I taught my first cello lesson when I was around 13 years old. It was a younger student of my cello teacher, whose parents were both busy professionals, and not at home to help him practice. They lived close to me, so Mrs. B gave them my phone number and told them to have me come over to work with their son 2 days a week. I ended up just becoming his babysitter, and I’d practice with him every day after school.
Those mini-lessons lit something up inside me. Using what I had learned and struggled with, and finding ways to explain it to him so that he could do it (hopefully without the struggling part!) felt amazing to me. It gave me clarity over what I was doing in my own playing, and I could see the results in his improvement.
I continued to teach throughout high school, and college, taught in community programs while I was at New World Symphony, and once I settled myself in Boston, I built a private studio, taught at a community music school, and also worked with students in the youth orchestra program.
I always considered myself a performer first, but teaching was always a part of who I was and what I did. When people asked me what I did, I would answer “I’m a cellist.” and then if they followed up with Do you teach? The answer would be “Yes–of course!”
When I retired the identity of “Cellist” a year ago, the “Teacher” part didn’t end. I love my students and get so much enjoyment from working with them and following their successes. My favorite thing (and I think it always will be) is when they reach out as young professionals and ask to play for me as they prepare for big moments. And the letters and emails I have received from former students who went on to non-music professions, telling me how the work we did together through music has helped them in their lives warm my heart and fill me with tears of gratitude.
But I have decided that this will be my last year of teaching. My Bridge Online Cello Studio students have graduated, and are in very good hands, and my last day of teaching at the Bermuda School of Music is 10 days from now. This has all been in the works for months now, but I couldn’t talk about it publicly until the announcement was made here.
Why am I leaving something I love so much? Something that has been a huge part of me for 30+ years?
I’m just not going to be teaching cello–or music, for that matter.
I learned a lot from my decision to leave my performance career behind last year. Shortly after I played my “last official professional concert” I was asked to perform in a concert here in June 2023. It was over a year later, and it was repertoire I loved. I decided to keep it on the calendar in case I found myself regretting my decision to stop playing. I figured if I did change my mind, I’d be happy to have something fairly big already on the calendar, and if I hadn’t changed my mind, well…it at least would be fun.
Said concert is this week, and it IS fun. The pianist I’m performing with is fantastic, and rehearsals have been a joy. It’s a piece I know well, and it’s been great. And I’m looking forward to not having to do it anymore.
So now, this time around, having given myself that contingency plan for “Big life change #1”, I don’t feel the need to do it for “Big life change #2.” I’m ready to put the “Kate as cellist” behind me, and honestly, teaching 4-5 days a week has meant that I’ve continued to play the cello almost every day as well.
The Teacher in me is still going strong. I don’t think she’ll ever die. I do a lot of teaching in my coaching work: the career coaching part of it anyway. I teach my clients how to write copy, how to increase their visibility, how to network in non-slimy ways, etc. in other words, just as I was able to help that very first little student of mine way back when by teaching him the things that I had figured out in my own work, I help them develop the skills that have helped me along the way.
Even these blog posts are about me as a teacher. I’m not writing this because I think you’re all dying to know all about my life and my thought process. I’m writing this because some of you out there are thinking about changing some part of your life as well, and I’m here to share my experience so that you can struggle less with your own decision-making.
1. People might initially be shocked, but they will quickly come around to being supportive
2. A LOT of people will contact you and express their secret desires to do the same thing.
3. You are innately allowed to change course. If you still need external permission to do so, I’m giving it to you now.
4. You are also allowed to change your mind about changing your mind. You can come back if you want to.
5. You will likely find (as I did) that what you are leaving behind is only the external expression of who you truly are. The cello was my tool for expressing myself and connecting with others. I still do those things, but now my tool is writing. Teaching allowed me to share knowledge and help others become the best version of themselves. Now I do that through coaching and, again, through writing.
6. Never make decisions based on what you think others expect of you. 100% of the time, they are too busy worrying about their own lives to have any real concern over what you choose to do with yours.
As I spend the next 10 days giving my last cello lessons, watching my students play their spring recitals, and clearing out my studio, I will no doubt feel lots of feels. Already, when I gave one of my Bridge students her last lesson last Sunday, I looked down at my well-worn copy of the Saint Saens Cello Concerto and realized that it was suddenly possible that I will never look at it again, and that felt BIG.
But, just like a good closet refresh, when you clear out things that have been with you for 30+ years, you’re making room for other wonderful things, and you get to keep all of the memories that went along with the old. It’s bittersweet for sure, but growth always is.
Here’s to making big decisions, endings, beginnings, changing course, and staying true to ourselves. If I can do it, you can too, my friend.
P.S. If this post struck a chord, and you’ve been trying to figure out a new direction for your life or career (or both!), I’ve created a short but super helpful worksheet that has helped dozens of my clients find that much-needed clarity so that they can move forward toward their goals. You can grab it here for free today.