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A conversation with Rosy Sackstein


Ashley Pitman, Strategic Marketing and Content

September 22, 2022

Meet Rosy Sackstein, a flute and piano teacher in Southern California whose musical family, including her three children, can be traced back to Beethoven. We recently had the opportunity to connect with Rosy about her family and her use of Forte. Before Forte, Rosy strained her voice using other online platforms for her virtual music lessons to the point that she was placed in vocal therapy. In a way, Forte literally helped Rosy recover her voice. Learn more about Rosy, her family, and how she uses Forte below.

I know you come from a musical family. Tell us a bit about your background and how you became inspired to be a musician yourself, and then to teach music?

My mom, pianist, Rosalina G. Sackstein, came to the U.S. from Cuba as a refugee with nothing but her education, and ended up being globally recognized as not only a musician, but also a true leader in her field and trailblazing female in the classical music world. She studied piano in New York with Claudio Arrau and Rafael DeSilva, in Philadelphia with Isabelle Vengerova, and as a youngster in Cuba with Louis Aguirre. Her musical lineage can be traced all the way back to Beethoven. So, I grew up with music being a huge part of my life. My mother was a well-known teacher who taught everyone from young prodigies to Doctoral candidates. She had a way of identifying how students were using their hands, their arms, and their bodies and was able to give them tools to diminish tension and achieve a level of relaxation to create an exceedingly beautiful sound with a powerfully swift and solid technique. Tone and expression were a focus. She would have students at the house all the time, playing chamber music until the wee hours of the morning. Very early on, my mom wisely sent me to a friend to study piano instead of teaching me herself. One day, when I was 10 years old, I turned to her and said, “Just because you are a concert pianist, doesn’t mean I have to be.” She took that to heart, but also reminded me that piano was part of my education, just as important as math or any other subject. So, I continued to learn! When I was about 12, I was also already playing flute and viola, and decided I needed to take a break from piano. I never really stopped playing and after one year, returned with more discipline to formal lessons.

When I was 15, I started teaching piano. My first student was a little girl named Vivian. My first three students won their first state-level solo competitions, beating out my own piano teacher’s students!

My piano teacher at that time, Mrs. Warren, was the one who taught me to have the patience to really read the music, and not just memorize by ear. I am very grateful to her and my mother for helping me develop the skills to become a more sophisticated musician and teacher. For my undergrad, I majored in flute performance. At one point I thought I was going to go to medical school, but I started winning flute competitions, so I thought I should continue to study flute to see where it took me. I stuck with it, and here we are.

Tell us about a pivotal moment in your career?

When I was 22, I was a member of the Miami Opera Guild Orchestra, which is now the Florida Grand Opera. My very first opera was La Boheme, with Emerson Buckley conducting. Amazingly, Luciano Pavarotti was singing the evening performances and Placido Domingo was singing the matinees. I worked with these artists and heard their incredible voices at such an early age! I had no concept of the scope of what my future held. That experience was so inspiring I wanted to do more. Also, that same year, I played with the Florida Philharmonic. The first concert for that season included one of the most beloved pieces for the orchestra (and flute), Daphnis and Chloe Suite, by Maurice Ravel. I had been asked to play the alto flute part. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time because I had never played the alto flute before.

Your husband and children are all also professional musicians. So, you weren’t only teaching but you were raising musicians at the same time. Tell us about that.

Music has always been the language of my household. My husband, David (David Roitstein, Pianist and Jazz Program Director at CalArts), is an exceptional musician. He started the Jazz department at California Institute of the Arts. We met in our teens when he played in the University of Miami Youth Jazz Band and I played in the U. of M. Youth Orchestra. We had many mutual friends and ate lunch together in the student union. We were good friends. Later in my last year of college, we started dating. When I graduated, I moved to New Haven to study flute with Thomas Nyfenger while David was in Miami studying piano with my mother. We missed each other so much, and were married the following year.

