Faculty Spotlight: Henry Gronnier

Violin faculty Henry Gronnier is the chair of the Community School strings department and has been teaching at Colburn for 18 years.

This interview has been lightly edited for length, clarity, and style.

What brought you to Colburn?
I moved to LA in 1998 because of my string quartet, the Rossetti String Quartet. Members were living in LA, and I’ve loved Los Angeles since the first day I came when I was much younger. So I took the opportunity to come and I remember at the time one of our violinists who was a student of Mr. Lipsett, Michelle Kim, who is now assistant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, told me about Colburn. I actually came to hear the young orchestra, and I was just blown away. At that time, the dean invited me to interview and I got the position so I was very, very happy, and it has been a long, happy ride.

You’re the new chair of the string department. What are your responsibilities?
I’m supervising 32 or 33 teachers, it’s the biggest division. I have to supervise, making sure that all the teachers, students, and parents are happy. I take care of new inquiries, when kids want to join. I listen to them first and try to find the appropriate teacher, the right match for them to continue at Colburn.

What are you performing on the Faculty Showcase this weekend?
I will be performing two things. The first movement of the Dvořák Piano Quintet with Micah Yui on piano, Aimée Kreston on violin, Andrew Picken on viola, and Vardan Gasparyan on cello. I will also play with Rina Dokshitsky the first movement of the G Major Brahms Sonata.

Why do you think the faculty showcase is important for students to attend?
I think it’s important, first for respect. It’s also important to know that your teacher can perform and to hear what your teacher is doing. It’s a great opportunity to showcase all our faculty, to see the spectrum that we offer. I really wish that more kids would come to this concert to be inspired. It’s what we want to do, not just to teach them but to inspire them.

Why do you love chamber music?
Chamber music for me is probably the most extraordinary and magical music that a composer could write. They are basically love letters, so of course it’s very intimate. Actually, I was very happy that this time my faculty recital was in Thayer Hall. Zipper is wonderful, but you don’t get that intimate setting and the connection with the audience. You can really go very intimate with dynamics and be even more personal in what you do.

The quartet is the perform form of music, and when it’s great, it’s extraordinarily great. I’ve played string quartets for 25 years and unfortunately not anymore because our violist who was also my ex-partner passed away. It’s the best form of music. It’s also about relationships. You need to have very strong chemistry with four people, which is very hard to find, people who have the same goal.

What has your career path been, and what advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
I have a very unusual path. I don’t know if it was bad luck, but I had accidents twice in my life where I stopped my career. The first time I was quite young. I was 21, and I collapsed my lung when I was just starting my solo career. I had four different surgeries that actually left me paralyzed on my right side for a year and a half. For a year and a half, I couldn’t play.

I resumed my career, and in 1989, I broke my shoulder and my thumb, so I couldn’t play for six years. During that time, I became vice president of a big management company in New York where I actually started the career of many big people. I thought in a way that having many perspectives from being an artist, a teacher, and a manager, seeing all sides was very important to me.

My advice for young people is they should try to examine everything they do. Meaning, education is very important. The more educated you are, the better it will be for your artistry and for your future, because you never know what could happen. It’s always important to have choices and not to be cornered doing one thing.

Why did you start teaching?
That’s funny. When I was very young, my teacher and my mom told me that they thought that I would be a great teacher and I was like, absolutely not. The one thing that I don’t want to do is teaching. And I became the assistant to a teacher when I was 18, but I have to say it was a very rough time because I had 21 beginners on Suzuki. It was hard work. All my heart goes to the Suzuki teachers here because when you start someone, it’s so important. The first teacher is the most important one. I was not one of them because I had the worst teacher when I started. At age 17, I had to start from scratch again.

After a long period of not teaching, I started teaching adults, amateurs who wanted to play chamber music well. And I actually found it very interesting to be able to give some advice and demonstrate, and see people actually making progress. When that happens as a teacher it’s really amazing, to see your kids grow. Teaching is very, very interesting when you can make a difference. You’re not always teaching people to become professional, but to educate them, to understand music, to appreciate music. And we need to make sure we have an audience for the future.

The weekly Saturday Spotlight series highlights our outstanding faculty and staff from across the school. Read other spotlight interviews.