April Focus: Teaching and Being Taught

 

Slava and Rose

I’ve never met a (classical) musician who didn’t also teach.  Sure, there are times when teaching is put on the back-burner for a time, or maybe even stopped completely. But It is virtually unheard of for a musician to go their entire career without sharing their passion, experience and knowledge with others who are eager to learn their craft. To me, it also seems like it is our duty to pass on what our teachers learned from their teachers.  My first cello teacher, Gilda Barston, studied at Juilliard with Leonard Rose, who had studied with Felix Salmond, whose mother studied piano with Clara Schumann.  I mean, what a legacy.  The musical thoughts and ideas that were taught to me, come from some pretty steep places!  So, yes-I’d better continue to pass them on to the next generation.

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I taught my first lesson when I was around 10. It wasn’t my own student, of course, but a younger student of Mrs. Barston who lived in my neighborhood, and whose parents both worked long hours and didn’t have time to help him practice.  They paid me to come to the house 2-3 days a week and help him.  I will never forget that feeling of pride I felt when I was able to help him play something that had been giving him trouble, or how happy he would get when he saw he was making progress.  Mrs. Barston gave my name to a few other students over the years, and by the time I landed as a freshman at NEC, I had been “teaching” for 8 years.

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I’ve become fascinated by how we work with students in the classical music world these days, in how things have evolved over the generations, and how they might be changing in the future.  It used to be that if you showed a certain amount of talent, you would be taken to live in Paris or New York or wherever, and your mother would rent an apartment for you or send you to live with relatives and you would have daily lessons with a great master.  These days,  people find a teacher who lives near them and they meet with them every week–same day, same time, for the same length of time. In between those lessons, the students are expected to work on their own, and make a certain amount of improvement.  To be honest, I’m not sure that is the most effective way of doing things.  I have been doing some (very unscientific!) research amongst my colleagues and my students this past year, and I have been thinking about what the best ratio of coached/self-practice is.  Whether it depends on the student and what other, outside factors are involved.  With the technological advances we have seen with Skype and Facetime, what is the future of teaching and does location need to be a consideration anymore?

 

 

Casals

I’m looking forward to doing some deep dives into these questions this month, the idea of a music teacher as a coach, and what the ideal conditions are for learning.  I am lucky to be standing on the shoulders of musical giants, and so, while I will be spending the majority of this month on the road, and perhaps BECAUSE I will be spending the majority of this month on the road performing, I am dedicating this month’s focus to my teachers: Gilda Barston, Nell Novak, Colin Carr, Ralph Kirshbaum, Michael Tilson Thomas and all of the other brilliant musicians who have taken the time to share their passion, experience and knowledge with me.  I would be neither the musician, nor the teacher I am today if it weren’t for them, and I am eternally grateful.

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