Imagine a young woman from North Carolina, a violinist, enjoying a year in Germany on a Fulbright scholarship. Now imagine this talented musician with a future as a performer losing it all in an instant. It happened to Courtney Elise LeBauer. Just 2 months away from starting her doctoral work at the Cleveland Institute of Music, disaster struck: While riding her bicycle back to the village where she was living, Courtney was hit by two teenagers on a moped. She was wearing no helmet and had a violin case on her back. Courtney sustained a severe concussion which resulted in three weeks of amnesia. After one week in a German hospital, Courtney’s mother came to Germany and took her home to Greensboro, NC for more treatment and recovery. Due to the injury to the parietal lobe of her brain (where emotions and spatial relationships are formed), her personality was altered as though she had regressed to the age of 5 years old.
After three weeks in a regressive state, Courtney recounted, “Literally, it was one morning when I ‘came back to myself’ and realized that I was back in the USA with some strange scars on my face and ankle. I had no idea where these came from and remembered nothing about the accident. As for the violin, I had lost all sense of spatial relationships and could not even remember how to hold the violin and bow. I lost all feeling of how to play.” Doubting whether she would ever again, Courtney began the long journey back to learning how to play the violin. Beginning with simple scales, she continued with determination to make progress and eventually did complete her studies at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Then Courtney decided to return to Germany, the country she loved and had enjoyed during her Fulbright year. Drawn to the language and culture, Courtney always had dream to be hired by the Clara Schumann Music School in Dusseldorf. So in 2004, with her violin and one suitcase and no idea of visas and work permits, she embarked on a new adventure. Three weeks later she was hired!
Thirteen years later, Courtney is still living and working in Germany, where she finds life as a Jewish woman to be a deeply meaningful experience. “Being a Jew in Germany is a wonderful thing-imbued with much potential for historical and personal progress, teaching openness and tolerance,” she said. “It requires not getting stuck in the victim/oppressor role of the past and a willingness to be curious. I experience this daily. There are amazing moments such as attending a Klezmer weeklong course in Weimar as part of a Yiddish Festival, playing the fiddle in the musical Fiddler on the Roof with a combination of a German/ Muslim Youth Orchestra and a thrilling sold-out concert with her German students and a Jewish-Russian Choir.”
On Friday, Dec. 1, Courtney Elise LeBauer will perform at Converse College as part of the Petrie School of Music’s Guest Artist Series. The concert begins at 7:30 PM in Daniel Recital Hall and is free admission. Courtney’s performance in Spartanburg reconnects her with former teacher and mentor, Converse violin professor Sarah Johnson, who guided Courtney from age 12 through 18 years. “She was vivacious, a bundle of energy, demanding and encouraging. Sarah made such an impact on me,” Courtney says. Courtney will also teach a masterclass to Johnson’s students, bringing their mentor/student relationship full circle. Professor Johnson shares their mutual admiration and affection, commenting, “Courtney is a woman of courage and determination. We are fortunate to host her at Converse. She is an amazing violinist!”