Rob Norman: A Tribute to Joey Corpus
A Tribute to Joey Corpus
“Greetings Emile, concert was generally pretty much alright. Some things I need to work on though so can we fix a session soon? Hope you’re ok.”
“Congrats Guy! What do we need to work on?” would normally be the response.
Joey was Emile Flourney and I was Guy Gadbois – two of the pseudonyms Inspector Clouseu adopts in the much loved Pink Panther movies. Joey and I had nicknames for lots of our friends all of which I will keep to myself! Mostly they would be initialised. He had a language with everyone. It was part of that personal connection.
During these past terrible weeks, I have been reading and rereading the thousands of messages Joey and I sent to each other, sometimes up to twenty times a day. It was as though we had one long conversation from the very first phone call in which Katharine Gowers introduced us. The call was in September 1999 after Kathy had spent a month with Joey and on returning home, she remarked I should cease having lessons with her and get myself out to the US. Joey and I must have spoken several dozen times prior to our initial meeting – the conversation flowed and it felt so natural every time we did. Joey emanated an innate sense of calm and at the same time I felt an excitement at the prospect of meeting him in person.
I remember that first lesson distinctly. Late January 2000. Being an avid note-taker, I looked back on my writing and the first entry, in that first notebook was the recipe for Adobo followed by vibrato exercises and ending with what Joey called the Violinist’s Secret. This Secret was teaching me to do a couple of card tricks. So, we ate, practised and had fun. I also received some rather piquant love advice: “Perhaps you don’t like the food anymore, but, when the bell rings, like Pavlov’s dog, I start salivating.” I didn’t press at that early stage in the relationship.
I spent the later part of the afternoon and late into the evening with him and our friendship was sealed. Joey was always incredibly generous with his time and my lessons would last for hours. I say lessons, and lessons they were. No matter what we did. Joey changed my life completely. Actually, that does him a disservice. In his own subtle way, he permeated my life with such a beneficial and benevolent positivity, with grace and good humour – both in the funny and the joie de vivre senses as he did for all with whom he came into contact.
Talking about the violin, violinists, love of family, music, chess (through my brother I had a couple of friends who were grandmasters and I introduced them to Joey), magic, watching movies, listening to the Curtis Quartet and other music (Joey lit up my life with Bossa Nova and Jazz), deciding what to order for lunch/dinner, life, love and girls. And girls. And girls. He was often frustrated with my choices of girlfriends (hence my changing them so much!) and jokingly used to comment that if I let him run my life completely, I’d make good choices and be blissfully happy. He was probably right. Swami. Another name. Maestro. Yet another.
Tuesday nights quickly became regular time together after my move to New York on 9th September, 2001. Even though Joey had to have Tuesdays and Fridays resting in the early days in NYC, I would come and pick him up at 7.30pm in order to get to Smoke, a jazz club on the west side of 106th and Broadway for 8.00. Tuesday nights were B3 Hammond night with Mike Ledonne, Peter Bernstein on guitar, Eric Alexander on sax and Kenny Washington (or “K. Wash” as Joey inevitably named him, and always pronounced with the perfect ebonic accent), on drums. Joey was in his element.
Sitting at the back of this small, atmospheric club, his head would go back and sway from side to side to the rhythm, with eyes closed. Over the years, Joey and I took several friends to Smoke but nobody loved being there as much as he. Joey was often greeted by the musicians after their first set, from which he got huge pleasure and on his last visit, in early October, even having not been for a long while, Mike Ledonne shook his hand and chatted with him. This prompted an immediate message that came my way which was not at all boastful, just perfectly genuinely excited and thrilled; perfectly genuinely Joey.
Concert going was another activity we enjoyed together. For my birthday, Joey would buy season tickets for him and me to attend all the Philadelphia Orchestra concerts at Carnegie.
Another example of his generosity and thoughtfulness. They were always fantastic and I remember one performance in particular. It was Mahler’s monumental Third Symphony and it was one of those concerts of such perfection that neither of us could speak a word to each other afterwards – not though dinner nor on the way home. It rendered us both speechless.
I’d like to share some of the messages Joey sent which show his multifaceted interests, keen observations, sensitivity, humour and his brilliant mind. Joey in his own words.
