Dena Lefkowitz: I distinctly remember the first time I heard Joey’s voice...
I distinctly remember the first time I heard Joey’s voice. It was June 12, 1988 and I called the apartment. The phone was answered in a gruff, unfriendly, growled “hello.” Taken aback, I briefly considered hanging up, but pressed on and asked for Rolando. The voice changed in a heartbeat to warm and welcoming.
Once he knew I wasn’t calling to sell him something, Joey quite simply turned on the charm. That was one of his special gifts. I used to think, in my naiveté, that we had a special thing going because I always rubbed his neck and shoulders when we were together. He would close his eyes and smile as if he were in heaven. Then, I noticed a cousin doing it and, soon, I figured out that almost every female family member at some point would give Joe’s shoulders a squeeze. He was magnetic. He made everyone feel special.
A fantastic feature of dating Rolando was the Corpus brothers. He was living in Philly with Joey and Bert (and Hector a few blocks away) and our “dates” were hangouts at their apartment.
Joey was a kind of master of ceremonies. There were people in and out of the apartment – students, friends, and family – and he was the center of attention and affection all the time.
Over the years, he has been so sweet to me that I can’t write this without crying. My heart aches at the thought I will never see him again, his wiggling eyebrows, or hear that voice.
Noodles: I am a current student of Joey Corpus, and am so shocked and devastated to hear of his passing.
Dear Mr. Corpus,
This is my eulogy for you.
I am a current student of Joey Corpus, and am so shocked and devastated to hear of his
passing. Just two weeks ago, I was emailing him to ask if we could change our lesson schedule in the
future to make way for my mentoring program. I had thought he was recuperating, and would be ready
to teach again in about three weeks or so. It was such a surprise to me when I found out from my former
piano teacher that he passed away. Now I am left with no physical teacher, but I am very lucky Mr.
Corpus has stashed a vault of violin knowledge into my brain. You will always have a special place in my
heart, my hypothalamus, and my muscle memory, Mr. Corpus.
Thinking back to the one year and five months he taught me, my favorite part of each lesson
was when he used his sense of humor to teach me. His sense of humor reached me first in this story:
When I sent him the request for my first lesson, it was from my email called “noodlehead boi”, so
naturally he always called me Noodles in each and every lesson. Ever since, our hours together have
been hours of so much fun learning violin. He is the one person who could teach me to keep my bow
straight, and the way he did was the most unique: he had me rub my hand on my violin case in the
shape of an L. It was the best lesson ever, and my consistent straight bow stroke has positively
impacted my sound to the total next level.
Mr. Corpus also taught me to always hold the violin up, in case my left arm starts to “get lazy”.
That made my sound much more resonant, and also made a huge effect on busking posture (he told me
that people like it when you look like Heifetz). The way he taught me was one I could remember for my
violin-playing afterwards: he copied the way I looked while playing, and it looked liked a freakish zombie
in a horror movie. From now on, I always remember to make sure that I hold my violin up, and my sound
is much better than when I played with my old, Frankenstein-like posture.
There are a small amount of crazy happenings in a few lessons. Throughout the months of April
and June, he gave me cough drops each lesson to compensate for my tendency to sneeze in the spring.
One lesson, he made a mistake in giving me the super-hard mint cherry flavored ones (with about a
million grams of sugar), and my hyperactivity went beyond its normal level. Although the lesson was a
great one where I took the train back home with my head full of violin knowledge, it was also a crazy one
where I almost accidentally ordered 400 packs of Cheez Doodles on his Amazon Echo. I remember the
day before my 14th birthday, I told Mr. Corpus “This is the last time I’ll be seeing you…. (what?
Noodles, why didn’t you tell me?)… when I’m 13 years old.(Oh, is it your birthday?). That was one of
the best jokes I ever told him.
