Godchild of Jean Sibelius

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Godchild of Jean Sibelius

Post by piston » Fri Apr 24, 2015 7:10 pm

Jean Sibelius was her godfather but that was decided before her birth, when her biological parents, composer Alan (Chakmakjian) Hovhaness and artist Martha Mott Davis traveled to Finland to meet, and befriend, one of Alan's favorite composers.

Martha had her rebellious side and Alan would never be a faithful mate, at least not during the many decades he struggled as a composer (we tend to forget that the great bulk of his 67 numbered symphonies were composed in his fifties, sixties, and seventies, at the rate of three to four per year). Alan Hovhaness would leave his young family when little Jean Christina Hovhaness was three and go through a succession of partners, at least six of them.

Raised by her struggling artistic mother, little Jean Christina had a difficult life in Cambridge, MA, and Rochester, NY, followed by better days, as an adolescent, with a new "Daddy," a Danish sculptor, a younger step-brother, a new-born brother, and her mother, first in Jaffrey, NH, where she befriended French-Canadian children, and then in Solvang, CA, a tiny Danish rural community. An avid horse rider, she experienced a serious cervical spine injury at the age of fourteen, but kept up her music-making which began at the piano, then the violin and, finally, the clarinet, because of a lack of music teacher in her area.

When she was admitted at UC Berkeley her "Daddy" was slowly losing his life to cancer. Hired as a teaching assistant in her senior undergraduate year, she rapidly asserted her presence in a cancer research lab, did her M.A. at Columbia, and returned to Berkeley to earn a Ph.D. in cancer research genetics, married a prominent researcher native of India, who rapidly ascended to the rank of head of his department at Berkeley, and herself served as cancer researcher and teacher until 1968. Her scholarship was good enough to draw the attention of Dr. Janet Travell, President Kennedy's physician, who requested a reprint of one of her articles on the physiology of the adrenal because of Kennedy's Addison's disease.

There she is, in the lower right corner:

But she had hit the "glass ceiling" and, used only for "non-academic research" and as a non-tenure track lecturer, she devoted increasing attention to "music-making." Moreover, she was plagued by constant physical problems in her hands, wrists, arms, neck, back, and found the harpsichord to be the best instrument to play given her physical limitations.

One of the most troubling sections of her autobiography concerns how her increasingly debilitating health condition, muscular dystrophy, was not properly diagnosed and the incredible amount of surgical and psychiatric interventions she had to suffer, including hand surgeries, an extremely brutal "two holes in the back" operation and a mentally debilitating psychoactive drug treatment which nevertheless improved her physical condition. A "guinea pig" for incompetent medical practitioners, she continued to perform at the harpsichord and even travelled abroad, such as in Holland, to study with Gustav Leonhardt. Reconnecting with her biological father, she also performed at a church concert with him and his last "wife," soprano Hinako Fujihara, at St. John's Church, in Berkeley, works by Couperin and Hovhaness' Sonata for Harpsichord, op. 306:

Confined to a wheelchair, in the 1980s, Jean realized that educational methodologies for keyboard players were all too often irrelevant for the harpsichord. She published two reference manuals for harpsichordists, along with a guide to music theory (still available at amazon for $999.11!):

During the 1990s, she became a disability rights activist, asserting the right of disabled people to be mobile in California's BART transit system:

A scientist at the cutting edge of cancer research, a life-long musician who often "made" music without the guidance of a teacher, a harpsichord teacher, an activist for disability rights, and an opponent of assisted suicides, Jean Christina Chakmakjian Hovhaness Brandt-Erichsen Nandi, the godchild of Jean Sibelius, lived a life rich in personal achievements and brave struggles, despite her father's great distance, her gender in the world of scientific research during the 1960s, and her painfully maltreated terminal disease. So far as I can tell, she is still alive as I am posting this message.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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