On Cortot and Nuance:
Btw, Cortot’s Chopin 2nd Concerto is earth shatteringly beautiful. Maybe sometimes a little too fragrant, but it almost seems like it’s Chopin himself playing it. It’s interesting how he plays 2 of the same notes one after the other (like the repeated notes in the opening of the Mendelssohn violin concerto). He always plays the second one quite a bit softer. He was following a rule that is never observed today: he played them like a tie. (One of my favorite rules.)
On the Great Composers:
Maybe we just have to accept the fact that Drdla, Ries, Aulin, Raff and all these composers were superior to Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn. Hahaha. I told you so.
On Playing the Violin:
It’s puzzling that melodies that are not up to the greatness of the masters draw out the most beautiful playing from the players. One thing I’m realizing, for kids to spend time with the great masters will not necessarily make them better. So, instead of giving them Mozart 3 (which i hate anyway) or Haydn 1st or 3rd concertos, I’ll give them the little short pieces.
On Violinists Playing at Their Best:
My list: 3 pieces by Kreisler. Andantino, in the Style of Martini, Berceuse Romantique, Toy Soldier’s March. I don’t think it’s possible to play the violin more beautifully. (I was going to include the Grieg sonata w Rach on my list.) The Toy Soldier’s is “simple” playing that is not humanly possible. Ok, the second is David Nadien playing 3 pieces. Drdla Souvenir, Mendelssohn on Wings of Song (best double stop playing I’ve ever heard in a recording), and Raff Cavatina. I could have chosen 3 Milstein short pieces or Heifetz. It doesn’t really matter. so, what’s the point of this seemingly useless exercise?
On Schools of Violin Playing:
But u can’t isolate the school from the general musical trend that swept the world after WWll. I think it’s sometimes referred to as the objective school or approach. “Don’t do anything that’s not written in by the composer” was their motto. (It was really the death of music performance. I don’t think the world has ever recovered from it.) Violin playing can’t be separated from abstract musical ideas. If you adhere to the above motto, how do you think that will affect your ideas about phrasing, tone, vib, even fingerings and bowings, etc?
How was teaching yesterday? Teaching, a noble profession according to some. I’m sure you’re happy to give of yourself fully to the skulls full of mush who have been entrusted to ur care. I, Roberto, am not.
On Humour (Humor):
One of my favorite writers just tweeted this: “Hell is where the police are German, the lovers Swiss, the mechanics French, the chefs British, and it is all organized by the Italians.” Ain’t stereotyping grand.
Onggo FerriolsThursday, 27 July 2017 at 15:51 UTC+01
He brought music by the man who took off his wig on a windy day, Fresco-baldy.
Rob NormanThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:19 UTC+01
Not the music discovered by Michael J Fox – Bach to the Future?
Onggo FerriolsThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:23 UTC+01
Music by the composer who invented the hand sanitizer, Henry Purell
Rob NormanThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:26 UTC+01
Haha! Very funny. You’ve really got a Handel on Baroque punning.
Onggo FerriolsThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:27 UTC+01
Composer who invented the computer keyboard, monte-qwerty
Rob NormanThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:28 UTC+01
Onggo FerriolsThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:29 UTC+01
Not! Worst pun i ever made
Rob NormanThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:30 UTC+01
Certainly not. Pure brilliance.
Onggo FerriolsThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:33 UTC+01
Composer who made so many errors in his manuscript, orlando de lapsus
Onggo FerriolsThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:45 UTC+01
First drug dealing composer Narcangelo corelli
Rob NormanThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:48 UTC+01
First composer who had a saying named after him. Out of da frying pan into Da Falla.
Onggo FerriolsThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:50 UTC+01
Onggo FerriolsThursday, 27 July 2017 at 16:52 UTC+01
I forgot to tell you about my uncle who was on holiday in Egypt. His neck and back were aching so he went to see a Cairopracter.
It’s impossible to imagine the world without Joey so I intend not to. The legacy of his extraordinarily searching mind will be passed on to my pupils. I have, and will continue, to honour him in every lesson I give. I will try to listen to music with his ears. I will attempt to bring his humanity, humour and bravery to each and every difficulty in my life to come, for he was the most courageous person I have had the privilege to meet. Although that next session won’t be forthcoming, and many years of study with simply the epitome of teaching is lost, I will read through my six full notebooks until I find the spark of an idea.
Joey’s purpose was similar to that of the best of parents. He encouraged his students to stand on their own two feet and taught them how to practise. This way of teaching is invaluable and impossible to find. I once said “Joey is able to immediately spot one’s potential, and he encourages and enables one to reach it through entirely practical, tangible means. I have never before seen this kind of teaching.”
