Randall Goosby sat on the stairs Monday by the auditorium stage at the Buffalo International School, P.S. 45. As about 100 third-graders quietly filled a few rows of old wooden seats, Goosby made casual observations to children while they filed past, such as glancing at their feet and saying in admiration:
Whatever they were expecting, the chances are this was not it.
Goosby, 23, is a violinist of ascending international stature. He was in Buffalo on Sunday to perform in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans Music Hall as part of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society’s Gift to the Community Recital Series, through the Baird Foundation. A priority for those musicians is paying a visit, before they leave, to a local school.
To Goosby, this was a golden opportunity. For all his gifts with the violin, he is also a born teacher, a guy who listened intently to the questions from each child.
Goosby's dad is African-American, while his mom was raised in Japan. He was in Buffalo once before, a decade ago, after he won a Sphinx first place junior division laureate, a national honor given to children of color for high achievement in classical music. That trajectory continues. He is now at the Juilliard School in New York, moving toward decisions on his next move in an extraordinary career.
Monday, it carried him to an auditorium on Buffalo's West Side, where he lifted his violin and played the Salut D’Amour by Edward Elgar, eyes closed with the instrument secured beneath his chin.
“I have a lot of love in me," he told the children, "so I like bringing it into my songs.”
Robbie Hausmann, a cellist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, accompanied Goosby throughout much of this visit. He witnessed how the young musician has the ability to communicate not only instrumentally but also in a deeply personal and conversational way, an unusual combination that sets "Randall apart from the crowd," Hausmann said.
That was evident at P.S. 45, where Goosby explained how the “white stuff” in his bow is made from the hair in the tail of a horse. He helped the girls and boys understand the awe he takes from a violin created in the early 1700s by Giuseppe Guaneri, one of the greatest violin makers ever born.
The Stradivari Society, which puts magnificent instruments in the hands of great young musicians, loaned that violin to Goosby, which in itself helps tell you who he is.
Goosby went to P.S. 45 on the recommendation of Robin Parkinson, education director for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and a member of the BPO diversity council. She works with the Chamber Music Society, and she understands the musical power of allowing "these kids to see people who look like them and are successful."
Principal Lynn Piccirillo said the school is intent on elevating access to music, both by expanding its own programs and through relationships with such groups as the Buffalo String Works, which primarily serves refugee children — and whose young musicians offered a recital Sunday in the Seaton Room.
Goosby was aware of that bridge. He performed Monday beneath the flags of many nations, in a school that brings together boys and girls who come to Buffalo from around the world.
Eyes shut, his face expressed spasms of grief, solace or joy as he tackled the Paganini Caprices No. 5 and 24, the notes accelerating, climbing, even detonating.
When he finished, amid stunned silence, he asked for questions.
Hands flew into the air.
Why did he close his eyes? “Sometimes," he said, "closing my eyes makes it easier for me to feel the music.”
Why does he make so many faces as he plays? Because, he said, his face is wide open to whatever he is feeling. He sees that trait as one of the most important lessons of the violin, knowledge especially paramount for little boys in a culture that too often diminishes men who are open about their love or sorrow.
His success depends on revealing raw emotion, he said, not in hiding it.
A child asked if he ever makes mistakes. “All the time,” Goosby said, which led to another point he wanted the children to remember.
“I’m not special,” he insisted. He said whatever he achieves through work and discipline is built on the love and faith of countless people, beginning with his parents. Jiji Goosby, his mother, was in the hall to watch, and she offered a memory that to Goosby reinforces what he means.
Jiji was raised in Japan, where she met her husband, an American named Ralph Goosby, over a dinner of fish and chips. They fell in love and she returned with him to America, where they eventually settled in Florida to build their family.
In Japan, Jiji grew up in schools with musical instruction, and she wanted her children to receive that same chance, early. When Randall was 7, she asked what instrument he wanted to play. While he chose violin, the staff at a music store told Jiji her son was still too young, causing her to ask Goosby to try piano.
He struggled. She remembers a day when Goosby pushed back from the keyboard and shouted, “I’m stupid!” – a word Jiji always forbid in their house – leading to a change in plans.
Randall got his shot at violin. Before long, his passion was enough to convince Jiji to make routine drives of 90 minutes for lessons in Daytona Beach.
Sixteen years later, Goosby stood in a school auditorium in Buffalo with an instrument whose sound only grows more beautiful as it becomes more ancient, even as he told his young audience that he and they were much the same.
As a child, he had posters of football’s Terrell Owens and basketball’s Dwyane Wade on his bedroom wall, and he speaks of LeBron James as a hardworking inspiration, as a hardwood virtuoso.
In addition to classical music, Goosby listens to jazz, appreciates such foundational rappers as Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, and also reveres Stevie Wonder and the Beatles. He is, he confesses, no stranger to a video game controller, especially when it comes to “Call of Duty.”
Yet he spends two to four hours each day with the violin tucked beneath his chin. He told the kids of his limitations, how his pinkies are too short and he wishes his hands were bigger. The only way he can get his instrument to weep or sigh in a way that is a voice unto itself is by making sure he spends enough time practicing each day, which led to the premise he wants the children to embrace.
Love something enough, pursue it selflessly enough, and good will happen in ways that that you cannot foresee.
The girls and boys, entranced, let that message settle in. Small hands kept going up until there was no time, including one child who asked, “How long did it take to learn all that?”
Goosby smiled, raised his eyebrows and offered that one to his mother.
“He’s still learning,” she said.
Once again, as her son hopes these kids realize, he is them.
Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Buffalo News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or read more of his work in this archive.
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