Yvette Malamud Ozer, viola

Yvette Malamud-Ozer, viola

She’s not a cat murder. Yvette for a while tried very hard to play the erhu, a northern Chinese 2-stringed “violin,” that can sound hauntingly beautiful. Or it can sound like cats being slain. “My cats rebelled, formed a union and forced me to quit.” But that was later.

First, Yvette grew up in Feigères, a little village in the Jura Mountains of France. There were cows, sheep, goats and foxes, and Yvette grew up milking cows, picking apples and churning butter. Heidi! It was an idyllic childhood.

A change in jobs brought the family to the United States. Yvette remembers the 10-day Atlantic crossing on a freighter—during which time her older brother informed her all about the U.S. and cowboys—then entering New York harbor and passing by the Statue of Liberty. Quite a sight for a young girl! Their first home was Tucson, Arizona, then Los Angeles, and finally a suburb of Chicago where Yvette remained through high school.

She started on violin when she was 7 (virtually all violists start with violin), took lessons and played in the DuPage Youth Symphony through junior high, played in music camps, and played piano and classical guitar as well. “I just played all the time.” She had a brief encounter with a tuba in junior high. Yeah, that didn’t turn out well. “Don’t get me started on spit valves,” she says. She switched from violin to viola in her junior year of high school because, of course, their violist was graduating. She took to it naturally, playing in the orchestra and pit orchestra while singing in the choir.

Then it was time to head to UC Berkeley with a major in linguistics and statistics. Yes, she did that for a few years and even wrote a statistics textbook. But there was music to be played. She became a street musician for several years, on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, the Renaissance Fair, Dickens Fair, and other venues. She learned western swing, bluegrass, and older music. “That really taught me to play by ear, be in tune and improvise.”

With that out of her system, Yvette returned to UC Berkeley, resumed her major and joined the UC Symphony, studying viola with Detlev Olshausen of the San Francisco Symphony and Opera Orchestra. That’s when the erhu entered the scene; her aunt had brought it back from a trip to China. And…the erhu exited the scene.

Yvette continued to experiment with music, playing with the Old First Church Symphony in San Francisco for about 15 years, singing with the Lesbian-Gay Mixed Chorus and learning viol da gamba—an upright viol played like a cello—through the SF Early Music Society (“but I was pregnant and each week the instrument moved farther and farther away from me until I gave that up”).

Yvette had a varied career in the corporate and nonprofit worlds for a few years. After she became disabled, she decided to return to school and earned a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology in San Francisco, with special interests in pediatrics and neuropsychology. She’s co-authored and edited several books, including the Encyclopedia of Emotion and the five-volume A Student Guide to Health.

And Yvette finally found her musical home with Prometheus about 11 years ago. Now, having gained one daughter, one husband and three new cats, she intends to play with us, beautifully, for the foreseeable future.

~Joyce Vollmer

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