I still believe it to be the case but am now acutely aware that this was applied to so much more than just violin teaching. I cannot help but feel so very lucky to have been privy to some of Joey’s thoughts, violinistic experiments and musings on many aspects of his rich life and fertile mind. And to that wicked sense of humour…his raucous laughter will always ring fondly in my ears, bring a sparkle to my eye and a smile to my lips.
Finally, I would like to thank Joey’s beloved family, my family and my dear friends in New
York for their unerring support and love.
When I first started to think about what to say, it was really difficult. Am I the right person to be up here, what would I talk about, would I say right things? So I did what every loving brother would do.
I googled it.
What to say at a brothers eulogy.
It turns out I can say a lot of things: about what he meant to me, the things we did together, his favorite things, his accomplishments.
But Joey’s entire life is too unique to pull out of Google.
This past October 15 marked the 50th anniversary of the car accident that ended the life of our mother and took away Joe’s ability to walk. That’s 50 years tethered to a wheelchair. 50 years of wheeling himself around. Of not being able to reach things. Of always looking up during a conversation. Of not being able to get in and out of a bed or a car in under 3 minutes
And yet, in all the years I’ve known him, he never questioned why his life was different.
Not once did he ever complain about the struggles of daily life, or complain that he couldn’t do this or that, or that life for him was harder than most. Not once did he ever show self-pity.
He took what was given, accepted it, and made the best of it.
He was 10 years old when the accident happened. And shortly thereafter, he was around 13, maybe 14, when he showed interest in our grandfather’s violin. 14 years old.
I know what all the musicians here are thinking. Joey, you were 14 years too late.
But that didn’t phase him. He didn’t think about starting late, his handicap, whether or not he could do it. He just did it. Unphased and determined.
I remember one summer in the philippines, during one of his many trips to the hospital, i challenged him to a game of chess. I never came close to beating him.
So he must have been shocked when I challenged him to a game.
But I had a plan.
I told him he’d have to play without looking the board.
I started with E4, then he played E5. Then 2 moves, 4 moves, 6 moves. That’s when it got interesting, because the moves became unpredictable.
I remember thinking no way he can go much farther.
8 moves, then 10. These were 10 moves each, and he still could see the board in his head. Then 11 moves, 13.
It was not until we had 14 moves each that the board in his mind got a little blurry. He asked me where my knight was, and then he slowly lost track. That’s 27 chess moves made in his head.
No matter what disadvantage or obstacle, he fought.
If he couldn’t see the chess board, he used his mind. If he couldn’t use his legs, he used his arms.
He achieved more in his 50 years on a wheelchair than many of us, certainly more than I ever will.
At 15 he won a violin competition. Edgar Schenkman, then conductor of the Julliard School, was in the Philippines and saw Joey’s performance and offered him a scholarship to attend Julliard. But Joey was still rehabbing and was unable to make the long flight.
Then in 1982 another full scholarship funded by the Philippine government to study with Jascha Brodsky in Philadelphia.
This time he was able to travel.
In August, 1982, Joey and I travelled together to Philadelphia like 2 puppies. I was 18 he was 25.
We had no idea what we were doing and what we were getting ourselves into. For the first time in both our lives we were on our own: new country, new system. We watched cooking shows together and learned to cook. We were so out of our element but we chugged along.
Then in 1986 there was a revolution in the Philippines and all financial aid completely stopped. We were faced with the choice to stay or return home, where we wouldn’t have to worry about rent, bills, and chores.
But it’s not like we had a history of common sense. So we stayed.
Prior to coming to this country, back in the 70s Joey and I watched a lot of tennis. This was during the Borg / McEnroe rivalry. I decided I wanted to play tennis. I found my father’s dusty old wooden racket. The head was slightly warped and the grip was oversized, but the gut strings were still somehow intact. I began hitting the ball against the wall and I thought I got pretty good.
Joey said I should sign up for this big upcoming tournament. Keep in mind, I had only played against this one wall my entire tennis career, so I did the logical thing, and registered.
Then he said he’d tag along and be my coach. I thought, sure, of course I need a coach.
My opponent was Charles Arquiza, I’ll never forget that name. Charles Arquiza. Sometimes Joey or I brought up his name and we’d giggle like a couple of amused school kids.
Before I went to my side of the court, Joey gave me one last piece of advice: “don’t forget to bend your knees.” I wasn’t sure what that meant but I said ok. He wheeled himself to the sideline.
