Local News Archive
Print Issue: September 20, 1984
His Prayer And His Music Combine To Honor Mary
By Thea Jarvis
For as long as he can remember, violinist Peter Haase has had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother.
The 37-year-old musician, who emigrated to the U.S. from his native Poland in 1971, believes it is her hand in his life that has enabled him to successfully pursue his art despite formidable odds and setbacks. Most recently, he feels it is with her help that he has been selected to play with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. after a 10-year tenure with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Whatever happens, it happens because I pray to her and it all works out well, Haase said in the kitchen of his Atlanta home, where boxes of books and records were stacked and ready for the movers. She is instrumental in everything.
And this warm and talented man, who still speaks with the pride of Poland clinging to his words, does mean everything.
Peter Haase began the study of violin at the age of six. His Marian devotion, a natural outgrowth of Polish familial and national traditions, seemed to go hand in hand with his music.
When the other kids were playing games outside, I had to practice, he remembered. I loved music, but I also had a father who said I had to practice!
Growing up in Katowice, where he received a masters degree from the citys conservatory of music, Haase decided at the age of 23 to come to the United States for further studies. A cousin in Pennsylvania had offered him a place to stay, but getting a passport to travel outside the Eastern bloc was almost impossible.
He recalls waiting and waiting for his passport, which he finally obtained through indirect channels. When it was in his hands, he had barely a month to book passage by plane or boat, a task complicated by bureaucratic red tape, an unreliable postal system and international currency disparities.
I remember when everything went very bleak my father took me to church and said, Pray to her, Haase related. His prayers were answered when a friend in the U.S. embassy in Poland was able to contact his American cousin, who wired the money for passage: American dollars move mountains, even in Poland.
When the young violinist left his homeland on his birthday, Sept. 4, 1971, he was getting out by the skin of his teeth his passport expired the following day.
The leavetaking was difficult. Peter Haase knew he might never see his parents or his 14-year-old sister again. (Happily, all three have since emigrated to West Germany.)
Once in the States without work, school or money to pursue his studies he lived with his cousin and awaited the opening of a new semester at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City.
In January of 1972, he auditioned for entrance and was admitted, but lacked funds for his tuition. Nevertheless he had an unusual peace about his future, stemming, he believes, from his continuing faith in Mary.
I felt I was good and I would get a scholarship, he recalls with a smile. Juilliard eventually matched a grant Haase received from the Polish Cultural Foundation and his education was assured.
During his two and a half years at Juilliard, he met and married Marilyn Kozyra, a young New Yorker of Polish Catholic parentage.
We both knew this was it, Haase said, adding that although he had been in no hurry to settle down, it seemed providential that they met as they did.
Marilyn put an end to Peters two-bus, three-subway ride from their Long Island apartment to Juilliard, insisting that he take the train a welcome luxury. She continued to work while her husband completed his studies.
When his post-graduate work was finished, Haase declined Juilliards offer of a scholarship for doctoral work. I felt guilty, he said of his dilemma. His wife had been the financial mainstay for the family for two years and he felt it was time for him to assume that role.
Moreover, My practicing was suffering, he admitted. Ideally, he spends four to five hours with his violin each day; during his student days in New York the time had dwindled to two hours.
Atlanta seemed a good prospect. Marilyn had family here and Haase felt hopeful about auditioning with the Atlanta Symphony.
You want Atlanta, Ill go to Atlanta. Ill make it, he had told a worried wife. Again, it was the devotion to his spiritual mother that brought him peace about the decision. As expected, the audition was a success. Peter Haase has logged 10 happy years as a section violinist under ASOs Robert Shaw.
Its funny how my life works out like that, he reflected, expressing his gratitude for the productive years he has spent in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Symphony is a very good orchestra. The best thing about it is its enthusiasm, he said, noting that the ASO was the only orchestra to have sold out three performances in a row at Carnegie Hall.
His own enthusiasm brought Haase and his family which now included a son, Paul to area churches as well as Atlanta concerts, where he frequently shared his talents during Sunday services. He had been playing the violin in church since he was seven years old, usually with organ accompaniment. It was then and continues to be a very natural outpouring of his faith.
I love to play the violin. The best way for me to pray in church is to play, he explained simply. I never do it for the glory but to help people pray and participate more. I feel better playing because its my way of praying.
Surprisingly, although Peter Haases music is moving enough to elicit spontaneous applause from grateful congregations, he is most nervous when playing in church. He offers his music to the Blessed Mother and says he tries much harder when I play for her.
A special selection is the Ave Maria, which Haase claims he never plays exactly the same way. Each time he tries to give it a nuance that wasnt there before.
As he speaks about his music for Mary, he is noticeably moved. Even when I think about it I get goosebumps, he said, laughing at himself. I reach a point where I feel very close to her, losing himself in the music that is his prayer.
This close association of art and spirituality seems to be a constant in Peter Haases life. The journey that led him from his Polish homeland to Pennsylvania to New York to Atlanta and finally landed him a seat in one of our countrys most prestigious orchestras seems a journey of faith as well as geography.
Im just stuck on it, said the now naturalized American citizen. Somewhere in the back of my mind I believe the pattern of my life is related to Mary.
When Haase learned of an opening for associate concert master with the National Symphony Orchestra early this summer, he traveled to Washington for a one-day audition at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the home of the NSO. The preliminary tryout included some 40 musicians from around the country, only eight of whom including Haase, were chosen for the semi-finals. He proceeded to the final round with four other candidates.
Unofficially, I came in second, he said, adding that he was then asked to try for the assistant concert masters seat. This time he went straight to the finals with no preliminaries, only to come heartbreakingly close once more.
My luck, I came in second again, said Haase, remembering that he was very disappointed. I thought I played a very good audition.
He returned to Atlanta, certain that the door had been closed on Washington, but a phone call two weeks later from the National Symphonys music director convinced him otherwise. He was asked to join the NSO as a section violinist without so much as a formal audition.
It meant more exposure, more possibilities, he judged. The orchestras international travel alone meant considerable opportunities for growth not available in Atlanta and the groups keen desire to have him in their ranks meant a warm reception in Washington. Because of his time with the Atlanta Symphony, they gave me tenure seniority before even working a day, he gratefully explained.
Leaving Atlanta is not without its hardships, he knows. It was here that his family bought their first home and established strong bonds of friendship. The Haases have belonged to three parishes since coming to Atlanta 10 years ago St. John the Evangelist, Immaculate Heart of Mary and Holy Cross and Haase has lent his considerable talent to many a Sunday liturgy, Christmas vigil and Marian feastday. He and his family will be missed in Atlanta, just as they will hold a special place in their hearts for the memories they have shared here.
Its a new challenge, Peter Haase said, surveying the packing boxes and clutter that are a part of every move. For him, any new challenge will always be met with a faith that has been tested and proven strong.