After 7 years, we had our twin sons, Matthew and Andrew. Four years later, we had our daughter, Alina. All of them were gently immersed in our musical home and for them, it was as natural as breathing.

In my experience, kids go into fields that aren’t totally unrelated to what they’re exposed to. Exposure plays a huge role. I watched my sons evolve. Initially it was Andrew (double bassist, Andrew Roitstein) who showed a serious interest in music. Andrew is a natural storyteller who knew he was going to move to NYC and go to Juilliard a decade before it became a reality.

All of my kids studied instruments as children. When they were in 10th grade, Andrew and his twin brother, Matthew (flutist, Matthew Roitstein) won the Los Angeles Philharmonic Youth Orchestra side-by-side competition and performed as principals with the LA philharmonic. They were also part of the Colburn Youth Orchestras, as well as other LA youth orchestras. They went to Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) and were selected to perform live there on the show “From the Top”.

After graduating from high school, Andrew attended the Juilliard School and was deeply involved in everything the school had to offer, including becoming a teaching artist. Matthew went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and studied architecture and music. Although Matthew had many interests, he also began winning flute competitions. He won the concerto competition at MIT and later was one of three Americans to compete at the Carl Nielsen International Competition in Denmark. Even after all that, Matthew didn’t know he’d be a professional musician until he was older. He once got some advice from Yo-Yo Ma at Tanglewood to “do as much as you can for as long as you can.” So, Matthew decided to choose music and after MIT, went to study flute at Rice University. Now, Matthew is the Principal Flutist in the St. Louis Symphony.

Alina (vocalist, Alina Rose Roitstein) grew up playing piano and flute and performed in LA youth orchestras and at the pre-college Colburn School as well. In addition, she attended BUTI for flute and the vocal program. Summers were an important time for musical growth for our children and Alina participated in festivals such as BUTI, SongFest, Opera Works, and the Bel Canto Institute. She has sung at Wigmore Hall in London, Disney Hall in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Bowl, and has loved recording with Andrew’s group, “Toomai String Quintet” in NYC. Alina has an undergraduate degree from Columbia University with a Major in Psychology and a concentration in Music. She also has a Masters in Vocal Arts from USC. Today, Alina sings in the Los Angeles Master Chorale and teaches at Pomona College and Pasadena City College.

Does your family ever perform together?

For about 14 years, my mother would organize fundraisers at the University of Miami for scholarships, and the whole family would play together. Even now, the kids play together as often as possible. I’ve played in some of Alina’s masters recitals. David and Alina have played together in many Los Angeles venues. We have all performed together for special events and recorded my husband’s compositions on an album of his chamber music. Recently, we played together for the Houston Symphony’s Living Room concert series. It’s always really great and we don’t get to do it that often any more.

Education is also a serious theme in your family. How do you balance the musician with the educator?

All of my children have always been passionate about education. It’s organic for them like it was for me. Matthew currently teaches at Interlochen for their Summer Arts Camp, as well as maintains a private studio. Andrew is the Director of Education and Community Engagement at Orchestra of St. Lukes, where he truly makes composers’ stories and their music come to life. Besides teaching at several different colleges in the Los Angeles area, Alina also has a private studio. They have all used Forte as their lesson platform as well.

As a mom and an educator, I never forced my kids to practice. Doing it for fun was key, but we always had performances to work toward as a goal! There isn’t anyone who doesn’t have an opinion about something musical in my family, but it’s always collaborative and welcome.

My family growing up was highly competitive. I had a lot of cousins and my grandparents fostered competition. But, my husband’s family was not competitive with one another. So, it was interesting raising my kids. I realized when Matthew and Andrew were born that they had different inclinations for different things even though I was presenting all the same opportunities. To me, that meant that whatever they spent the most time at, they were going to excel in. It didn’t mean the other couldn’t do it, it just meant the inclinations were different. We consciously fostered a collaborative environment because I knew the boys could help each other and support each other through challenges with their talents. They also shared freely with their younger sister! Since their birth, I have been learning from my children. The path to helping them be who they want to be is always a two way street. Everyone has opinions and sometimes we don’t agree, but that’s normal! I’m just happy to say that my kids are always there for each other.

