The second and nonethnic reason why violinists Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman are called “the Kosher Nostra” may be that they have a godmother. Her name is Dorothy DeLay, and she is, at 62, in addition to being mentor of established stars, one of the great teachers of the violin—and of many other, nonmusical things—in the world. Perlman, for example, would never have made the concert circuit if DeLay had not been his professor at Manhattan’s Juilliard. “She believed in Itzhak,” says his wife, Toby, “when everyone else thought he was nothing.” Perlman had been crippled by polio as a child, and DeLay aided him in adapting to the grueling demands of the road. “I made up my mind that he would be able to perform and travel,” she says, with rare vehemence. So she helped him devise a way to carry his violin case with a handgrip on his crutch and taught him to drive a car with special controls. DeLay also encouraged him to go to baseball games to become more rounded and hardly discouraged his marrying another kid in the class named Toby Lynn Friedlander.
“Dorothy has a diplomatic way of teaching,” says Perlman. “She will say, ‘Sugar, what is your concept of the note G?’ implying you are horribly out of tune but never saying so.” Because she has difficulty remembering names, DeLay relies on endearments like “Honey” and “Sugar Plum.” That lapse is understandable. Her Juilliard class is an artistic U.N. She tutors 65 students (25 are national or international competition winners) from 17 countries, including Russia, Japan, Bulgaria and South Africa. On the side, she holds master classes at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, New England Conservatory, Sarah Lawrence and at Aspen’s summer music school.
Her schedule runs to 14-hour days and seven-day weeks. She would spend even more time in her studio if the guards did not boot her out of Juilliard at 10 p.m. It is usually midnight before she arrives at her 10-room home up the Hudson in New York’s Rockland County. Even then, “The phone calls are constant,” says her patient, proud husband, Edward New-house, a novelist and onetime New Yorker writer. ” ‘Miss DeLay, should I get married?’ ‘Do you think I am pregnant?’ We got a call from Seoul, Korea a while back, fretting: ‘I only got eight curtain calls. Last year I got 11. What’s the matter?’ ”
Pedagogy comes naturally to DeLay—her mother was a piano instructor and her father the school superintendent in Neodesha, Kans. But Dorothy was never intimidated by teachers. She was suspended from her Methodist Sunday school for refusing to believe Jonah was swallowed by a whale. After getting her B.A. from Michigan State (her major was music, her minor psychology) she went on to graduate work at Juilliard. In 1940 she met the Budapest-born Newhouse, five years her senior, on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. “I didn’t propose until Pennsylvania,” he quips. “She was cagey and did not accept until Trenton.” They wed five months later. Their son, Jeff, 37, is a staff doctor at Massachusetts General and a Harvard professor, and daughter Alison, 33, is married to one of her brother’s colleagues.
In 1948, after a brief solo career, Dorothy joined the faculty of Juilliard. She also became an assistant to Ivan Galamian, the premier violin teacher in the U.S., but broke with him in the late ’60s over his authoritarian teaching methods. They have not spoken since. “I feel strongly that education cannot be repressive if it is to work,” says DeLay. “That sort of training produces people using 10 percent of their potential.” She urges her students to follow their own notions of interpretation—not simply adopt hers. “When I started,” she admits, “I was so eager to tell everybody everything that I am sure I did nothing but confuse them. One student turned out to be a very good surgeon.”
But some 20 of the world’s most promising soloists are DeLay protégés, and she helped many of them get a manager and a sponsor to lend them their first Strad or Guarneri. Husband Ed believes her success springs from “the limitless horizons and the lack of stratification she saw growing up in that small Midwest town. She feels if you have a pencil and paper, you can be as good as Michelangelo. And personally,” he continues, “she sees nothing extraordinary about flying to Israel [for a music festival] with Prime Minister Begin. ‘Such a nice man,’ she told me. ‘But he snored the whole way.’ ”