Willoughby: More than one way to tempt a prize violinist | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: More than one way to tempt a prize violinist

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies

Chamber Orchestra’s first violins rehearse during the late 1960s.

Summer of 1967 began, for me, as a laborer for the Music Associates of Aspen. Nine of us college students moved pianos, cleaned and maintained the campus, and tended all rehearsals and performances. We received $1.50 for each of many hours worked, plus room and board. We occupied two rooms on the second floor of the Victorian building that housed administration, beside the campus pond.

Col. Glen Daugherty, our boss, also served as comptroller and manager of all details that did not involve musicians. Every bit the Army colonel, Daugherty conveyed by his presence that you should never consider disobeying his orders. We viscerally absorbed his intent to stretch every dollar the festival spent.

Not long after we had erected the tent, but before the first week of festival, Daugherty got a call that an important violinist, who wavered about whether to participate, wanted to check out Aspen. Normally the festival office would have handled such a request. But in those days, the New York-based office would not move to the Aspen campus until just before the season began.

That summer Daugherty had brought in an intern, an accounting major from the University of Wyoming, who was prepping for the CPA exam. I will call the intern Larry, having forgotten his name. Daugherty's ideal, Larry, was older than the rest of us because he had served in the military before college. Larry shared the room I lived in, so I remember he rose early, showered and made his bed military style before he headed off to breakfast.

Larry's two passions, cars and fishing, filled his free time. Weekends, he polished the chrome on his muscle car and made sure that no spot of oil marred the engine or any other apparatus under the hood. Evenings, he fished Castle Creek.

Larry enjoyed a good cigar, and Daugherty arrived in the office with a cigar at his lips, provisioned with several to see him through the day. If anyone disrupted their work or peace, Daugherty would wink at Larry, they each would light up, and no intruder could withstand the exhausting result.

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When Daugherty assigned Larry to pick up the violinist at Grand Junction Airport, you may have thought he did so, in part, to provide Larry's treasured automobile for the guest's transport. But no, Daugherty insisted that Larry take the donated, 1956, faded-beige, Pontiac station wagon. The Pontiac rode like a truck with no shocks, its loose steering system caused it to drift on the road at speeds above 40, and slick vinyl magnified that drift internally across bench seats. This seemed to be no way to impress a rising star.

Larry's version of a music festival was to dial the car radio to a good country and western station. There was zero risk that he would wax generous about the Aspen festival's attributes, especially since he had been exposed to it for only a few weeks.

He met the violinist who, because it was the best option, climbed onto the bench seat with Larry. Not an outgoing conversationalist, Larry offered polite small talk. Whether due to a change in Larry's volume, pitch, or tempo, the violinist's sensitive hearing soon picked up on Larry's passion for fishing. Throughout the rest of the two-hour trip, they talked not about Aspen or the festival, but about fishing: Aspen fishing.

The violinist? Itzhak Perlman. Watching the recent documentary Itzhak, you gain a sense of his off-stage persona and his wonderful sense of humor. Young during the summer of 1967, he most likely did not need much persuasion to come to Aspen. But the prospect of fishing Aspen's streams may have been the tipping point.

There's more than one way to catch a prize violinist. Larry laid out the perfect bait.

Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.