Prolific Cello Instructor Retires from GHMS—Legacy Lives On

Sam ReinerSam Reiner, after 59 years at GHMS, gracefully retired from the cello faculty on July 23 at the age of 97. Now, thanks in part to contributions from Mr. Reiner’s friends and family, his legacy will live on through the Sam Reiner Scholarship Fund. The Scholarship will be awarded to promising students in their preparation for post-secondary studies in cello performance. The following is a profile about Mr. Reiner from the Greenwich House Music School newsletter, Quarter Notes, and highlights his passion and dedication that he has always brought to the school.

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Sam Reiner: The “Accidental Cellist”
By: Lisa Wu

If you attend recitals at GHMS, you may often hear a trio group performing the chamber music of Haydn or Beethoven. The pianist and clarinetist look like students—and they are—but the cellist has the stature of a master—and he is. What is a teacher doing on stage with students?

Performing on stage with his students is an important tenet of Sam Reiner’s teaching philosophy. Which is lucky for his students, since this music teacher has appeared on stage performing in some of the best-known orchestras and with some of the greatest musicians of our time.

Sam Reiner began studying the cello at age 17. A late start for a musician who has had a successful career. When asked how he got interested, Reiner gives a simple reply, “By accident!”

“I was in my last year of high school. My school needed cellists in the orchestra,” Reiner explains. “I had never played the instrument before, but I began to learn.” Six months later, Reiner was awarded first prize in the state solo contest. Two months later, at the national solo and string quartet contests, he won third and his string quartet was first.

One event led to another. The director of Interlochen Summer Music Institute heard Reiner’s string quartet at the national contest and gave the young string players each a full scholarship to Interlochen that summer. There the head of Eastman Music School heard Reiner and gave him a full scholarship to study at Eastman.

Reiner began to play professionally in his second year at Eastman when he made last chair in the cello section of the Rochester Philharmonic. Fritz Reiner, a third cousin to Reiner, was one of the first guest conductors with whom Reiner worked. “During a rehearsal, Fritz Reiner said, ‘I don’t like the cello sound,’ and commanded the whole cello section to play and stand. I was very nervous. By the time he got to me I was shaking and quelling, but my partner—a fantastic cellist—played while I remained silent. Later, I went up to Reiner and explained how we were related. He didn’t make a fuss about it.

After six months of study with virtuoso cellist Emmanuel Feuerman, Reiner won associate first cellist seat at the Minneapolis Symphony and also was selected for the Minneapolis String Quartet. He went on to play in the Symphony of Air, also known as the NBC Radio Symphony, conducted by Arturo Toscanini and the American Opera Society, which introduced Leontyne Price, Marilyn Horne, and Maria Callas, among others.

Pablo Casals was a great influence on Sam Reiner. “In 1946, I went to a performance in Paris and after I heard him play, I knew I had to change the way I played.” So he began studies with Diran Alexanin, a colleague and former teacher of Casals. “Alexanin was a performer and great pedagogue—very few teachers are in that class.”

Reiner started his teaching career at GHMS in 1951 with three pupils and gradually built his roster to 15 or18.

“At GHMS my students were beginners. Teaching students who know nothing about music is entirely different than teaching conservatory level students who have acquired good technique. I never teach with the idea that my students will become professional musicians. My goal is to instill in my students the beauty of music and art, the joy of playing music and sharing music, and to teach them to play the cello, which after the human voice is the most beautiful instrument.”

“I had enormously talented young cello students. Many were referred to me from the Performing Arts High School. They studied with me throughout junior high and high school years, then they went on to Julliard, Manhattan or Eastman School. Many of my former GHMS students are now in symphonies.”

Reiner feels that music students must be exposed to the repertoire and the experience of playing chamber, opera and orchestral music. And he puts his philosophy into action. Believing chamber music to be the most sublime of all music, even his youngest students perform chamber music at concerts. For recitals, Reiner writes a second cello part, and together, teacher and student play a duet. “If I’m on stage with my students, they won’t be so nervous, and they’ll have the courage to perform on stage. Music then becomes a conversation between two instruments.”

Reiner recounts one anecdote: “Isaac, a nine-year-old student, played wonderfully in a recital. After the concert I congratulated him, ‘Isaac you were wonderful,’ to which replied, ‘So were you, Mr. Reiner.’ And that made me feel wonderful.”

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