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Teachers and Mentors

Laurie Niles

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Published: September 11, 2005 at 6:53 AM [UTC]

“You know,” Lorenz Gamma said one recent day after hearing me play some Bach, “that you really could let loose a bit more with the bow. For this passage, let it be a bit uneven, less measured.”

“It sounds totally pedantic,” I concluded, like a good self-conscious adult, rolling my eyes at myself.

“No, not exactly,” Lorenz said. “What is good is that you are the kind of player that has learned that kind of control. I spend so much time trying to teach that to my students. But now, if you can learn to let it be freer, and you will be the kind of player who has both the control and the freedom!” He stood there, smiling at this revelation. And of course, I smiled, too.

When I asked my friend, Lorenz, to help me by listening to my Tchaik about a year ago, I simply had the instinct that, of the 100 or so violinists and teachers I know in LA, he probably could help me the most. All I really knew was that he, too, had gone to Indiana, and that he was extremely well-versed in the violin literature. And that he played a breathtaking Bach Chaconne for his doctoral recital a few years ago.

I am familiar with good teaching. Spoiled by it. I studied at Northwestern University with Gerardo Ribeiro and Indiana University with Henryk Kowalski. I watched Josef Gingold teach master classes. I've just spent the last 10 years studying the art of teaching, seeking out the best teachers of children, like Jim and Jackie Maurer of Colorado, Helen Brunner of London and Liz Arbus, who teaches in my Suzuki group. I'm a teacher myself, and I aspire to be a good one.

Lorenz has spoiled me further. Though he is only in his mid-30s, I see all the characteristics that I have found in the very best of teachers coming together quite gracefully in this intelligent and articulate person.

There are teachers, and then there are mentors. The best are good at both. A teacher can tell you your pinkie is at the wrong angle, your spiccato needs a bit more wrist, your tone is not quite light enough for Mozart. A mentor helps you see the violinist you are striving to become.

It takes a certain generosity of spirit to see such a thing in another person, and to cultivate it.

This week UCLA named Lorenz its interim Lecturer in Violin, as the remarkable American violinist Mark Kaplan is relocating his pedagogic activities to Bloomington, Indiana for now. As the wife of a USC instructor, I'm not supposed to praise UCLA, but the school has made an exceptionally fine choice!

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 11, 2005 at 8:45 PM
Is learning freedom is easier than learning control?

It's good they got the best guy for the job. There are so many impediments to that that when it happens it's like a wondrous marvel.

From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 11, 2005 at 8:59 PM
Hmmm, I guess I could rephrase that as "Is learning freedom easier than learning control?"
From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 11, 2005 at 9:58 PM
Well, you have to have the control before you can have the freedom!
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on September 12, 2005 at 3:39 AM
I suppose, unless they're mutually exclusive:) Do you liken your task now to changing your handwriting from handwriting manual perfect to something that a handwriting analyst could have fun with?

You know, the most interesting recital I ever saw...a guy who was originally local who went off and did ok in the Tchaikovsky competition. It was maybe twenty years ago. Probably a month later I wouldn't have been able to tell you what he played, much less how he played it. The thing was he was producing the most incredible sound, and it really never varied at all, and from the first note it was startling. The only way I can describe it would be it sounded the way a shower of sparks or something from a ray gun would look. It even seemed to have a visual origin at his sounding point, with everything coming out of there. I couldn't tell you what music he played, whether it was stylistically correct or not, but I do know the sound and its impression never changed. I have to think he had found his particular freedom - and critics be damned.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 13, 2005 at 4:08 AM
Laurie, it's interesting to hear your thoughts as a student and a teacher. We can all become better teachers by thinking about the strengths of our own teachers. (Leader of the Band: I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band.)

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