Mr. Mooney. The man, the cellist, the teacher. Who can begin to describe this wonderful, complex, heartfelt human being?
I feel as if I have known Rick Mooney forever. His impact on my life has been profound, and I will be eternally grateful for all that he has shared. Our real relationship began with my son Luke when he enrolled in Suzuki group lessons at Pasadena Conservatory of Music, attended National Cello Institute (NCI), then had many years of cello lessons with Rick.
In the earliest days when Luke was four years old, attending his first NCI, Mr. Mooney loomed as a larger-than-life presence, conducting the ‘big kids’ in cello orchestra and running the whole shebang. We were in awe of this wonderful, tight-knit community he had created, filled with all people passionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated. This was to become our community, imbued with Rick’s cello lessons but, even more so, his life lessons.
Many people, when asked about Rick Mooney, will reference his complete mastery of teaching technique, from his Position Pieces books to his Double Stops etudes, to his teacher training locally, nationally, and internationally, and his dedication to sharing that knowledge with others.
Here is a little background: Rick Mooney grew up in a musical family, starting piano at age five and cello at age eight. His principal cello teachers were Victor Sazer and Eleanore Schoenfeld, and he studied Suzuki pedagogy with Phyllis Glass at the University of Southern California, traveling to Japan in the spring of 1976. He taught at Suzuki institutes and workshops throughout the United States, Canada, Asia, England, Australia and New Zealand. He served on the Board of Directors and the Cello Committee for the Suzuki Association of the Americas, writing dozens of articles for the American Suzuki Journal. He also was the founder and director of the National Cello Institute, which sponsors a Summer Institute, a Winter Workshop and publishes music for cello ensembles.
Our experience in lessons with Mr. Mooney was filled with learning, humor, and artful strictness imbued with deep kindness. Despite Luke’s resistance to practicing, Rick was, without fail, a consummate teacher.
During those years when Luke was taking lessons (2007-2017), I kept a notebook that is a treasure trove of quotes from Rick. He would respond to any complaint with, "If it was easy, Dude, anybody could do it," and he would counsel Luke to "come prepared for your own honor," in reference to preparing the music for Winter Workshop.
Rick had a wide range of music appreciation, and shared his encyclopedic knowledge of traditional and Suzuki pedagogy as easily as he spoke the language of other musical genres – "When I need a totally deep anger fix, (the rock band) Tool is fine . . . thank you very much." And he readily admitted, "My taste in music tends to have hair on it. I don’t like boy bands or ballads but prefer Skrillex."
Rick’s lessons were about cello, of course, but were truly life lessons. He told Luke, "You have to do everything correctly on purpose." Any pushback from Luke would merit a valid and thoughtful response from Rick, as he explained, "I am very specific and fairly insistent, as you know," then Luke would concede why he should do a little shift in m. 71 of the 1st movement of the Haydn cello concerto. In another instance Rick asked Luke how he located the note "C" in a shift. Luke responded, "Close my eyes and pray to God." Not deterred, Rick always had a response; he explained, "If you’re fishing, some days you’ll catch; some days you won’t."
Years later in lessons, Rick would exhort, "One does not need motivation; one needs discipline." Our lessons were filled with all sorts of learning – not sure why, but we learned from Rick that "omphaloskepsis" is "the contemplation of the navel." I’m fairly certain that might’ve been in reference to the need to focus on a specific technical task.
Rick shared deeper thoughts about music, telling Luke, "It has to be something that flows from your mind into your fingers without hesitation." He often played duets with Luke and shared, "It’s a rare and cherished friend, to have someone who can sit down and play chamber music ... musically." And finally, "At some point it has very little to do about the notes."
Rick Mooney not only mastered the art of teaching cello; he transcended those strictures to embolden literally thousands of musicians to elevate themselves and their lives through music. My life, Luke’s life, and so many others will be forever changed by the legacy of the gentle giant that was Rick Mooney. God speed ... We will all love you forever.
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