22 years ago, when he first moved to CT from Fairfax, VA to become the director of the University of Hartford’s Hartt School Community Division, Michael Yaffe had a clear vision of everything he was hoping to accomplish in his tenure at his new job. His belief in and love of children, his passion for music and his continual search for quality and excellence made this union a good fit. One of his first ambitious projects at Hartt was to bring on an expert in the field of Early Childhood Music Education, and to hire a violin teacher trainer for the existing Suzuki Program. Having a 6 year old daughter and a son on the way, it could have been interpreted as a selfish plan, but if you know Michael, that is not a possibility.
The Community Division became almost as dear to Michael as a third child. He provided opportunities for growth for both students and faculty and figured out what it would take to continually raise the bar for all of the programs offered through the school. We were continually encouraged to think how Suzuki could interact with the rest of the school and not be a separate entity. His dedication to the Suzuki department however, was very apparent to all as the years progressed and there were suddenly 10 full time Suzuki positions with benefits.
A native of New Haven, CT, Michael felt strong ties to the area and was delighted to be back in New England to try and work his magic. And magic is what happened under his directorship. The Suzuki program grew from approximately 75 students in violin, cello and piano, to a staggering 400 students in piano, guitar, bass, cello, viola and violin with the addition of flute in September ‘08. Five levels of string orchestra have emerged from the original one he condoned, as well as a guitar orchestra. Michael always believed anything was possible if you had the idea, the organization and the follow through. Under his administration, the Hartt Suzuki Institute was started as well as the long-term training program which now includes guitar. Whenever he advertised for a position, he was not only looking for high standards but a whimsical element as well.
Since Michael believed wholeheartedly in community, he was always coming up with ideas about how to collaborate. He helped the Suzuki program blend with the traditional programs within the school, the college faculty and the entire University network. He made sure the greater Hartford community knew what Suzuki was and was always offering to have our students perform for a wide variety of organizations.
He cultivated a healthy relationship with the Hartford Symphony, even now being an active Board member. His biggest coup was convincing the conductor to invite our Suzuki violinists to perform the Bach Double on the same concert with Sarah Chang.
Enrolling his son and daughter in the Suzuki program was both intimidating and exciting. It was a definite declaration of his belief in the Suzuki Method. As a Suzuki parent, he was exemplary and championed the cause, attending all workshops, Institutes, as well as making the ultimate sacrifice and bringing his two children and wife Gail to the Pan Pacific Conference in Sydney in 1994.
At a recent tribute to her dad, his daughter Emily said “My dad believes that all children should be able to have the same opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have.” The Fund for access, an endowment that provides tuition assistance to students with demonstrated financial need, was a favorite project of Michaels. Michael wrote grants to find funds for Suzuki programs started in conjunction with the Salvation Army, The Boys and Girls Club and the Jumoke Academy.
In order to gain additional funds for the various inner city programs developed under his supervision, he developed a Summer Concert series in collaboration with People’s Bank at which his community of Hartt students performed every Thursday evening in June.
From Melinda Daetsch, viola coordinator
I came to the Hartt School in Sept 2002. I was excited about joining the Hartt school faculty and especially excited to be part of the Hartt Suzuki program which was (and is headed by my former teacher Teri Einfeldt, who together with her late husband David were so important in my own development as a young musician.
I had heard many good things from Teri about Michael Yaffe, then director of the Hartt Community Division, and when I first met Michael at my job interview I was impressed by his welcoming, sincere, and engaging manner. I felt completely free to share my vision and ideas, and I even found myself talking about long range plans for things I hoped to accomplish at Hartt. Though 9/11 had occurred only 9 months before and there was a moratorium on any and all Hartt school trips as a result, Michael listened with interest as I proposed a student concert tour of Switzerland and France. I had been offered the opportunity to bring my State College, PA Suzuki Tour group to the 2004 National Swiss Suzuki Conference, and was eager to offer this opportunity to the Hartt school as well. It would have been easy for Michael to tell me that there were more important things to consider in coming to a new job than mounting a student European tour in the wake of an international terrorist disaster…however, he was very encouraging to me, and told me that if there was a way for this to happen, it would happen.
I was to become familiar with Michael’s inability to “rain on the parade” over the years. No matter how crazy an idea might sound, he was always ready to listen. In fact, after I was hired, and had come to the school, it was Michael who suggested that the fledgling VIOLA Tour group take the 2004 European tour opportunity! His suggestion gave the viola program an immediate shot in the arm and immense motivation to excel and grow. I wouldn’t have even thought that the viola group would be ready in such a short amount of time, but Michael had faith! The trip was a huge success, and the viola program took off! (The Hartt Viola program has grown from about 15 students in 2002 to 45+ students in 2008!)
My father (a retired Ithaca College administrator) once told me that the role of a good administrator is to sneak around catching people doing things RIGHT. In the years that I was fortunate enough to work under Michael Yaffe it was clear that he was always sneaking around looking for what was going right, congratulating us on our good work, bringing out the best in us, making us feel appreciated and vital, and inspiring us to do more.
Of course for me personally, one of the biggest perks of moving to New England for the Hartt job was the fact that for once I would be living in an area of the country in which I could root for my beloved Red Sox baseball team with impunity. (Try growing up in upstate New York as a Red Sox fan!) Much to my dismay however, I found that as rabid a Red Sox fan as I was, Michael was an equally passionate Yankees fanatic. This could have spelled total disaster; however Michael was always especially gracious (ehem) to me on the topic of baseball. Especially prior to October 2004, and most specifically, up until the third game of the pennant that year. But I digress….