No sooner did I get to my side of the court when the match was over. I don’t think I even scored a single point. It turns out, playing a real opponent is nothing like playing against the wall.
We slowly headed back to the car, defeated. Me with my antique over-sized warped racket and Joey ungainly wheeling himself along the gravel walkway. I could not figure out what went wrong.
In many ways deciding to stay in philadelphia without a plan or a clue was like that tennis match.
Besides not having any money, no job and no prospects, we had absolutely no idea what we were up against or what to expect.
But unlike that tennis match, Joey came out of it standing tall, victorious against all odds.
He began teaching, many times for free.
He then moved to New Jersey and then to the Upper West Side.
New York adopted him and he thrived.
This was his home. For the rest of our family his apartment became our second home. This is where we gathered together to be a family. And here we are today, where Joey has brought us together.
A dear friend of mine just said that loss leads to more love if you let it. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling these past few weeks connecting and reconnecting with so many of Joey’s friends.
But alas there is no Joey, no high-pitched giggle, no dancing eyebrows and no magic tricks. What we do have are stories, reminiscences, and anecdotes that will hopefully live forever.
Not even Google can come up with these results.
Wherever you are, my dear brother, may you walk with God, run with the wind in your hair, and dance the Bossa Nova with the angels.
You have always been and will forever be a part of me. I love you very much and will miss you always.
Much has been said of Joey Corpus, the violinist, the teacher, the “underground guru”.
Please allow me to talk about Joey – the grandson, the cherished son, the beloved brother, the generous, loving uncle and a truly loved nephew and cousin.
I first saw him as an 8-yr old, at a family dinner, with his younger brother, Roberto and their first cousin, Enrico.
Joe and Enrico were focused on the prospect of devouring the 2 roasted chickens on the dining table.
Bert was quiet, disinterested in the meal, and looked bored.
I love to picture that moment, and how that dynamic persisted through adulthood — Joe and Enrico’s love of food is still legendary within the family.
But I marvel at how those 3 would mature into handsome, accomplished men — who would still sit with me, their Tita, and tell stories and jokes.
They always made me feel special. And they were “my boys.”
Anyway, the weekly Sunday Family dinners at the Aguilar home were a tradition.
It was a big, very happy family until the tragic car accident that caused the death of Joey’ s mother and Joe’s paralysis.
Through all those difficult years, Joe had music in his heart and mind.
To be a violinist was his goal, his dream.
It is not surprising, because his ancestry included exceptional violinists,
composers, and pianists.
It is no surprise, and may even have been expected, that the Corpus and Aguilar families would have children and grandchildren who would be brilliant in the world of music and art. They did not disappoint.
In Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York, together with his brothers, Bert, Hector and Rolando, they encountered obstacles, bu t worked very hard, and thrived .
Here in the States, too, family was always around, especially his cousins who shared the same joy of music .
I can imagine the fun they had playing together, and I know that one of the photos that Joe treasured, was of the young cousins making music.
Joe’s interests and expertise were wide and varied.
Although his mobility was restricted, he lived in his own BIG world– through books, and every accessible technology.
I could sit for hours with him and have all kinds of discussion which were profound, funny,
He lovingly indulged all of our requests to perform his amazing magic tricks– which were the highlight of every family gathering.
And he delighted us with his other special gift : did you know that he was an excellent mimic?
With the lift of his eyebrows,
those nimble fingers, facial expressions and voice, he could create a hilarious, but always good-natured sketch of whoever we asked him to imitate.
And if one loves delicious, yummy food, talk to Joe. The 8 year-old gourmand from our family dinners, became an accomplished cook himself, with recipes and techniques that I found incredibly helpful.
During these last difficult weeks, it was uplifting to meet Joe’s friends from his church community.
With Joe’s wisdom and compassion, he would have been a good pastor.
Marie imagines Joe, now, running.
I imagine him chasing angels.
He loved beauty and he loved ladies.
He loved his family, and his friends.
I witnessed that same love in his siblings in Philadelphia, Spain and the Philippines who, weeks ago, dropped everything and rushed to his bedside.
I saw his friends of more than 30 years, encourage Joe and spend countless hours in the
hospital. And I know that his cousins from near and far, lovingly rooted for him, and prayed for him, to get better.
Joe’s passing has left a big, empty place in our family and in our hearts, but the
beautiful memories, and thousands of photos will help ease the pain of loss
and will help us smile and laugh and be ever grateful for the beautiful and special gift to us – Joey Corpus.
