Old World or New, Sacred or Profane

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Below is a repeat of something I posted on ICS's CBN yesterday. Perhaps someone may respond here, or pick it up on his/her own blog, differently than they would post over there with the thought-police.

In echo of the recent thread on what makes a good cello, what makes a good teacher? And, are good teachers rarer than good cellists?

Recent posts have prodded me, but I've been planning to start a thread on this subject for months. I'm sure the answer varies depending on the student, but I also imagine there are some constants.

My first teacher, whom I had for a year and a half, was an undergraduate student with limited cello performance and teaching experience. My second teacher has a Master's degree in Cello Performance and rather extensive performance experience in the US, Europe, and recently, Australia. Yet, I am struck more by their similarities in teaching much more than their differences. Yes, there have been differences in emphasis, and some things one mentions but not the other. But nothing from the first teacher has been undone or contradicted by the second. Both teachers have presented things within a framework that makes logical sense to me, so even if I can't do something well right away, I feel I understand where I'm heading.

Also, both teachers have tolerated, even welcomed, my sidetracks and off-the-wall questions. Both teachers patiently understood that I'm not just going to take their word for it, I'm going to have to experience it and sort it out for myself. It has to make sense by my understanding of how music, the physical world, levers, and the human body work, not just platitudes and simplistic catch-phrases that sometimes ignore physical reality.

Both teachers themselves, are active in both classical and non-classical cello, although their non-classical pursuits are immensely different.

Also, both teachers made me much more aware of how I actually sound than I would otherwise hear. It's so difficult to hear ourselves and play at the same time. Learning and playing takes up so much attention, there's precious little attention power left for listening.

When I read the ICS newsletter interviews, even as a very beginner, one thing struck me about what these artists appreciated about their teachers. They most appreciated the teachers that gave them strategies for solving new future problems rather than providing specific pat answers to specific current problems. That says something about the teacher, but even more about the student!

To my perspective, there's quite a few accomplished cellists in the world. I'm surprised at how many skilled or formerly skilled cellists are around, although few earn a full living performing. Few earn a living performing music in any area.

But really good teachers? I suspect they are far rarer. It seems to me few understand how it is they do what they do, and can transfer what it into another individual. Even more rare, I would think, is the truly effective match between student and teacher. Clearly, no teacher is right for everyone at every point in a musician's trainig.

I have told my teacher that someday, years (many years!) from now, I'd like to teach. She said (maybe lied) that I'd make a great teacher (Bob & Rich's worst nightmare, I know. They'll have to add a caveat to the ol' "Get a teacher" refrain). See! All the more reason for y'all to not just get any teacher!


PinkFluffySlippers said...

I'll bet you'd make a great teacher. You seem to enjoy the challenge of articulating and explaining things.

robjeny said...

People have different needs and expectations, but a good teacher in general, I think, will take you where you want to go - where ever that is. They will have experience and good training - so they can solve problems. They will let you experiment, but not make one have to "re-invent the wheel" so to speak. They will be supportive and sensitive to a person's ups and downs, but not coddle in a way that stunts growth. They will be a good enough player to be able to inspire as well as catch faults and mistakes. They will listen to the student and try to understand them. They will like to teach.

robjeny said...

More thoughts on this. A good teacher will push you to grow, even if it is not comfortable for you, but not to the breaking point. A good teacher will have an even temperment. So even if the student has "moods", the teacher doesn't let their personal problems affect the lesson and relationship. A good teacher will see the big picture and know all the little steps on the way to lead you there. A good teacher will explain to the student, if asked, why they are being told to do something a certain way. A good teacher is someone you will be comfortable with.