever taught other string teachers?

MV: In Gothenburg once a year they bring together string teachers from Sweden for lectures and to play together. I worked with some of them and conducted an orchestra made up of these teachers. The Royal Academy of Music in Denmark started a similar project the last few years I was there, inviting violin teachers and their students. The professors at the academy taught the students in open sessions while their teachers observed. Afterward, the academy professors discussed different ideas about teaching with the violin teachers.

Let's talk about your own teachers. You studied with Julius Remes at the Brno Academy of Music and with Jaroslav Pekelsky at the Prague Academy. Were there other teachers who were as influential?

MV: Definitely. My first teacher, Josef Povysil, was a concertmaster in the opera orchestra in the town where I was born, in Ostrava. His lessons were quite unusual; he treated me as a friend in spite of my age of 6. The lessons were longer than usual - two, three, four hours at a time once a week - but full of fun and very enjoyable. Because of that, my practicing time was also very playful and fun, and I didn't have the feeling that I had to practice. I looked forward to taking the violin and just enjoying it. I studied with him for six or seven years. I think generally the first teachers you have are the ones who have the most extreme influence on you. They can give you so much or they can somehow discourage you. That was an essential time for me.

What was the most important thing that each of them taught you?

MV: Povysil gave me the very good start. He and Remes were pupils of a famous pedagogue, Otakar Sevcik, who wrote exercise books and taught a number of world-famous violinists - Jan Kubelik was one. By virtue of their having been Sevcik's pupils, Povysil and Remes both gave me very solid technical teaching. Remes was very good in analyzing technical difficulties students were having and finding solutions that could help them.

And Pekelsky?

MV: Pekelsky taught me to be independent.

What does independence mean to you, as a musician?

MV: I try to teach students - all who make music, not just soloists - to think for themselves. It can't be that interesting if you have fought for independence since you were 13, 14, and then go on the rest of your life taking lessons all the time. This doesn't make any sense to me. I think it's good to discuss things but not to be taught all the time. It's nice to exchange ideas, exchange the experiences we have. We teachers need it too.

Have any of your Oberlin students inspired you to additional points of view regarding a piece of music or a certain interpretation of that music?

MV: Yes, definitely. We musicians have very strong ideas about how something should be played, but there is no one way to play something, fortunately. I think it would be very boring if everyone were to play the same way. It's a question of being able to see the possibility in different ideas and to accept them if they are good. It's a question of being open to other ideas, the art of accepting the other's ideas.

What inspired you to begin teaching?

Milan Vitek MV: I started to teach when I was studying at the academy in Prague; friends of mine who were teaching at the Prague Conservatory were going on a concert tour and needed a replacement. I found the work fascinating. It's new all the time, with new students who have so much to learn; it's fascinating (and it can be frustrating) to see their development under your tutelage.

Was the language barrier a difficulty when you went to Denmark, or were you already speaking Danish?

MV: No, I did not speak Danish at all then; I spoke German. As a matter of fact, before I left Denmark to come to Oberlin, one of my colleagues gave a speech for me, and he said, "It is such a pity that you are leaving us now when we are just starting to understand what you are saying."

Do you have any opinions about the future of violin musicianship or the art of training young violinists?

MV: I feel confident. Teachers have to be aware that they have the future and the livelihood of young people in their hands. It's necessary for us to feel that responsibility and do the job well to help them achieve their goals.

Your students study with you for years. They embark on their careers, and some day look back and think of you as a prime influence. What do you hope is the one piece of advice that will resonate with them?

MV: Besides bringing them to a high level so they can make their living later on, which I think is very important, I am most interested in giving them some kind of endless interest in working to improve, to keep the level of their playing as high as possible. To never be satisfied with less than the best they can do. I want them to believe in themselves and to be happy as musicians, because there are too many musicians who are frustrated. I think after all this it is a pity for them not to enjoy this beautiful music that they play.

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