There were some things beyond violin and the lesson as well. I learned that he was a chess and
magic enthusiast, and showed me a card trick on my first lesson. He even gave me one of his books on
the history of magic, passing it on with an apathetic “I don’t need it anymore”. He also gave me his blue
Kreutzer book, deeming me more needy of the forty-two studies than he. Mr. Corpus also taught me
valuable life lessons. For example, I remember the one lesson I forgot my sheet music for the piece I
knew by memory. I honestly thought I could just pass it off, but at each memory slip-up, he would tell
me “that’s why you need to bring your music, herbiewerbie” in a singsong voice. Now I never forget my
music or any materials to anything.
My last lesson with him was one where I was preparing for my orchestra seating auditions; Mr.
Corpus found out that nobody had fingered our parts for Shostakovich 5, and started humorously
grumbling about how the orchestra needs to cater to the needs of each student, saying “This is very
hard music… why do they not finger it?”. Now I am third chair for first violins at the ISO Symphony. That
last lesson was also when I found out he loved jazz, and that he liked to improvise on his piano. If I had
one more lesson with him, we probably would’ve had a 5-minute long jam session together before
seeing me off with a “walang ano man, say hi to mom”.
I was devastated to find out that he passed away and I am very sad that it was so sudden. I am
very grateful for the one year and five months that Mr. Corpus has taught me not just violin, but how to
make better jokes, being mindful enough to remember my music and that anchovies taste good on
anything. I know that he is in heaven now, and that he is free from disability. I’ll tell you one thing: if God
is the king of heaven, Mr. Corpus is his court jester. I will never forget him and I will miss him so much. I
will carry on his wisdom and teachings all throughout my life.
I hope you enjoyed my eulogy, Señor C.
I love you and I will miss you,
Sharon Gunderson: Joey was, hands-down, among the finest teachers ever to grace this world, for any pursuit...
March 19, 1957 – December 9, 2017
Joey was, hands-down, among the finest teachers ever to grace this world, for any pursuit. his medium was violin playing, but what he really taught was how to be in control and in communion with one’s own body, no small part of which was accepting and laughing at oneself. if you ask ten different students how he worked with them, you will get ten different stories. Joey certainly had various methods of practice that benefited everyone, but he taught individuals with individual needs in a bespoke way, rather than bestowing a singular method upon all who walked through his door.
after graduating from New England Conservatory, I was burned out and psychologically scarred. while I count myself most blessed and lucky to have found Joey, my teacher at NEC was the opposite: one of the most disgusting bullying abusers I have ever met. a MeToo offender if there ever was one, I was lucky in that I got away with a single butt-pat and four years of raging, manipulative condescension, and nausea-inducing terror. I guess I wasn’t his type.
I did not want to stop playing completely, but violin was a struggle, physically and emotionally. it was neither life-giving nor, to be honest, anything anyone would want to listen to, much less hire. I went to my friend Louise Owen, who tried valiantly to help me out, and she did, but one day she said, “Hey, I found this teacher Joey Corpus, who’s truly amazing – you should go to him!” I think I snorted when I replied that I had no interest in some big-shot teacher, especially a male teacher. she insisted “he’s not like that”, something I found impossible to believe. she sighed, and a few weeks later set up a “lunch date” with me. well, it wasn’t lunch: just beforehand she instructed me to bring my violin and go instead to someone’s borrowed apartment near Lincoln Center. I couldn’t politely refuse, as she had set up my first lesson with Joey and I didn’t want to make her look bad. I thought well, whatever, one lesson can’t hurt, k-thanks-bye. although, I did protest that I had nothing prepared to play and he would laugh me out of the room. Louise replied, “it doesn’t matter what you play, just go.”
