Dwelling With Wolves

When Helene Grimaud was born 29 years ago in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, she was an energetic child. Her parents sought a way to channel her liveliness. They decided on piano lessons.

Her talent was recognized immediately. Earning the respect of critics, colleagues and audiences, Grimaud now plays with the New York Philharmonic. But piano is only one of her passions. As CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Eugenia Zukerman reports, this acclaimed musician is also raising purebred wolves.

"It's very possible to be safe with wolves if you really pay attention all the time," Grimaud says. "You always have to watch what's going on. To interact with a wolf you have to do it on the wolf's terms and respect their world."

Grimaud has never felt ill at ease with wolves. She had her first encounter with one about five years ago while living in Florida.

"It was probably a wolf hybrid but she had enough wolf in her that she was totally different from any dog I knew. And something happened. I can't tell you what it was, but I guess some chemistry," she says. "Then all of a sudden it was a passion, and there was no turning away from it."

Today, Grimaud makes her home with photographer J. Henry Fair in Westchester, N.Y. And in a two-acre enclosure, she looks after three purebred wolves, all born in captivity.

"Before we moved here, I called the town hall and said, like, Â'Well you know if we come here with wolves and federal permits and state permits, how do you feel about it?Â' And they said, Â'Well, there's no local ordinance against it,Â'" Grimaud recalls.

Now sheÂ's dedicated to educating schoolchildren about both her passions. In addition to finding out about wolves, students at the John Jay Middle School are learning about Beethoven, as they were invited to attend Grimaud's rehearsal with the New York Philharmonic.

One advantage of playing with the Philharmonic is that Grimaud does not have to be away from home. Although trained volunteers look after the wolves when she is on the road, she never leaves the wolves alone for more than 10 days at a time.

She is careful when approaching the wolves. "We let them initiate contact," says Grimaud. "I always feel as though there is this circle, this invisible space around a wolf. And you don't want to encroach in that space if you haven't been given signs that it's OK to do so."

Grimaud gets close to her wolves.
"When they come to us, we do not also pet them in a way you would pet a dog," she says. "It's a different sort of physical interaction. I can' really explain what it is, but you never try and never take them for granted."

When it comes to music, like Sergei Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto, Grimaud also does not take anything for granted.

"Rachmaninoff is maybe one of my oldest friends, and I always found that his music had great nobility of heart," she says. "I'm able to find new things all the time, which is good and bad in a way."

"I have [real] trouble breaking away from pieces, because they're constantly evolving," she says.

Grimaud experiments in the recording studio; her early recordings brought her international acclaim. "Instead of repeating things to try and make them better every time, you can try different things, different phrasing," she says.

But along with successful songs comes considerable publicity. When Grimaud was photographed for the May issue of Vogue, she was gracious, if a little wary.

"I had to say, Â'I don't want too much makeup and I don't want clothes that aren't me,Â'" says Grimaud. "And everywhere I look, people say I would have just never recognized you compared to what they have seen on record covers or publicity pictures."

One of the main things that Grimaud was well-known for was her mane of hair. She cut it off, she explains, because "it's much more, you know, low maintenance to have it short."

"And the wolves don't pull on it," she says. "You want to try [to] avoid engaging in negative interactions with wolves."

While maintaining a pack of wolves is an expensive hobby, Grimaud says sheÂ's never agreed to perform because of a fee: "Every time I've been tempted to, I've said no to the date."

In fact, Grimaud prefers to limit her concert schedule to about 50 performances a year, which makes them all the more rewarding.

"Even if I had nothing in my life aside from music, no private life, no wolves, I still would find it wiser, in my case, to function at a slow pace. Because I really believe in the concert being an emotional event, and I think that if you do it too often, it can't be that," she says.

"I would say the main thing that the wolves have taught me, and it's still happening, and it's difficult, is to live in the moment," Grimaud says.

Visit Helene Grimaud at
The Wolf Conservation Center