Thank you for listening and thank you for being here to celebrate our wonderful, beloved Joe.
I’m often here on this stage on Sunday mornings, but I’m used to being up here with a violin in my hands playing for weekly church services. I never imagined these would be the circumstances under which I’d be speaking in this space, this is really one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But when Joey’s siblings asked me to say a few words about their beloved brother—who was my treasured friend, revered teacher and upstairs neighbor—how could I possibly refuse?
How does one find adequate words to sum up such an extraordinary person as Joey Corpus? How do you possibly begin to describe this beautiful inspiring man who was so brilliant and wise, so talented, so complex and multi-faceted, so funny, kind-hearted and generous, who lived his life with incredible grace in spite of having to overcome such huge obstacles? Anything I say today will be merely the tip of the iceberg. As I look around at all the people here to honor and celebrate our dear friend, I know everyone in this room has their own particular experience of Joey. I wish I could hear every single one of your stories. Since I’ve been given these few moments to speak, I’d like to offer up my own Joey-appreciation.
I first met Joey in early 1997, a time when I’d been sidelined by a debilitating left hand injury that occurred in my last year of school.
It had been more than two years since I’d been able to play without massive pain, and I was seriously exploring other options to pursue a different career since I thought I’d clearly hit a dead-end with my musical path. But my dear friend Lara St John had known Joey since she was 13 and had been playing for him consistently ever since, and she urged me not to give up, insisting that I needed to play for Joey. “I can’t even get through a simple three-octave scale without major pain,” I said in protest. She was unfazed, simply saying, “Just go play open strings for him. It will still be the best lesson of your life.”
She was absolutely right. On February 27, 1997 I trekked out to Garfield, New Jersey, where Joey was living at the time. I didn’t know what to expect, but I figured I had nothing to lose. As someone who usually takes a little time to feel comfortable before opening up to new people, I really surprised myself when I immediately poured my guts out to him during that first lesson, not just about my hand injury but about how broken I felt in so many other ways. He listened patiently to me, and then asked me to play a scale for him. I could barely get through it, but he responded by saying, “Okay Louise, I think I can help you. Let’s get you back into shape again…”
Long story short, Joey put me back together again…and then some. Not only did he rehabilitate my injured hand, he helped heal my musical heart & soul. Joey helped me discover a new joy and freedom while playing the violin, something I once could have only dreamed was possible. He was a brilliant analyst, not only in dissecting what needed to happen on a purely technical violinistic level, but he was also just as much an insightful therapist as he was a violin teacher.
He had this uncanny way of putting you at ease and making you feel instantly comfortable, disarming you with his kindness and warmth, his sense of humor and that irrepressible twinkle in his eye. He made you feel in your heart-of-hearts that everything was going to be okay, and in fact, much more than just okay. It was like he was your guardian angel. He was the ultimate confidence-builder, helping you work intelligently and efficiently so that you would be at your best the moment you walked out on stage to perform. Getting his seal of approval and knowing he believed in you made you feel like you could do anything.
What an incredible gift that was, and I know so many of you had the privilege of experiencing that with him too.
In the late 1990s, there was a small handful of us who’d regularly trek out to New Jersey for lessons. It was always a 6-hour event, involving multiple subways and commuter rails, and lessons were always 2-1/2 hours as dictated by the train schedule. We were thrilled when Joey first talked about moving into the city, and right away I’d inquired in my building if any apartments were available, but alas there was nothing. A few weeks later, I woke up one day full of energy and determination, convinced I’d find him a place that day. I spent an afternoon scouring the Upper West Side, pounding the pavement and inquiring at every doorman building that looked potentially wheelchair-accessible, but no such luck. I came home, discouraged, but as I walked into the lobby and chatted with my doorman, I suddenly said, “Please tell me there’s something opening up in this building soon.” As a matter of fact, one of the tenants had just given their notice an hour before, and I immediately snapped up an application for him. We got it filled out and submitted within a few hours, and three weeks later, Joey moved into the Whitehall Apartments. Anyone who’s ever tried to obtain an apartment in NYC can appreciate how miraculous this was to have happened so quickly and seamlessly.
I used to joke that I found Joey an apartment in my building out of purely selfish motivation. Whereas a lesson with him used to require three different modes of transportation and was an all-day affair, now I could simply walk one flight of stairs and didn’t even have to put my shoes on to get to my lesson! The long commutes to Jersey for lessons were absolutely worth it, but I loved having him one floor away.
