Violinists and parents Mary and Edward Pulgar are exactly the same at home as they are in performance: perceptive, fully engaged and with thoughtful and joyful spirits.
Edward holds the Gleb Mamantov Chair as principal second violin in the Knoxville Symphony, plays violin in the KSO’s Principal Quartet, as well as solos and duets. He also teaches violin at Carson-Newman and is using his training and skills as a conductor to work toward building an orchestra. He’s hoping the school can grow its funding to expand the string program. “I’m just an instrument,” Pulgar said. “I do believe in transferring knowledge. I like teaching.”
The Pulgars met when both were playing violin in Pittsburgh and performing as per-service musicians in orchestras in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia. Their children are Ana, 9; Claudia, 8; and Antonio, who is seven months. Their hopes for their children also being violinists haven’t quite taken hold yet with the two girls.
The Pulgars came to Knoxville when Edward auditioned for and won the position as principal second violin in the KSO in 2009. Pulgar holds master’s degrees in violin performance from both Duquesne University and Michigan State University. But his early training began in his native Venezuela in what has become known as Venezuela’s youth program, “El Sistema.”
Born in Caracas, he began studying violin and percussion at age 8 in the music education method known as solfège, a method of applying syllables and other verbal sounds to pitches to more quickly identify them and learn the rising and falling sequences that correspond with the position of written notes on a musical score.
“For every child who has any interest, there is a musical instrument available to them,” Pulgar said. “After Chavez, the youth orchestras in Venezuela have been subscribed to the presidency. Even with (current president Nicolas) Maduro and the problems in Venezuela now, funding for the youth orchestras is still an important social program.”
“One of the important points is that Sistema is open to every child who is willing to work and willing to learn. With the time spent in rehearsals and with parents’ support, the mission is to keep kids out of trouble,” Pulgar said.
He recounted a story of a woman his family knew growing up in Caracas. Since she worked for the jail system, she knew most of the people who got in trouble and knew all of the police. When a kid came and told her his violin had been stolen, she knew exactly where to go to get it back.
Since Pulgar joined the KSO, he has become one of the musicians I most enjoy watching. He plays with his entire body. “As the leader of my section of the orchestra, the rest of my players are behind me,” he noted. “There has to be some way for me to communicate to them.
“I feel that as the principal, my job is leadership. Sometimes, I’ll raise my bow as a way of signaling to the violinists behind me that we are about to come in. When music catches you, you just go for it,” he said.
Asked where he would like to be in 10 years, his response was, “I hate that question.
“We want to make the Knoxville Symphony the best orchestra it can be. I’m going to do anything in my power to make that happen.
“I’m grateful I married such a wonderful woman. I guess we count our blessings to be where the dear Lord wants us to be.”