I was met with a huge warm smile and friendly greeting from a well-dressed, dark-haired man in a wheelchair, and nervously said I’d play some solo Bach. it was terrible, I assure you. when I got to a cadence a few lines in, Joey gently stopped me and said, Let’s play a scale, starting on open G (lowest string). for the next hour, we worked on a single octave of that scale. I don’t really remember what specifics he told me at the time, but I do remember that the knot in my stomach dissolved, my fear disappeared, I became relaxed and I was enjoying playing the violin. I was laughing: at myself, at whatever jokes he told, at the world. afterward I went outside to a payphone (remember those?), breathlessly called my then-husband, and told him My life just changed forever. I knew after that single lesson that a beautiful new universe was mine. Louise had wrought one excellent miracle, despite my resistance!
for the next year or so, I drove to his dismal apt in Garfield NJ where he lived with a relative, for lessons. my playing began to improve dramatically, but far more importantly, Joey was healing the wounds of my undergrad years. I had dreaded my lessons at NEC, but now I couldn’t wait to see Joey. I spent the majority of my time with him laughing, often so hard I couldn’t actually play my instrument. Joey had a gift for gently tearing down self-created, self-stunting fallacies. he went right to the heart of a problem with compassion and razor-sharp skill, never conflating a student’s self-worth with their musical ability. rather than feeling shamed or derided, his joy and humor made problem solving fun, fulfilling, and empowering. he actually knew how to solve problems from their roots, and how to directly impart that knowledge.
Joey was a genius regarding both violin technique (how to play the violin), and practicing technique (how to learn difficult musical passages). having spent his entire life age eleven and onward either in a wheelchair or lying down in bed, he had taken those endless hours of immobility and deconstructed How To Play. he taught from the molecular level, such as: how does one joint of one finger do its job, so the other joints can do their job, to play this one particular note… he de-tangled mysteries that many big-shot teachers would have no idea how to explain. he had started at square one, as a twelve-year-old asking for a violin, a year into being paraplegic and unable to sit up (car accident in his native Philippines that also took his mother’s life). Joey had been robbed of his legs and much of his pelvis, but he turned that into a gift of time, time for singular focus on how to play the violin. instead of becoming bitter about his fate, he cultivated patience. any student of his will tell you his patience was legendary. he used this gift in ways that amaze me to this day: countless times that I struggled with a difficult passage, he would literally watch me practice it (using his special techniques) for long periods of time, and give guidance *as I practiced*. as in, the same few bars, over and over and over, and again. most teachers will give students the techniques, hopefully make sure the student understands them, and then move on down the agenda. they don’t have time to watch someone actually practice, and would probably rather watch paint dry. Joey had time. he made time, with joy. he knew that improvement would be much faster in the long run if he took this incredibly personal, “boring” time with his students. it was extremely effective and incredibly supportive.
the Garfield apt had tiny windows at the top of the walls, so he couldn’t see out of them from his chair. it was accessible by public transport only by the very dedicated, intrepid, and time-rich. as he transformed my playing, I became a fervent evangelist. I told every violinist I encountered about him, and happily drove many people to NJ to take lessons, especially those with injuries and issues. at last, he had enough students and income to move to his own apt in NYC, at 100th and Broadway, and his entire studio was thrilled. he had a view down Broadway, and could take the bus anyplace he wanted to go. now I brought people to him easily: Here’s the address, no car required! I dragged anyone I could, even my non-musician friends, to my lessons to meet him and watch him work with me. since his death, some of those friends have written that they remember watching those lessons, so many years later.
in the years he taught me, my life beyond the violin was fraught with all kinds of drama, including divorce, pennilessness, and questions of faith. Joey was ever supportive; he talked to me on the phone for hours, took me to lunch at the diner across the street, always looking for a way to remind me of my strengths, make me laugh, and be grateful. I would call him Joey “The Body” Corpus, and he would swing his Phillies cap to the side and start dancing gansta-style and rapping.
Joey loved chess, old movies, languages, basketball, and card tricks. his sleight-of-hand skills left me stunned many times, and I carry a card from one of those tricks in my violin case to this day. his cooking skills were legendary too: the best piece of pork I have ever eaten was torn from a roast that had been going as he taught me. as I packed to leave, lamenting I couldn’t stay for dinner, he reached in the oven and handed me a large chunk as I walked out the door. Joey specialized in practicality.
