David Stabler MusB'75
An Die Musik: A Former Student
Pays Tribute To Professor Damjana Bratuz
Many of us have had teachers who
changed our lives- someone whose wisdom and caring fundamentally
altered the way we think, feel and look at the world. For
me, and for many other music students at Western, that teacher
was Damjana Bratuz.
Professor Bratuz, who retired in April from the faculty of
music after 25 years, was the reason I attended Western. From
the moment I auditioned for her on a wintry March morning,
she became the centre of my gravity. My weekly piano lesson
with her wasn't just the highlight of the week: it was the
week. She demanded the highest standards and introduced a
new system of learning, with new vocabulary and new meanings.
Actually what she did was give us a new set of ears with which
to hear music. A scale wasn't just a scale any more. It was
a "Mozart scale" or a "Debussy scale." A trill had infinite
expressive potential: a Chopin arpeggio bloomed with its own
I'll never forget a lesson just after Christmas of my sophomore
year. I had practised through the vacation and was ready to
surprise her with several new pieces. I was sure she'd be
impressed. Well, if she was, she didn't show it. She began
to dissect my Bach fugue, asking me to pick out its separate
lines and play each one. I stumbled around and stopped. I'd
learned them all in a jumble, all wrong. Then I played some
Mozart. I remember my shock when she asked me to stop playing
and conduct the music instead. I felt as if she'd just asked
me to juggle six oranges and two watermelons. Blood rushed
to my face. Sensing my rising frustration, Professor Bratuz
leaned over from her position at the second piano and said,
almost in triumph, "Use your anger! Anger is good. Use it!"
Like the best teachers, Professor Bratuz's greatest wish
was that we become our own pilots. Our charter territory was
the classical piano repertory of the past three centuries,
which stretched before us as distant and unfamiliar as the
far shores of Lake Ontario. From the joyful exuberance of
Bach to the ear-bending angst of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Professor
Bratuz introduced us to one masterpiece after another.
Professor Bratuz, who was born where the countries of Austria,
Italy and Slovenia converge, has never lost her passion for
multiculturalism. That's what attracted her to Canada in the
first place. Three decades in North America have not diluted
her European manner or her colorful accent. Her voice is as
musical as Mozart in any of four languages. And she remains
a restless, pioneering intellect. In 1958, she won a Fulbright
Scholarship to study in the United States and became the first
woman and Italian citizen to earn a doctorate degree in music
from the University of Indiana in Bloomington. Her life came
full circle, she says, when she returned to Italy in 1989,
this time as a Canadian citizen and senior professor, to continue
her lifelong study in the aesthetics of music at the University
of Bologne. Her plans after leaving Western include performing
and giving lecture/recitals throughout North America and abroad.
Professor Bratuz believed that her students should not just
dabble but wade into the some stream of culture that surrounded
and created the great works of classical music. Many of us,
fresh from rural Ontario, had never seen an opera or heard
a live orchestra when we entered Western. To remedy our deficiencies,
Professor Bratuz would bring books on art, philosophy and
psychology to lessons. Symbols and the roots of creativity
have always fascinated her, Often she would take a carload
of students to Toronto in her enormous blue Buick to hear
the great artists of the day: Artur Rubinstein, Maurizio Pollini,
Rodu Lupu, Alfred Brendel. We would leave London in the morning
and spend a couple of hours in the bookstores along Bloor
Street. Then we would have supper upstairs at the Cafe de
la Paix, where Professor Bratuz would order things in French
for us to try. After the concert she would take us backstage
to meet the artists.
Slowly, over our four years with Professor B., we began to
change. Less satisfied, more curious, more disciplined, we
started to shed like old clothes our laziness and ignorance
and set out on the road to becoming rnusicians-a road that
has no end. She got us to see ourselves as heirs to an enormously
rich heritage and to feel the burden of that responsibility.
Professor Bratuz's foreign world of pianistic colors and physical
gestures was becoming familiar. Although I do not perform
today, I use her teachings in my work as a music critic for
a newspaper in Portland, Oregon. I try to listen with her
ears because she hears better than anyone I know.
Her wish that we be our own pilots has come true for many
of her students. Some of us ventured to Europe on our own,
to study and soak up the culture. Several former students
have grown into respected performers and recording artists.
Some are teachers, passing on her principles which she came
by through years of thought and practice. Others, like myself,
earn our living on the periphery of music, but remain musicians
As Heather Morrison MusB'75, a former student, said not too
long ago: "She made me realize that it isn't possible to separate
music from the process of life."
Professor Bratuz didn't teach to our limitations but to our
imaginations. She guided us with her eyes firmly on that far
share. If we didn't grasp a concept, she would say, "In
20 years you'll understand."
For me, its been 20 years. I'm just beginning to.
Western Alumni Gazette
Fall 1993, p. 25
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