Michael’s daughter Emily and I shared this love of baseball as well, and since we worked together in the viola program we decided to use our love of baseball to further our artistic vision for the viola group. Michael supported our efforts whole heartedly and was in the stands with his wife Gail applauding every season as the Hartt Suzuki viola ensemble marched out onto the ball field to play an 8 part arrangement of the National Anthem for the New Britain Rock Cats, the farm team for the MN Twins! (While taking the viola ensemble to play at Fenway might have been a tad too much for Michael, and going to Yankee Stadium was right out of the question for me, we dreamed of going to the major leagues, and I am convinced that it will happen someday. After all, the New Britain Rock Cats are always moving starters up to the Twins, so why shouldn’t the viola players move up too?!)
There are many more things that could and should be said about Michael, but one last thing that I especially want to mention is his devotion to the Fund for Access at the Hartt School. The Funds for Access program provides funds for students who could not otherwise afford lessons. Michael is a true champion of making a quality arts education accessible to all, and I know that he is continuing to pursue this at Yale. He not only believed in the Funds for Access program on a philosophical level, he was committed on a personal level. I have students in my studio at Hartt who are recipients of Funds for Access scholarships. When it became known that Michael was leaving the Hartt Community Division, the mother of one of my scholarship students came to me and said, What are we going to do? Every week when we come for our lessons with you, Michael comes out of his office and talks to me and the kids in the hallway. We are going to miss him so much. He always took the time to talk with us and he was so interested in my kids!
Yes, Michael always has time for everyone…from individual students, and their families, to colleagues, faculty, and staff. He provided the Hartt School with HEART and great warmth of spirit, and it was a real privilege to have been able to work under his leadership.
From Carmen Irons, lower strings coordinator
My tribute to Michael is a bit personal…it is because of him we have a thriving Suzuki Cello department at the Hartt School and I have the career that means so much to me.
I gave my lecture recital (for the Long Term Pedagogy Degree) back in 1996…it was of one of the first two lecture recitals for the Long Term Training Program. Michael attended the recital and said it was whimsical…fortunately, Michael was willing to take a chance and allow this whimsical person to help develop Suzuki cello at Hartt.
Michael had the vision to see that cello would be a vital part of building the orchestra program and expanding chamber music, both of which were important contributions to continuing David Einfeldt’s legacy at Hartt. As are result of all these efforts, the Hartt cellists are actively performing within and outside of the Hartford community. One of our cellists will be representing Hartt and the state of Connecticut at the National Youth Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC this summer. We were also able to bring a group of cellists to participate at the World Suzuki Conference in Turin, Italy.
Michael also helped to get Suzuki Bass started at Hartt, under the direction of Domenick Fiore. One of our young bass players from those early years is now enrolled in the College of Music at Hartt.
I want to conclude by saying Michael, we are indebted to you…on behalf of the cello families at Hartt and from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
From Malgosia Lis, piano coordinator
I remember very vividly the first time I met Michael. It was 1996 and I was standing outside Michael’s office waiting for the interview for the position of a piano teacher. I was a nervous wreck (as I am now) knowing FOR SURE that my English was going to fail me and I would not be able to string two sentences together that make sense.
I was reassuring myself thinking that’s OK, I will survive this, I will probably not see him for many months. Of course, the meeting turned out to be the easiest interview on earth.
Little did I know that I will see Michael constantly. In fact I almost fainted a few weeks later when I saw him walk into the first rehearsal for our Hartt Piano Monster concert, a collaboration concert between all piano faculty at our school. I thought to myself “he plays piano too?!” I think our favorite piece then was Wagner’s “The Ride of Valkyries” After that it I saw him everywhere, he was at the orchestra concerts, at the piano concerts, at the musical theatre performances, at group class concerts, at all Suzuki Institutes.
Sometimes it almost seemed like he must be cloned because it was SURELY not possible for one person to be in so many places in such a short space of time. He and his lovely wife Gail were not only there but they always had a good word for everybody.
Michael was the link that connected our many departments together. His presence reminded us that we belong to one big family.
Thank you Michael for starting and expanding this huge family.
From David Madsen
I have been teaching in community music schools for 30 years, and I recently counted 7 directors that I worked for. Michael was far and away the easiest one to work for. He had the ability to find the right person for a given job, and then stand back and let that person do the job. He is a great administrator.
Collaboration was a favorite theme for Michael at the Hartt School. He helped connect the community division to the college and various arts groups in the area. Because of these connections, my students were able to play in masterclasses with world class players, including this quartet who played for the Romeros.
When Michael left Hartt to go to Yale, we organized a tribute concert to honor his accomplishments. This video shows the result of a collaboration between the Suzuki guitar program, the Suzuki bass program, the dance department and percussion.
Thank you , Michael!
Between his work with the National Guild, the National Association of Schools of Music, and the Connecticut Alliance for Arts Education of which he was a founding board member, Michael constructed pathways to insure the inclusion of the Suzuki method into a wide variety of venues for the benefit of a great number of people.
In October of 2006, much to our dismay, Michael left the Hartt School to become the Associate Dean of The Yale School of Music, having completed everything that he had written out on his list 22 years earlier.
The Hartt Suzuki faculty and families will forever be grateful to all of his work in making the Suzuki department at Hartt a comprehensive program in which local, national and international collaborations are a natural occurrence.
The Yaffes stand for excellence and believe that Every Child Can! yet do not take themselves too seriously. Their children, violist Emily and cellist, Nathaniel, embrace their parent’s philosophy and wanted to be present today in some capacity.
An editorial published in the Hartford Courant when Michael announced he would be leaving the Hartt School started with the headline, “Take a Bow Mr. Yaffe”.
Congratulations Michael. It is your turn to publicly “Take a Bow” in front of the National Suzuki Community.