Posted April 23, 2008

For Boyer’s Helen Kwalwasser, practice (and dedication) makes perfect

Great Teacher Award

Several string instruments of different shapes, sizes and colors decorate a small ledge in violin professor Helen Kwalwasser’s office. Her collection, which includes pieces from Asia, Africa and several parts of Europe, represents a 60-year musical career that has taken her around the globe.
Helen Kwalwasser
Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg/Temple University
Photo Violin professor Helen Kwalwasser has enjoyed the best of both worlds. From the classroom to concert halls, her career as a performer and professor has taken her across the globe and earned her several awards and distinctions.

“This was one of the first instruments I collected,” Kwalwasser said while pointing to a mahogany gadulka, given to her in 1947 during the World Youth Festival in Czechoslovakia, where she performed as a young prize-winning delegate from the Juilliard School.

“I’ve been to several different countries and performed in venues all over the world, but I’m equally at home in the classroom. I’ve learned so much from my students over the years and I’m constantly growing because of the lessons my students teach me,” said Kwalwasser, recipient of a 2008 Great Teacher Award.

From the beginning, Kwalwasser’s career was influenced by her teachers, the first of whom were her parents, who handed her a violin at age 4. Natural talent earned Kwalwasser a full scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with the legendary Efrem Zimbalist. She later went on to study at Juilliard with renowned pedagogue Ivan Galamian.


Kwalwasser said she models her teaching style after Galamian, who she said was caring but very strict.

“Galamian was a wonderful musician who was dedicated to his work,” she said. “He really helped me develop my talent as a violinist. As his student I learned how to practice well, and that is something I try to pass on to my students.

“My goal is to help my students learn to become their own teachers and practice in a way that will help them grow as musicians,” she continued.

Kwalwasser’s dedication to her students doesn’t end in the classroom. She offers instruction and hosts special dinner parties at her home for student musicians before jury competitions.

“Kwalwasser seems to know her students on every level,” said Timothy Schwarz, string department chair at Lehigh University. “She often remembers minute details for years. Because of this I often sought her advice and consultation.”

Her students have gone on to play in major orchestras, teach and conduct in universities and conservatories throughout the country. She hears regularly from many of them and takes pride in their career accomplishments.

At Temple’s Boyer College of Music and Dance, Kwalwasser has witnessed, and been part of, decades of change, teaching chamber music and, since 1985, serving as artistic adviser for string instruction.

“Helen could have retired from Temple and continued to teach privately outside of our university. But she remained committed to Temple and our students. She defines the word dedicated when it comes to teaching,” said Arthur D. Chodoroff, professor of instrumental music.

In addition to spending nearly 40 years as a faculty member at the Boyer College, she has performed as a soloist and chamber musician with the New York Chamber Soloists and her music has been recorded for Odyssey, Vanguard, Westminster, Delos and Columbia Records.

Her own accomplishments have already been recognized at Temple with the Creative Achievement Award (1984) and the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching (1998), as well as the Inspiration Award from Temple Music Prep (2006).

In 2006, she was honored with a prestigious National Artist-Teacher Award from the American String Teacher Association.

Her husband, Harvey Wedeen, chair of Boyer’s Keyboard Department, won the Great Teacher Award in 1996.