In the hands of the masters

Abbie VanSickle

The notes poured from Sarah Crumrine’s violin, filling the auditorium with the rich sounds of a Shostakovich concerto.

Fingers gliding lightly over the strings, she appeared unaware of the 15 people watching her every move and listening for mistakes in her technique.

After the last note faded, she dropped her instrument to her side, gave a slight bow and looked out at the audience. Bracing herself for the opinions of those gathered to hear her, she waited for comments — especially the words from the man in the eighth row, her teacher, Roland Vamos.

Roland’s students say they’re not deceived by his slight frame, kindly smile and

bubbly personality: they know their internationally-renowned instructor is a heavyweight in the world of music. They say they are fortunate to be studying with Roland and his wife, Almita, famous violin and viola instructors known both for their ability to cultivate some of the world’s most promising violinists and for the personal attention they give to students.

This dedication to their students has helped the Vamoses build a loyal following of young violinists who say they will follow Roland and Almita anywhere.

Thirteen of the students just got a chance to make good on this promise this fall, when they left their friends and classmates at Oberlin College in Ohio to join the Vamoses in their freshmen year as full-time faculty members at Northwestern.

Music junior Larissa Brown, said the decision to follow her instructors to NU was a simple one.

“(The Vamoses) are like you family,” she said, laughing. “They even invited us all over for Thanksgiving.”

Although Brown said she loved Oberlin, she’s beginning to feel at home in Evanston and feels fortunate to be able to experience college life at two very different schools.

“It’s actually been a good balance as far as the transition is concerned,” she said. “Oberlin just has this spark of creativity that lets it survive in the middle of nowhere, but Northwestern is great because it is so close to Chicago and has the advantages of the big city.”

But not all of the Vamoses’ students had such an easy time adjusting to their new school.

Yana Bourkova, a Music sophomore, said she was frustrated when the Vamoses announced their decision to switch to NU. Bourkova, a violinist who studied with two prominent violinists in her native country of Russia before coming to the United States to work with the Vamoses, said she was worried she would not be able to afford NU’s tuition, especially since the school does not give grant money to international students.

Although many schools allow financial aid packages to carry over from other colleges for students that follow their music professors to new universities, Bourkova said she wasn’t notified her financial aid from Oberlin would carry over to NU until late July.

“I was very frustrated,” she said. “I knew there was no way my parents could afford to pay for college.”

But Bourkova said despite her rough start, everything worked out well and she’s glad she decided to follow her professors.

Describing Almita as a “good psychologist,” Bourkova said both Roland and Almita know how to approach their students and bring out the best in each person.

Brown agreed, calling the Vamoses relationship with their students “legendary.”

The couple are continuing this devotion to their students at NU, teaching a total of 43 NU students, 13 more than what is considered a full load. Almita also said she teaches younger students at the Music Institute of Chicago in Winnetka two days a week — students she said she’s “preparing for Northwestern.”

Almita said she and her husband work hard to look out not only for their students’ professional lives, but also their personal welfare, opening their home to students who are having trouble finding affordable housing and encouraging them to have other interests and social lives outside of the world of music.

Despite their hectic schedule and the rough transitions some of their students experienced, the Vamoses say they love their new jobs and are glad to be at NU.

“I like Northwestern a lot,” Almita said in a telephone interview. “It’s a really nice, warm atmosphere and it hasn’t gotten too stressful so far.”

Suddenly, the call is interrupted by a loud crash.

“Sorry,” she says, laughing. “I was putting away the groceries, finishing dinner and telling Roland to hurry up. There’s a student waiting.

“I would like to be less busy, but then, I always do this to myself.”

But although her life is a montage of studio classes, lessons and rushed meals, Almita said she’s excited about remaining at the school and strengthening the string department.

Roland also said he’s looking forward to the future and to grooming the next round of students for orchestras and solo careers around the world.

“We’re happy,” he said. “The school has been doing very nicely and we have a lot of support.” nyou