What is your advice to parents raising aspiring musicians?

Kids today are highly overscheduled and having them have to make choices at such an early age is unfortunate. Some kids are not inclined to be performers; some just want to play for themselves. I believe the love and joy of music making is paramount. It is vital in more ways than we could ever measure. I’m creating an environment toward excellence, but I respect the students and their preferences. And, then there are some students who want to be in the spotlight, and that should be encouraged! Supporting kids and helping them learn how to do time-management is enormous. Kids need parents who are going to stay aware of deadlines and be involved. I look at it like a triangle between teacher, parent, student, and we all do our part, and it is magnificent. Without that parent support, it is very hard.

What’s your teaching style? What’s your biggest pet peeve as a teacher?

One thing that sticks out in my mind was that I was very motivated by competitions and performances as a child. And, I find that a lot of students are like that today! If they find success in performance, their interest continues and they WORK towards that goal. I don’t think competitions are necessary, especially early in a student’s development. However, if a student wants to compete, I will support that.

I teach all levels and I have several students with special needs or are differently abled. These kids aren’t doing competitions, but they do perform often because they like it. My fundamental belief is that I’m not just teaching music, I’m teaching the whole child. With the inspiration of music making as the vehicle, students will learn how to behave in public, address people, interact with parents and peers, write an email, etc. They become expressive and effective communicators in music and spirit. Kids need to be taught to pay attention to detail in a loving way, and it will make a difference in every part of their lives.

The one thing I don’t like as a teacher is when parents don’t follow through.

How have the resources in music education changed dramatically throughout your career?

When I was a kid, I had to buy LPs or go to a live concert if I wanted to listen to a piece of music. Then we had these radios with little cassette tapes built into them, and my grandfather would record for me anything he heard on the radio that he knew I’d like. Buying recordings was expensive and the classics weren’t as popular. Back then, as a flutist, you’d get Rampal and maybe you’d get Galway. So, having YouTube and Spotify so available completely changes everything for these students. Not only that, but with IMSLP you can download scores. That alone changes everything for students today. Along the same lines, being able to see and hear and have access to so much music everywhere helps students today progress much more rapidly. They’re inspired to work to attain their goal. I find it very exciting.

Tell us about how the pandemic changed the landscape of your teaching.

At the beginning it was really difficult, because I didn’t know which platform would work best. I tried Zoom, FaceTime, What’s App, Google Meet… I would have to give directions like “when I’m talking, you listen, and we take turns,” “when I’m playing, you listen,” etc. When I’d want them to stop, I’d have to project loudly, “Stop, Stop, Stop!” You don’t have unlimited time and you want to get your point across, but students are eager to play. In person, that all gets across immediately, but virtually it wastes so much time. Then there are obvious technical issues like internet connections.

Did you find that virtual lessons made some things easier?

Yes! For example, I have a student who is sick today. He only has a cough so he still can function, but I’d prefer not catching a cold, if possible. We are still having our lesson! Scheduling students is much easier online too. People can be much more flexible when they don’t have to travel to lessons.

Tell us about your experience with Forte Lessons. What do you love about it?

Forte is my preferred platform for online teaching. With Forte, my students can play while I’m talking. That is the beauty of this. I don’t have to repeat myself and I don’t have to strain my voice. Also, Forte on piano is great. The sound quality is amazing.

I am currently in vocal therapy because before I started using Forte, I would have to repeat myself and project over my students playing so much over Zoom and FaceTime that I actually damaged my vocal cords. So, Forte literally saved my voice. I am now able to speak to students while they play and they can hear me give directions. It feels like Forte is built for music.

What would you like to see Forte offer in the future?

Having the capacity to have more than one student online at a time would be huge. This would be great not only for group lessons, but also so that two students can play a duet without having to be in the same space.