Nell Novak

December 19, 1924 – September 6, 2010
Presented at the Memorial Service by Gilda Barston

My first encounter with Nellie Robin Novak was in 1973. I had met her husband, Kal, at an informal chamber music gathering, and we discussed the emergence of Suzuki cello. I was interested in the method, as was Nell, and in the fall of 1974 we began to team-teach a Suzuki cello group class at the Skokie School in Winnetka. This was the beginning of a long friendship and teaching collaboration.

Nell was active in the Suzuki movement from 1973 through her association with Dr. Milton Goldberg. She implemented the Suzuki cello method at what was then The Music Center of the North Shore (now the Music Institute of Chicago), and joined the faculty of the American Suzuki Institute in Stevens Point, WI, in 1974. The teachers at Stevens Point were revising the Suzuki cello materials, and Nell was instrumental in the development of what is now the Suzuki Cello School repertoire. She served on the SAA Cello committee for over 10 years (several years as chair) and was also on the SAA Board of Directors from 1980-1983. Nell was appointed as a teacher trainer in the early 80s and spent many years sharing her love and knowledge of the Suzuki method with aspiring teachers. She received the Suzuki Chair Award at Stevens Point in 1993 and was awarded the Suzuki Association of the Americas “Excellence in Teaching” Award in 1996.

Nell was a devoted teacher. During her tenure at the Music Institute of Chicago, she worked with students of all ages and abilities. She was equally effective with young Suzuki students beginning at age three, serious pre-professional cellists, and adults. She spent many hours at the school, often ending her teaching as late as 10 PM. Nell held performance classes (she called them “workshops”) every Saturday afternoon, so that her students would have the opportunity to play their pieces and hear the other students perform. Nell’s students were frequent winners in local, national and international competitions. Whenever possible, she attended performances of her students, often traveling to hear them play with symphonies and in major competitions. Her students were devoted to her as well, as you can see by the large group of cellists who are here today. Among her “graduates” are Ani Aznavoorian, Amy Barston, Nicole Johnson, Kate Kayaian, Peter Seidenberg, Wendy Warner and David Ying, to name a few.

As friends, Nell, Kal, Gene and I were frequent dinner partners, often going out to eat following the Saturday “workshops.” Nell was an avid “Do-It-Yourselfer,” building cabinets, laying flagstone in the yard and assembling audio equipment. Nell lent my husband Gene a tool needed for assembling cabinets, and we joked that she always knew where the tool was, as it took Gene ten years to return it.

Nell and I traveled together to Japan to teach at the 1983 World Convention in Matsumoto. As part of the trip, we traveled to Hong Kong (minus husbands). We were joined by Lynn Sengstack. The trio of women (each 20 years apart in age), did extensive sight-seeing and shopping. My role on that trip was to select the activities, Nell picked the best places, and Lynn figured out the transportation. We had a blast!

When we first arrived in Tokyo, we stayed overnight at a large hotel. This was during a period of severe earthquakes in Japan. When we arrived at the hotel, the bellman dutifully showed us the stairs to use in case of emergency. Nell missed the emergency part, and indignantly told the young man that she “intended to use the elevator, thank you!” She was a little embarrassed when she realized what he meant. We all had a good laugh.

At the Music Institute, Nell and I were very close colleagues. In many ways, she was my mentor. I was very fortunate to be able to “pick her brain” by consulting with her about teaching issues and by watching what she did when she was teaching Amy. We often joked that working with Amy was one of her most challenging teaching situations. I still hear her voice and use many of her ideas while working with my own students.

One time at a Suzuki faculty meeting, we were talking about teaching challenges. There were a number of younger teachers at the meeting. Nell was bemoaning the frustrations of working with students who were not practicing consistently. She turned to one of the younger teachers (Blake Brasch) and announced that “It is your turn, now!” He was quite embarrassed, but we all knew that Nell was just venting and that she would never lose her infinite patience!

A Memorial Service in Nell’s honor was held in Winchester, Massachusetts, on October 23. The program featured many of Nell’s “Graduates” performing solos and ensembles: Ani Aznavoorian, Amy Barston, Kate Kayaian, Peter Seidenberg and Wendy Warner. A highlight of the service was an Elegy written especially for Nell by her grandson, Eric Galluzzo (a former Suzuki violin student), and performed by Amy Galluzzo, violin, Kathy Basrak, viola, and Wendy Warner, cello. All are former Suzuki students who forged friendships at Suzuki institutes.
Nellie Novak’s family has requested that contributions in Nell’s honor be made to the Suzuki Association of the Americas. A fund in Nell Novak’s name is being established.

The Music Institute of Chicago, where Nell taught for close to 20 years, is planning a future program in her honor and a scholarship in her name. Details of this memorial at the MIC will be announced shortly.

Nell and Kal were major influences in the growth and success of the Music Institute of Chicago. They were both visionaries in music education (Kal in his passion for musicianship studies and his leadership as Executive Director of the Music Institute of Chicago, and Nell in her role as a teacher). We see their contributions daily as we continue their work at the MIC. I continually feel Nell’s influence in my teaching, and I am proud to say that she was my good friend, colleague and mentor. I will miss her terribly.

—Gilda Barston
October 23, 2010

Nellie (Robin) Novak, formerly of Lincoln, MA, and Northfield, IL, passed away September 6, 2010. She was the beloved wife of the late Kalman Novak, mother of Ann Galluzzo of Leawood, KS, Carol Novak of St. Paul, MN and Susan Vogt of Winchester, MA. She is survived by seven grandchildren (Eric, Paul, Amy, Susan, Chris, Brendan and Ian) and 3 great-grandchildren. The memorial service took place at the Crawford United Methodist Church in Winchester, MA on Saturday, October 23, with a reception following at the home of her daughter, Sue Vogt. In lieu of flowers, contributions in her memory may be made to the Suzuki Association of the Americas, PO Box 17310, Boulder, CO 80308.