Cellist Timothy Landauer remembers well the day the music died. Not the death of Buddy Holly as eulogized by Don McLean in "American Pie," but the day in his native China when the Cultural Revolution began.
"I remember the Red Guards coming into the house and taking all our records," Landauer said in a recent phone interview from his home in San Gabriel. "All that was Western was 'the enemy'--'enemy arts,' 'enemy culture. . . . ' "
Landauer, principal cellist for the Pacific Symphony, was just 3 at the time, living in Shanghai with his pianist mother and his father, associate principal cellist of the Shanghai Symphony.
"My mother was sent to the countryside several times," Landauer, 31, said. "Fortunately, her hands were not ruined. Everyone had to do manual labor. No exceptions. Some of the best musicians committed suicide. They just couldn't take that degradation."
The family continued playing music. But "everything had to be done secretly. All the windows would have to be closed. My father put surgical tape over the F holes (of his cello) and muffled it with pillows, in addition to using mutes. Those were the measures we had to take to avoid being discovered. That was a very bad period."
Strangely, the repression had an opposite underground effect.
"Music became a way of emotional outlet for people," said Landauer, who plays a chamber-music program with other Pacific Symphony musicians Friday and Sunday at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. "On the surface, there was tremendous repression. But underneath that, many people were learning music. If you didn't have a skill, you'd be sent to the countryside. In China, there is a vast difference between the city and the countryside. City dwellers don't want to be sent there. It's really like exile, hard labor."
Plus, "if you were supposedly a skilled person, there was always a propaganda band you could join. It was a Catch-22. They needed people to play their songs. Their propaganda machine needed people. So they had to allow this growing number of musicians. They couldn't really kill them because they needed them."
Even so, "you had to be very careful what you did. If you were playing Western etudes, you just obscured the title so nobody knew what it was. If the plainclothes police came in, you could say, 'This is a revolutionary song,' because they didn't know music. They would believe it. All of that went on.
"A great many people took up lessons. Financially we were OK, but it was just sort of a black market . . . That's why, actually, you see many people my age and several years younger than I am that are professional musicians. Before that, there were not many. We were a byproduct of that revolution."
Landauer began studying with his father in 1973. By that time, he said, "nobody was going to knock down your door and break in." But he still had to exercise caution. "I was concerned that my classmates would cast me out and laugh at me because it was a luxury, and luxury was always suspect. You were looked at differently. You were a minority of a minority. I tried to keep a straight face at school and not let anybody know what I was doing."
The Cultural Revolution ended in 1976, when Mao Zedong died and "they opened up all the conservatories and institutes. A new period happened."
The family was able to emigrate in 1980, but only after another long ordeal.
Landauer's grandfather was a German scientist who fled the Nazis because he was Jewish. "He went to China before the war started, then got stuck there," Landauer said. "He was lucky in a sense."
After the war, the United Nations recruited him as a public-health official. "When the Communists took power in 1949, he fled to Taiwan with the Nationalist government." Later still he went to the United States, from which he sought to be reunited with his family.
All that made it tough on Landauer's father. "If you had somebody on the island, you had a very bad political record," he said.
When Landauer's dad applied to emigrate, he first had to quit the Shanghai Symphony. "He was told that if he resigned, he would get his passport and be allowed to go. It was a frame-up. He lost his job and didn't get his passport."
Landauer was able to speed up the process by applying to the Gregor Piatigorsky competition in 1983 at USC. "If I had had to wait for the quota, it would have taken another three years," he said. "I got ahead because I applied for the competition. I was fortunate enough to win first place . . .
"Los Angeles was a surprise," he added. "I had no idea of the vastness of the city. The first thing I loved about Los Angeles was the space, the freedom. I felt that. It took a while to get used to it. So big."
He studied with Eleanore Schoenfeld at USC, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees and also served for three years as an assistant to distinguished cellist Lynn Harrell.