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?

 

 

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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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My Week in Florida

Hi Everyone,

Sorry I have been a bit MIA as of late.  February was insane, and then March got even crazier.  I’ve missed writing, but then you know how it goes….the longer you wait, the harder it is to get going again.  I realized that I hadn’t even posted about last month’s trip to Florida, so that’s where I’ll start.

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I had planned this week of concerts around South Florida to coincide with Paul’s February School Holidays, so he was able to join me for for the trip.  I had been in Boston for some recording sessions and a concert the week before, so we met up in Miami for a little sight-seeing and relaxation, and then moved our way up and down between Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach.  I had a mix of public and private recitals, school workshops and master classes scheduled for the latter half of the week.  Over our 8 days there, we caught up with dear friends, met some new ones, and I got to perform my solo program for a whole bunch of people. We explored the Wynwood area in Miami, checked out the Museum of Science, and went to the New World Symphony Gala.  We walked the Riverwalk in Ft. Lauderdale and hit up the shopping strip in Palm Beach, spent time with my uncle and time at the beach. It was lovely.

But we were also there on Valentine’s Day, and what should have been (especially during marriage month!) our über romantic get-away, ended up being a horrible, horrible, awful, mind-numbing day when 17 innocent kids were gunned down at their own high school a couple of miles from where we were at the time.  Needless to say, it lent a bit of a grayish tint on my memories of the week.  Everyone was distracted.  I showed up to play my concert the following day and they had completely forgotten about me.  I do strongly believe that music heals the soul, but in truth, no one was really in the mood for a concert, least of all me.  The concerts all happened (except one, but that’s a whole different story….!) but we were all walking around in a bit of a daze–at times pretending that everything was fine, and at other times, depressed and uninterested in doing anything at all.

It was, however, good to be in some warmer weather, and as I mentioned, we got to spend time with relatives and dear old friends – some of whom I had not seen in over a decade.  We ate delicious meals and went on romantic walks. I got to see Paul get excited over geeky things at the science museum and he got to catch a glimpse into my former life in Miami Beach.

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So, there you have it.  It was a strange and bizarre trip, and while it wasn’t the luxurious get-away I was hoping for, I am so grateful that Paul was there with me.  I’m not sure I could have done it without him.  Logistically and emotionally, I needed him there.  He drove me to concerts so that I wouldn’t arrive exhausted, he chatted up audience members and convinced them to buy cds, and he let me snap at him (sorry!) when I didn’t really know how to answer his questions that were generally along the lines of “what the hell is wrong with your country?” and “Why can’t you guys solve your gun problem the way the rest of the world has?”

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It was in Miami, actually, many moons ago, when Gary Hoffman gave me some advice that I have never forgotten.  When I asked him what it was like to travel around the world as a concert cellist, he looked at me, and said “Well, you just have to accept that 85% of the time you’re going to feel like shit.  You’re going to be jet-lagged, or have a headache, or have caught a cold on the airplane, or some weird thing is going to be going on in your life or around you, but you have to learn how to just show up and do it anyway.”  That week in Florida definitely tested me in a lot of ways, but overall, I think will come away with fond memories of the people I met and got to play for, the talented and enthusiastic students I worked with, of renewed friendships and tender moments. And on Saturday, I will be thinking of all of those people marching in the States, I’ll be going for a long walk around the island in solidarity.

-Kate

On the Road Again

I’m sitting on an airplane flying from Bermuda to Boston.  I have 4 days there–teaching some lessons, and recording and rehearsing a program of Joan Tower’s music for BMOP.  From there, I head off to Miami, where Paul will meet me for a little concert tour/vacation combo.  Between the 30 degrees and snowy weather in Boston, the 82 degrees and sunny temperatures in Florida, and the mix of concerts, teaching, and beach/date time, this was an interesting trip to pack for!  Continue reading

The $100 Bill

What would you do if I handed you a $100 bill?  

I once had a student who started cello lessons with me when he was 5 years old, and he LOVED the cello.  He loved playing the cello, he loved practicing the cello (as soon as he woke up-at 5am! Much to his parents’ dismay).  But he had this weird thing he did–He only used about 3 inches of bow–ever (probably due to the fact that he was trying not to wake his parents up!).  And every week he would come into his lesson, sad about his lack of tone, and I would say “Use your whole bow!  Use more arm weight! Yes!!!! Just like that! Do it again!  Terrific!  Okay.  Practice this piece like that, with big bows, and you’ll always sound like that”.  And he would leave his lesson super excited about knowing exactly what to do to get that great big cello sound he was after.  And then he would come in a week later, using only 3 inches of bow, and sad that he sounded so wimpy.  And we would repeat the cycle. Continue reading

Chicago!

Remember that little trip to Chicago I took in October?  It was just last week, but it feels like it was a gazillion years ago!  It was exciting, exhausting, exhilarating, and everything you would expect.  Overall, my experiment of going to a city and playing as many concerts as I could for as many different groups of people as possible worked.  I learned a hella lotta stuff about the whole process of sending press releases, booking concerts and venues and more importantly, I learned a lot about myself and what I need in terms of concert prep. Continue reading