January 19, 2017

On Teaching - Once Again

Note:   this is being shared here via the request of a very good friend and colleague who wishes to share the post on her teaching studio wall.  This originated as a Facebook status.

So...a student came on Tuesday afternoon - a very conscientious student with both an amazing talent for drawing and a fascinating ability to understand and take on new challenges. Mind you, this is a kid who last year, after hearing a work played in another student's history presentation, found it, learned it, and played it in recital WITHOUT ANY PROMPTING FROM ME. (Of course, this guy, the one who with no outside prompting listened to all nine Vaughan Williams symphonies and the Concerto Accademico during his freshman year in college, was totally over the moon!)

As we started the lesson, this student made a confession.
Student: "I'm so sorry, I didn't practice all week."
Teacher: "...and you think that I'm going to be upset about that."
Student (somewhat embarrassed): "Yes."
Teacher: "Well, I'm not - I'm more thankful for your honesty."

*Teacher then tells story about how, when in graduate school, he never felt that he had practiced enough between lessons but was so amazed and remains grateful that his teacher (and there are QUITE a few of you who know who I'm talkin' about) taught 100% anyway*

So we talked, and that talk consisted of figuring out the student's schedule and what the student does every evening after getting home.

Teacher: "Let's try this for the next week. Immediately after dinner, practice for a minimum of fifteen minutes, with a timer, and be very specific about what you do during that time."

After that conversation, one of the most productive lessons of the school year to date.

In 1993, I had the tremendous opportunity to attend the Helen and Immanuel Olshan Texas Music Festival, a four-week summer festival held at the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston. During the first of those four weeks, we had the great honor of working with the late Sidney Harth.   Mr. Harth was sixty-eight at the time, and during that first week he  conducted a program that included Dvorak's Eighth Symphony and Verdi's Overture to La Forza Del Destino.    Mr. Harth showed himself to be incredibly observant during that week of orchestral rehearsals:   while I don't know if anyone else remembers, there was a moment during a rehearsal of the last movement of the Dvorak in which he spoke to the first violin section and said, quite sincerely "That is the perfect place to play an expressive glissando just like you're doing right now."

It was during that week that Mr. Harth both played a spectacular recital during that week that included a more than memorable "stand-and-deliver" reading of Richard Strauss' Violin Sonata and gave a master class.    Oh, that class:   the memories of him talking about Tchaikovsky Concerto and Lalo Symphonie Espagnole while having the ability to demonstrate - flawlessly - everything he talked about.   Oh, that recital:   he simply stood, like a Titan, and delivered.    

At the beginning of that master class, Mr. Harth said "Teaching is not subjective."    I understood then, but I understand more now.   While there are personal conversations that I could share, I shall not.   Nevertheless, this profession - be it serving as a classroom teacher or one who has one-on-one time with students, involves everything from figuring out schedules and setting goals for practicing to at times hearing stories about topics unrelated to music. It can involve, as some instructors have, leading students to yoga practice and healthy eating.    It also involves, as I have been made aware by many friends and colleagues who have become American citizens, teachers allowing students to live in the teacher's home after migrating so that the student can really get his bearings in a new nation.

No, it's not subjective.    It seems to be about service, and that service is about finding out what each student needs.   I have a feeling that many of you will agree that the most rewarding aspect of the profession is seeing that needs are met.   

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