When Katherine Schimmel and Judith Glyde met in Italy in 2015, they knew it was friendship at first sight.
“We met at a dinner party in Florence and ended up talking the whole night. Later that evening, we walked home together. As we walked across the Ponte Vecchio talking about music and life, I knew we had to be friends forever.”
Schimmel has always had an affinity for the cello, and Glyde is of course Professor Emerita of Cello at the College of Music, a founding member of the revered Manhattan String Quartet and self-proclaimed “mom” and champion of Music Buff alumni in New York City.
But Schimmel says that from the start, their connection was deeper than the cello.
“When I met her, we both looked at each other and laughed because we knew we were going to know each other for the rest of our lives,” she recalls. “I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t met her … at this point she is so embedded in my memories that it would be like erasing a beloved symphonic movement.”
That’s why Schimmel, who has never even visited Boulder, decided this year to make a transformative planned gift of $2 million to the CU Boulder cello studio in her friend’s name.
“The reason I wanted to establish this in her name, first of all, is that she’s such a jewel of a person. Judy works so passionately and tirelessly to promote the university and music, and she does it just for the pure joy of doing it.
“But I also wanted to make sure her legacy is acknowledged,” Schimmel says. “She’s someone who continues to inspire me. And I think everyone whose path she crosses feels the same way. She’s all give with no take. In fact I wish she’d take sometimes.”
And that’s just one trait the two friends have in common.
A little night music
Katherine Schimmel’s first memories of music revolve around lullabies. “I remember being fascinated by the human voice, and I learned this repertoire of lullabies in all different languages.”
As a child, Schimmel can recall perfectly the smell of lavender and lilac as she fell asleep at her grandparents’ house, listening to a different kind of lullaby. “My grandfather had an old Steinway right under the bedroom where I would sleep, and I would stay awake listening to him play,” she says. “He would play Brahms, Debussy and Chopin all night long, and the music would transport me to all these wonderful places. And it is probably for this reason that I have a strong association between serenity and music, which like a river, runs through me.”
Schimmel’s grandfather, Alfred, was a source of musical inspiration throughout her life. He came to the United States at 18, after losing most of his family during the Great Depression in Germany. As he got his new life off the ground, he turned to music.
“He taught himself to play piano in his 30s, then taught himself the cello in his 40s and the flute in his 60s and 70s at a high level. In a way, music really saved him.”
As Schimmel grew older, she played violin and later studied opera, all the while using her grandfather and his musician colleagues as a sounding board for her burgeoning talent and interest. “My grandfather would make me play for them when they came to his house for a rehearsal. These were professional musicians and I was just learning, so I was so nervous, and of course it was totally embarrassing. However, they were the kindest people as I tortured them with my early violin attempts,” Schimmel laughs. “Later, when I started studying opera, my grandfather had me sing with them, too. Fortunately, I was a little better by then.”
Schimmel’s interest in music began to evolve in late adolescence, thanks in part to a full-time internship her senior year of high school at a recording studio near her home. As a student at Berklee College of Music, her future became more clear. “I majored in professional music because that allowed me to do a little bit of everything. But it was during my time at Berklee that I realized I’m much more fascinated in the process of artistic creation than in being a professional musician.
“I wanted to understand the essence of passion … what it is in people that drives them to want to create.”
Beneath the surface
After earning her music degree, Schimmel went on to graduate school at Harvard and became fascinated with ancient Near Eastern civilizations, especially the study of archeology. Later, she shifted her focus thousands of years forward, to the Renaissance period.
“I’m very interested in Italian artists from the 1400s through the 1600s, especially the materials they used to create their masterpieces,” she explains. “The research I am most interested in applies analytical diagnostics to the study of paintings. By analyzing the materials used, along with the methods employed, it becomes possible to step back in time and witness the process of artistic creation. I have been very fortunate to be able to work with some enormously gifted scientists in this area.”
Much of Schimmel’s work is ongoing, but in the past she’s examined the x-radiographs and infrared reflectography images (IRR) of various Renaissance masters to observe aspects of the creative process, including alterations to the artist’s original intent.
“It’s chilling to be able to see beneath the visible layers, because you see not only how artists created their works, but also the things that were later changed. For instance, blouses that were added or positional changes to the figure, such as hands or feet that were moved. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can even see another painting underneath.”
Though her career revolves around the visual arts, Schimmel is still involved in the world of making music. For more than a decade, she has been working with the legendary remote recording studio Le Mobile on specific projects. “Le Mobile is a pioneer in recording music live, and I have learned so much about capturing live performances in a way that removes the barriers between the listener and the performer,” she explains “You can always identify which recordings came out of this remote studio because they have this special quality to them. They breathe.
“The same goes for the way they mix a recording. They have this fantastic vintage Neve console, and all the outboard gear that one can imagine, and they are able to seamlessly combine the best of the digital world with that of the analog. I think recording music the way they do is a dying art because everyone with a laptop feels they can record music, and that it's all the same thing, but it’s not. Nor is it that simple.”
Schimmel hopes to bring her two passions together in the future and is working on a number of research projects to that effect, but for now says there are some beautiful connections between the creation of works of art and live music.
“Great art is always about great passion, but when you record someone in a live setting, or on a stage, there is no going back to do another take. You get one shot and that’s it. This is very different from recording an artist in a studio setting, where you can change things as many times as you want. This is probably why listening to live performances is incredibly meaningful because there is a natural vulnerability, an intimacy with an artist who is caught in the throes of performing during a moment in time when there can only be one take.”
As a researcher immersed in centuries-old works of art, Schimmel has a unique and thorough understanding of the value of the arts—and why we must support the future of these treasured institutions now.
“You may not know the value of your work in your lifetime—none of us will—but the value is there and you want it to continue in a meaningful way. And when I saw the type of quality person that Judy is, I wanted to support the school she taught at for so many years.”
Schimmel’s gift will establish the Judith Glyde Cello Support Fund, which will support auditions, conventions, competitions and other opportunities for students in the cello studio at the College of Music. It will also create the Judith Glyde Cello Faculty Fellowship.
When she heard the news of her friend’s generosity, Glyde says she was incredibly moved. “Katherine’s gift leaves me astonished and overwhelmed. And to realize that Katherine wanted me to learn about this honor while living—this is the greatest gift of all.
“Her understanding that art must be supported to flourish and prevail is immeasurable.”
Glyde’s successor, Assistant Professor of Cello David Requiro, says it’s inspiring to see a gift of this magnitude—especially right now. “This gift will help support the growth and development of the CU cello studio for a long time. In addition, Katherine Schimmel’s gift is a fitting tribute to CU legend Judith Glyde, and it is an honor to follow in her footsteps.”
Says Schimmel, “Almost everybody is in a position to support the arts, even if they don’t feel like they can. We all can give something, even just a dollar a month, and the cumulative effect of that will make change possible.
“I cannot imagine a world without the arts. It’s a lifesaver for so many people. When you see how a person’s world can be opened up or even made easier by the experience of going to a museum or a concert hall, then you realize how essential the arts are.”