after a few years and a feature article in The Strad (link in comments), he became so sought after that it was challenging for him to find time for all of us. he could sit upright only four or five days per week, and the others were spent completely horizontal. even then he taught a select few of us who were allowed to see him in bed, rather than dressed and professional. I never once heard him complain, or feel sorry for himself, or lament his condition, except to say that he wished he could be available more hours to teach. Joey was a deeply private person regarding his body and health, and when he contracted an infection a few weeks ago (not that rare for him, unfortunately) that somehow got out of hand very quickly, he forbade his best friend to tell anyone about it at all, even his family. so nearly no one knew that his body was being completely taken over by pathogens, despite many surgeries and skilled medical care. none of his students, to my knowledge, were able to say goodbye. visiting was all but impossible, as he was sedated and his environment sterile. eventually his family did come, from as far the Philippines, and he passed peacefully, surrounded by them.
the last time I saw him was a few years ago, when my group Chamber16 played for him. I had not been studying regularly with him for a while, giving others a chance to have time with him, but our cellist Marc Tagle was a fellow Filipino and I nudged us into his schedule. it was a joyful experience to play for him again, and to show off the skills he had taught me. of course, I had no idea I would never see him again. so many players wanted a piece of him, and him being an introvert at heart, I felt intrusive trying to stay in touch, being another phone call or text he had to answer. earlier this past autumn I suddenly felt compelled to maybe try, but ultimately I did not, to my great regret. I told some colleagues the story you have just read, which I hadn’t told for a while. the best friend mentioned above plays a Messiah gig with me every year, and I always asked after Joey. things were essentially fine, year after year, until this one, and the news was horrifying and dire. I sobbed my way through the oratorio. Joey died one week later.
the last few days have been deeply sorrowful, to be sure, but it is a rich meditation to ponder how extremely blessed I have been, to have known and studied with and been a friend of this remarkable man. Joey had a resonant deep voice when he wanted to, but his laugh could be high and squeaky, which made me laugh even harder. I know he would have framed his demise with humor, and while his death leaves me and so many others bereft and sad, I know Joey is now free of pain, moving through the universe with no disability, only love and light and grace.
Sharon Gunderson, originally posted on Facebook, December 13, 2017
Caeli Smith: Joey was kind, patient, intelligent, a great storyteller, and full of wisdom. He had a delightful laugh...
Joey was kind, patient, intelligent, a great storyteller, and full of wisdom. He had a delightful laugh and a solution for every problem. Every time I knocked on his door, he would sing, “Come in!” from the living room, where we had lessons. I can hear exactly how he’d say it. Each time I left his apartment with a happy brain, full of ideas.
He taught me in high school, and I continued to go to him for guidance through college and grad school. I adored him as a kid, and love that as I grew up, our relationship changed from teacher-student to a real friendship between adults.
My musicality was profoundly impacted by his teaching. For the last week or so, I’ve been thinking about him every time I play.
A friend reminded me that through our music, we carry our teachers with us. I know we will always carry Joey through what he taught – in our music-making, and in the rest of our lives.
Caeli Smith, originally posted on Facebook, December 12, 2017
Read Caeli’s “An Interview with Joey Corpus” from 2007.
Melissa Macy: This week I lost a beloved teacher, mentor, and friend...
This week I lost a beloved teacher, mentor, and friend. I am grateful for the very good fortune I had to live in close proximity to such a master in my formative years. My lessons with Joey were long and intense, with breaks to sip tea and listen to recordings. He opened a new musical universe to me, and gave me the tools to enjoy it. I am forever grateful.
Joey was an artist in every sense of the word, and a true renaissance man. While he was the first to introduce me to bow exercises and fingered octaves, he was also the first to tell me about the perils of burning garlic, and that anchovies are actually delicious. He was a formidable chess player. His first love was jazz, though he hated the sound of jazz violin and preferred the hammond organ. He pursued a seminary degree, and thought of becoming a painter before he chose the violin. He was an amazing illusionist, and I am so sorry that my children will never be able to enjoy his tricks. He could write in beautiful calligraphy, and I am not even sure how many languages he knew. Whether it was a recording, a book, a film, or a restaurant, I could always trust Joey’s recommendations – he knew so much about so much.
