My family enjoyed a trip to Yuma, AZ over the holidays. This involved approximately 40 hours of drive time through some of the most stunning countryside the intermountain west has to offer. It also afforded my husband and I ample time to reflect and discuss our family and our professional lives - a fitting and valuable discourse as we welcome a new year.
Of course our conversation strayed to the topic of teaching, which continues to become a more significant part of my career.
I began teaching privately when I was 14 years old. I taught beginner piano to subsidize the cost of my private studies at Hochstein School of Music and later in the Eastman School of Music community program.
For me, teaching has often been a means to an end. A way to earn income to support my greater goals as a performer. It has ebbed and flowed in size and value for the last 21 years but I have learned to love teaching while also developing into a resourceful educator.
I was asked recently about my teaching philosophy, a pretty standard question in academic circles. But not a question I have ever been asked before. However, I found myself responding with a thoughtful and honest answer: in 21 years of performance based instruction I have learned that I don't desire or intend to make performers; instead, I aspire to mentor young people through the medium of music.
With this in mind and with my bassoon studio the largest it's ever been, I have identified three things that I most enjoy in my students:
Because the likelihood of me creating a world class performer is realistically very slim, I have come to put very little value in talent. Talent has a place but it's not necessary nor expected of my students and can even get in the way of productive learning.
Discipline however is invaluable. I define discipline as the ability to apply oneself with consistency through setting and achieving short and long term goals i.e. years of applied effort. The discipline of a student who practices in earnest for 20 minutes, 5 - 7 days a week, does far greater good than the student who logs 2 distracted hours the day before a lesson.
I relish working with a disciplined student.
Engagement to me is the collaborative energy my student brings into a lesson. No yawning, no excuses, no complaints. Engage with me! Be able to articulate what is wrong with your reed, what passages gave you trouble, what pieces you want to play. There is an endless amount of knowledge I can attempt to shove into your brain, but it is limited by how much you can receive. This process of giving and receiving knowledge is dynamic and requires an engaged, student-teacher collaboration.
I savor the moments when an engaged student can verbalize their concerns, their goals, and their plans.
Preparation is key!
Nothing new here. (Carry on ladies and gentlemen, there's nothing to see here…)
...except to say that preparation to me does NOT mean perfection. I evaluate preparation through an obvious identification of effort. If you arrive each week with perfection, bravo, it's time to find a better teacher.
Am I a mind reader? Do I have hidden cameras in the cases of my students? How do you know if a student has prepared or if they just *can't* do it?
I know you have prepared when I see effort. For example: you attempt a C major scale in 3 octaves for the first time in our lesson as part of an assignment. You get to a high A...stop...look at me…”ummmm...how do I finger a high A?”
YOU HAVE NOT PREPARED!
A prepared student plays a C Major scale in 3 octaves, they get to the high A, they slow down (fine with me), they play the A but hold down the wrong flick keys, they immediately recognize the mistake, slide their thumb up, hit the high A and continue with the turn-around having totally abandoned the metronome for a much slower tempo.
It is not perfect, but I KNOW you prepared. I also know that you will CONTINUE to prepare and I am confident that it will steadily improve.
It is my distinct pleasure to work with students who are prepared.
It may seem antithetical for a music teacher to disregard talent. But my philosophy is NOT about cultivating a rare talent; my philosophy is that I can assist you in being a better person, a happier, more successful and valuable member of your family and your community by helping you develop three crucial, life-long skills: discipline, engagement, preparation.
Nobel Winner and student bassoonist: Thomas Sudhof
Nobel Winner and student bassoonist: William Moerner
Rainn Wilson from "The Office"
Also, because I can't think of the phrase "Be prepared!" without my mind straying to this Disney classic:
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