Joey seemed liberated in NYC, able to get around the city easily in a way that hadn’t been possible in the suburbs, and it was wonderful to see him so happy. Once he was in the city, word of mouth began to spread and students began flocking to him. Our group of friends had frequent dinners with him and classic movie nights together at his apartment, especially during his first few years in the city before he became so busy teaching all the string players in NYC. I treasure those times with him.
Joey started his Manhattan life in a small studio but eventually moved to the apartment directly above mine. He would always call me moments after I started practicing, and I would always pick up the phone and say, “Oh good grief, is it THAT bad already?!” It was a long-standing joke between us, but he’d call when he heard me because he knew I was home. Even when we went through periods where we didn’t see each other frequently, there was always this unspoken comfort of being able to hear each other from one floor away. For the past fifteen years, part of the aural fabric of living in my apartment has been the distant roar of taxis and buses down below on Broadway, and always the faint sounds of violin-playing or other music from Joey’s apartment directly above me. I miss that already.
I knew he’d been sick in November, as he’d cancelled lessons I’d scheduled with him, but I certainly didn’t realize the serious extent of his illness. In typical Joey-fashion, he hadn’t wanted any of us to know he was struggling. I’d heard occasional sounds upstairs later in November, and I assumed it was Joey up and about, noodling around on the piano as he often did. I couldn’t have fathomed he was in the hospital all that time, that any sounds I’d heard upstairs were his siblings occasionally checking in on his apartment.
At the beginning of December, I dreamed about him right before waking up one morning. In the dream, I was waiting for the elevator in the lobby, when the doors opened and Joey went zooming past me. I tried to stop him and hug him, but he said with a big smile on his face, “I’m sorry, Louise, I have to keep going right now. I’ll catch up with you later.” That morning I awoke to a message from his brother, informing me that not only was Joey still in the hospital, his condition was life-threatening and he wasn’t expected to live much longer. Joey moved into our apartment building on December 9, 1999 – and on December 9, 2017, he moved again, permanently out of our building. But I believe he went somewhere far greater.
I know we are all suffering terribly right now. But whatever you believe—or don’t believe—whatever your take on spiritual reality is, I hope you will somehow take heart and be comforted by the fact that Joey himself believed in a glorious future. He was a man of great faith, and he placed his faith in an eternal future full of immeasurable hope, of matchless grace, of unbridled joy, where all the present-day brokenness will eventually be truly healed, where all the pain and suffering here on this earth will be transformed and redeemed, giving way to everlasting rejoicing.
I like to imagine Joey on the afternoon of December 9th, striding through the gates of heaven into eternal glory, walking easily on perfect legs, being greeted with open arms by God Almighty Himself saying to him, “Well done.” Those of us he left behind are heartbroken and devastated by the loss of him, but I keep imaging him running and dancing, and that is enough to fill my heart with unspeakable joy despite all my tears. I know the angels are rejoicing to have him in their midst, that the music in heaven has become that much sweeter for having Joey there. And I bet all the string players in heaven will still want to go play for him.
Joey, I will catch up with you later. Until then, thank you for changing all of our lives. I speak on behalf of your many devoted students and all your loved ones in saying thank you for the profound healing you brought into our hearts, minds and souls, musically and otherwise. We will try to honor you with our music-making, showing love and kindness and compassion towards others, in the same way you showed us. We are so lucky to have had you in our lives. We love you forever.
Good afternoon, My name is Jorge Ávila and I am a violinist from Honduras.
For those of you who don’t me, I was a student of Joey, as well as a friend.
At times I felt like I was his brother from another country, finally reunited and each catching up about family members we didn’t know existed.
I would like to thank the Corpus family for giving me the chance to speak and say a few words about Joey and what he meant to me, and to many many others of us – some in this room now, and some absent, but all of us whose lives he greatly touched, changed and improved.
Joey and I had a lot in common. We both have the first name of Jorge, we were both born in tropical countries, and we both started playing the violin in our teens. I had my first private lesson at around 14 years of age; I think he started about then, as well.
I’d like to think that we both had a positive outlook at life! However, this isn’t always easy to maintain when it comes to playing the violin. I met Joey in Feb of 1998, and had my 1st lesson with him a month later in March 1998. I met him thanks to my dear friend Louise Owen who introduced me and said to me “you need to come play for him.” At the time I felt like a broken toy that needed gluing, mending, fixing in some urgent way. There were so many holes in my education, and I knew it .
