Teen fiddler finds her own rhythm in role


As Madeleine Jansen prepares to play the title role in her high school's production of Fiddler on the Roof, the Mount Airy teen-ager is taking her cues from a musician who is more than a little bit familiar with the classic.

Her tutor, Lya Stern, played violin a quarter century ago in a production starring the actor whose name is synonymous with the play, Zero Mostel.

"She tells me stories about the production of the original Fiddler, like when Zero Mostel ... would change the act each night and how the actors and orchestra would have to follow along and keep on their toes," said Madeleine, who will make her debut in the fiddler role when South Carroll High School's production opens a four-performance run tonight.

For the music, Madeleine says Stern has taught her the technical foundation of the Eastern European Jewish folk music at the heart of Fiddler on the Roof. She says her teacher also has exposed her to a playing style of one of the world's great violinists.

"Style is not something you can just teach, like the technicality of a piece," the 14-year-old violinist said. "It's something you have to develop and interpret through listening and understanding."

When the Broadway touring company that included Mostel went to Los Angeles in 1976, Stern was one of the violinists in the orchestra.

She also has played on the soundtrack for motion pictures and television, including Star Trek, Grease, Rocky, The Blues Brothers and Waiting to Exhale.

She said Madeleine is an eager and capable learner.

"She loves music and is enthusiastic about it," she said. "She is occupied by it."

Madeleine, a freshman at South Carroll High, said she chose to audition for the play because she loves to act and play the violin. "I get to do the two things I really like at the same time," she said.

She turned out to be a good fit to play the fiddler in the school's production, said South Carroll High drama teacher Bobbi James.

"Since the role requires an actor who can also play violin, this was something she knew I was looking for," James said.

About 70 students are involved in the play, including 29 cast members. The students have been rehearsing two to three hours a day since the end of January.

Fiddler on the Roof is the story of a Jewish peasant named Tevye in czarist Russia and his attempts to deal with challenges to his people's traditions from within and outside his community.

His three daughters take husbands without the help of a matchmaker. The character, played most famously by Mostel, also must endure violence perpetrated against his people and encouraged by the government.

To Stern, the story strikes a chord. Her family fled Communist Romania in 1964 when she was age 16.

"I had read the book as a child," she recalled. "It made a very big impression on me."

Encouraged to take up music at an early age by a neighbor who was a violinist, Stern was 10 years old when she played at a major concert hall in Cluj, Romania's second-largest city.

Her family settled in New York City, and Stern studied at the Manhattan School of Music. She moved to California and continued her musical studies at the University of Southern California in 1972.

Now, Stern teaches 22 students each week from her Bethesda studio.

Madeleine, who has played violin for six years, began to study under Stern a year ago at the suggestion of the conductor of the Junior All-State Orchestra.

A typical lesson begins with scales and progresses with technical exercises, followed by work on a specific piece. For Fiddler, Madeleine worked on a style of Jewish folk music known as klezmer.

Stern said she picked up on the nuances of the play's songs when playing them for several weeks during the 1976 production.

Madeleine recently was accepted in a summer program at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She hopes to study at Peabody, the Juilliard School of Music in New York or the Cleveland Conservatory.

"She wants to be a first-class player," she said. "She's on a professional track."

South Carroll High's drama club will present "Fiddler on the Roof" at 7 p.m. today, tomorrow and April 4 and 5 in the school auditorium. Tickets are $5. The school is at 1300 W. Old Liberty Road, Winfield. Information: 410-751- 3575.

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