If anyone could have become bitter and hardened, it was Joey. So much had been taken from him so unjustly. However, he continued to give of himself, always with good humor, and never taking himself too seriously. He found so much joy in everything that the world had to offer, simple pleasures as well as complex, and his joy was contagious. I left every encounter with Joey with a spring in my step. He was encouraging yes, but far more than that, he was incredibly skilled at taking whatever talent a student had, and bringing out its full potential. He was relentlessly patient and could spend hours listening to scales, vibrato exercises, and endlessly repeated passages. As a result (I’m sure I can speak for all of his students) we didn’t just leave feeling like better violinists – we WERE better.
I am so grateful to Joey for mentoring me in music, and in my faith. He always sought truth and had so much wisdom. He was patient and kind, incredibly generous, humble and hilarious. He was a great friend, and I will miss him so much.
Melissa Macy, posted on Facebook, December 13, 2017
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Joey’s name to one of these organizations:
Corona Youth Music Project: Corona, NY
The Corona Youth Music Project was founded in 2010 in Corona (Queens, NY) to empower youth, fight poverty, and promote social inclusion through music education and performance. It is the first organization in Queens that is part of El Sistema,’ a global movement of music for social change.
WHIN Music Project, a program of Orchestrating Dreams
WHIN Music Project is an El Sistema-inspired program founded in 2012 that uses orchestral training and music instruction as a vehicle for personal development, social inclusion, community building, and artistic excellence for students and youth in the underserved communities of Washington Heights and Inwood. Donate online or make check payable to Orchestrating Dreams, and mail to:
Orchestrating Dreams, P.O. Box 758, New York, NY 10040
Union City Music Project
Union City Music Project is an El Sistema-inspired program that uses music as a vehicle for social change by engaging Union City’s at-risk children and youth in an afterschool program devoted to promoting arts appreciation, academic excellence, community awareness, and family involvement. Donate online or make check payable to Union City Music Project, and mail to:
Union City Music Project, 560 32nd Street, Union City, NJ 07087
Joey Corpus: March 19, 1957 – December 9, 2017
Jorge “Joey” Corpus, a virtuoso violinist who taught and influenced violinists around the world and who was dubbed “The Secret Weapon” by a major musical magazine, died Saturday, December 9 in New York City. He was 60 years old.
Joey was born and raised in Manila, Philippines on March 19, 1957. At the age of 10, a car accident killed his mother, Anita Aguilar Corpus and left Joey permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He began playing violin shortly after the accident. At 15 years old, he won his first violin competition. The famed conductor, Edgar Schenkman was in the audience and offered Joey a full scholarship to attend the Juilliard School in New York City. Still rehabilitating from the car accident, his doctors said he could not withstand the rigorous twenty-hour travel time to New York. He continued to perfect his music, and in 1982, received a full scholarship funded by then First Lady Imelda Marcos to study violin at the New School of Music in Philadelphia with Jascha Brodsky, co-founder of the school.
A few months prior to his graduation in 1986, the People’s Revolution (also known as the Bloodless Revolution) ended the Marcos presidency and abruptly de-funded Joey’s scholarship. Given a choice to return home or stay, he decided to stay in the United States, pursue his goals and support himself through teaching.
He moved to New Jersey in 1988 and to the Upper West Side neighborhood in New York City in 1999. Two years later, a five-page feature article on the The Strad, the leading magazine for stringed instruments, called him one of the sought-after violin teachers. Joey’s reputation quickly grew and began teaching soloists and violinists from all over the world.
Joey is survived by 3 brothers: Gerardo (Annabelle Tigas) and Hector, who is currently principal second violin of the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias; Rolando (Dena Lefkowitz); and one sister: Rosario Maria (Ramon Laudico). In addition to his siblings, Joey leaves behind a loving and tight-knit extended family including aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces. He is predeceased by his parents, Hector and Anita (Aguilar) Corpus of Manila and one brother: Roberto.
Memorial Services are being handled by his family.