So I went to Garfield, New Jersey. It was a real trek to get out there!
And by the time I got there that first day, I realized I hadn’t planned my next feeding properly and I was very hungry! But I remember Joey very generously saying to me “let me see what I got in my fridge in terms of leftovers.” The first food item I received from him was the most delicious chicken type soup, stew culinary delight.
It was the best food I remember eating w him; and we ate together lots of times.
I learned then that he was not only a great teacher, but a fantastic cook.
The 1st thing I played for Joey was the Mendelssohn violin concerto. I was so nervous, and once I was done with the first page, he stopped me and promptly said “great job Jorge. Now, let’s do it again.” Immediately, I could somehow breathe again and relax a bit. He started working on it with such kindness, humor, and disarming simplicity, that it became clear to me in the first 10 minutes or so, of what turned out to be a 4 hour lesson… that my life HAD changed forever!
Joey gave me multiple lessons throughout the next 19 years of knowing him, and his generosity of spirit extended far beyond the run time of each lesson. He let me haverun-throughs at his apartment, came to my recitals, gave me music, photocopied music for me, downloaded music, copied or burned CD recordings on his computer, and altogether facilitated my learning in more ways than any teacher ever had in my life!
Food played a big part in our friendship. Joey and I ate after many lessons, and sometimes even before; white rice and black beans; either green plantains or ripe plantains. There usually was also an avocado salad, mangoes, any tropical fruits…and of course a good flan as dessert! We both liked eating the crispy crunchy skin of either pork or chicken, named chicharrón. I usually would order these foods and bring them with me to the lessons. We discovered early on that it was BEST to work first on an empty stomach and then eat than the reversed order.
Throughout his years of working with me, Joey encouraged me to be the best Person I could be, inciting in me discipline I never knew, and the joy of working hard and getting better as a result.
He taught me that there are no limits if you’re using the right techniques, the right approach, the right attitude, and the right frame of mind. He reminded me that thankfully I have been given some gifts that are not easy to replace – like fearlessness – and rekindled in me the joy of playing in front of people.
Joey tailored his comments and his help according to what each student needed. He was always interested into diving into what made you you.
Not only was my relationship to the violin most definitely improved by Joey’s help, but he also gave me the most valuable help mentally and spiritually that no therapist, friend or colleague could. He understood me! He made me able to believe in myself and try to be the best Jorge I could possibly be! This included playing the violin, of course, but it also included being better, kinder, wiser, calmer, more collected, and more generous towards others persons.
One of the most important transitions in Joey’s life was the move to Manhattan.
His apartment in Garfield had a couple of steps which made it impossible for him to leave on his own! We were all so happy to have him here in the city. Even though we never discussed it, I knew he felt like a bird in a cage; when he came to New York City, that bird grew wings and he could fly! When he got here, he took the bus everywhere, he rolled himself down Broadway as far as his arms would let him, in all types of weather, rain snow, the cold was never an obstacle.
Once in town, he helped so many of us find our voices as violinists. Personally, he helped me find courage to enter international Violin competitions in my late 20s(which is kind of late). But thanks to him, here I was at 28-32 year-old entering international competitions because Joey had armed me with wisdom and the understanding that it didn’t matter that I was older, it just mattered that I was there.
No matter how much of a struggle a piece was to play, Joey always kept things positive. Even though he jokingly said to me once “Jorge, we are a perfect pair, you love suffering, and I love inflicting pain.” Clearly he was kidding… But he taught me that some things that are super difficult, and not as fun to do, payoff in the end. As to his own physical hardships, I never heard him complain.
Joey leaves behind not only a wonderful family who loves him very much, but also an acquired family which he collected for the many years he was on this earth. So today we mourn the loss of a friend, a colleague, and family member, a great teacher – one of the best ones that has ever been – a kind soul, and dear friend.
May you rest in peace Joey. May the place where you rest now be free of wheelchairs, and of any other physical limitations. In that great place where you are now, may your new legs, your new body, carry you speedily to a banquet table in which you choose to sit next to the most distinguished pedagogues, philosophers, and healers of all time.
We will miss you Joey. May you run and fly with all the freedom and speed you can muster; and may we meet again in that fabulous place and enjoy some more pork, rice and beans and plantains in our new and improved bodies.
I love you Joey!
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.
Herbie: 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.