Recently, I gave a violin masterclass at a wonderful school of music where the violin students are quite talented and highly intelligent people. I thoroughly enjoyed the 20 minutes or so I was given to spend with each student. I heard an Ysaye Sonata, Strauss Sonata and Tchaikovsky Concerto. Wonderful repertoire, all very well played. During the class, I offered my suggestions on how to make certain passages work better. For the 20 minutes we had together,the students worked with the suggestions and I concluded the class with the feeling that there had been a nice encounter between us.
Then, after the class...
A student who had been in the audience approached me with the following observation and question:
"I noticed that in your class, you basically told the students what to do and how to play. Is that how you normally teach?"
During the befuddled stare I initially gave the student in reaction to his question, my mind quickly went over possible responses. I thought of telling him how the greatest violin teacher of the 20th century, Ivan Galamian, would have answered his question. He would have said: "I am the teacher, you are the student. As long as you are my student, you will do it my way". BAM! End of discussion.
I thought of reminding him that the student pays the teacher to find out what the teacher knows, not to show the teacher what the student already knows.
However... after a moment of reflection...
I quickly reminded myself that we live in a very different time today. Generation "Y" no longer looks to the treasured Russian teaching tradition which says: "Shut up and learn from me!" for their growth and enrichment. Instead, they first look for a reward for their efforts (after all, they did practice and they even showed up on time to play). Then, the generation "Y" student expects to enter a discussion of why their individual approach is a unique and totally valid extension of their personality and therefore unimpeachable (the implication being their personal motto is "Don't Tread On Me- and Woe to Those Who Do"). Ultimately, the students of generation "Y" seem to suggest that since their efforts are unique, they are just as valid as the next guy's-- even if the "next guy" happens to have been playing and teaching the repertoire longer than the student has been living!
Additionally, it seems "correct" style as a primary concern of the artist has been replaced with "individual" style as the primary goal. The unfortunate result of this thinking is that the important priority of saying something meaningful with the music is being replaced with looking good on the CD cover.
After all, lets get our priorities straight! Isn't it more important to show the audience how much you appreciate Brahms by looking good while playing Brahms? ;-) Isn't it more important for the audience to see how deeply the performer feels about the music, rather than experiencing their own emotions during the performance?
Scary, isn't it?
So, after my befuddled stare came a half grin and my verbal response: "Well, I've learned to quickly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a performer and to suggest to them the best course of action based upon my evaluation. The process of evaluation is largely invisible to the student, so it may appear that I am simply telling them what to do, but it is actually an intricate process which takes their unique charicteristics into account".
Blank stare in return...
Generation "Y" is here...and with them comes the question: "Why?"
A very good question indeed.
I've been thinking of Pablo Casals lately. A few years ago, my wife and I visited old San Juan and were drawn to the Pablo Casals Museum. We were met at the door by the very touching news that Mr. Casals did not want any professional musician to pay for admission. How typical of this great spirit.
For years, a quote from his book "Joys and Sorrows" hung on my studio wall.It seems to still apply to our world today. I'd like to share it here:
"Sometimes I look about me with a feeling of complete dismay. In the confusion that afflicts the world today, I see a disrespect for the very values of life. Beauty is all about us, but how many are blind to it! They look at the wonder of this earth-and seem to see nothing. People move hectically but give little thought to where they are going. They seek excitement for its mere sake, as if they were lost and desperate. They take little pleasure in the natural and quiet and simple things of life.
Each second we live in a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you. And look at your body-what a wonder it is! your legs, your arm, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work-we all must work-to make this world worthy of its children.
I have a new project on the table. Its intense, so hold on...
Old violins have a story to tell. They have passed through many player's hands over the years. If they could speak in words, they would certainly tell interesting stories. Sometimes they would tell happy stories. Other times, they might tell sad stories. Still other times---stories of the unimaginable.
Amnon Weinstein collects violins which were played by prisoners in the Nazi death camps of WWII. He knows the violin's history. He knows who their owners were-- and how they met their end. He knows the music that was played on them in places like Auschwitz for the amusement of the inhuman monsters who were lining up people for the gas chambers. The Nazi's allowed only "happy" music to be played (!) at such times, and as ironic and macabre as that was, being selected to play in the orchestras for those occasions meant the musicians would stay alive for at least one more day.
Not being willing to let death have the last word, Amnon has restored these instruments and collected the stories of their owners. He researched some of the music written in the camps by prisoners, and has created a musical program to match the violins. Ultimately, it is his joy to place these instruments into the hands of young contemporary violinists for a concert of music which helps us remember, yet is actually an evening where hope overshadows sadness. In the concert,the former owners of these violins are remembered and their "voice" is heard yet again through their violins. How amazing! How meaningful! What a great reason to play the violin!
I am working to connect Amnon with a local museum of Jewish History and Culture and The Cleveland Institute of Music. I suspect the collaboration will be something extraordinary.
It will certainly be an evening of music with meaning--and without a doubt, there will be hope.
More entries: June 2007