My Teaching Philosophy
My central focus as a teacher is to help each musician I work with build a more personal, intelligent, and sustainable relationship with their work. This happens on musical, physical, and emotional levels, both in individual lessons and in community. I aim to help students deepen their instincts, musical voices, and skills in reading a score; build a more thorough toolbox for fixing technical problems as they arise; and nurture a healthier long-term relationship with the instrument and their growth process.
One of the primary goals in my lessons is for students to use their artistic instincts to find greater physical comfort at the cello. Part of this exploration is in drawing students out: asking about what they respond to in a piece of music, listening for their personal responses as they play, and encouraging them to trust and call upon those responses. (I very often, to this end, have students play through whole pieces or movements in the beginning of a lesson, to build their courage in sharing those reactions.) I think of this as crafting an “instinct map” – connecting to what a student wants artistically, and using that as a guide to show what technical vocabulary they will need to support it.
For instance, the variation of musical stress within a phrase requires a physical response from our left and right arms: moments of emphasis and lightness correlate to moments of arm weight and rebound. The bow makes its initial articulation and follow-through – and the left hand shifts lightly around the fingerboard following a moment of deeper contact – with the musical support of phrasing that has varied points of emphasis and lightness. Marrying the technical and musical elements empowers students to continue this work on their own; they grow both a physical and an aural memory for what healthy, beautiful playing feels like. I aim, as well, to help each person I work with (in both cello lessons and chamber music coachings) get better at reading a score: to use analysis and understanding of each composer’s language to support their musical decision-making, and, thus, illuminate the physical routes that will enable what they want to say. Again, this clarity about musical point of view enables their technical work to have a clearer compass.
The central goal of teaching is to help students accomplish what they want musically with the least physical effort. I believe this is large part about two things: helping their ears become more discerning, and clarifying the physical approaches they need to play more freely. I try to help my students recognize the origins of tension and discomfort in their bodies, so they can start to correct physical issues before they cause major injuries. With students already struggling with injury, I try to help them address the root causes of pain while still spending time deepening the craft (working one hand at a time, for instance, or talking about how to learn a score away from the instrument). My training in yoga (a 200-hour teaching intensive in 2017, including a multi-day anatomy workshop) informs my understanding of how the body’s muscles, fascia, and bones must optimally function for us to play comfortably long-term. I often draw on this in my physical approach to the cello, talking to students about healthy posture (finding a position where the shoulder girdle rests comfortably in relation to the spine); how to use arm weight to make a powerful sound without pressing; and delegating smaller motions to smaller muscles and bones, rather than gripping to control with large ones.
The musical and physical parts of my teaching are influenced by my process as a cellist over the last twenty years. So, too, is my desire to leave my students feeling better about the instrument – more capable and more resilient, even when the work is very challenging. Musicians are quick to be harsh and self-critical; so I aim to help students channel that perfectionism and caring into patient listening, steady growth, and, ultimately, a way to enjoy struggling through the process. I am devoted to helping my students work through their fears and insecurities; to hearing and understanding them; to giving them the space to experiment and fail; and to helping them work through the challenges so that they come out equipped to build a lifelong relationship with this hard work we do.
In addition to my individual work with students, I work to foster a strong community in my studio teaching, as I feel passionately that group support facilitates personal growth. I believe this community-oriented mindset is important in two big ways. First, feeling safe in a group of trusted colleagues is what often allows students to do their most vulnerable, heartfelt playing: in the studio classes where young cellists play new repertoire for the first time, knowing their peers are listening to and encouraging them boosts their confidence and gives them the courage to go deeper in their work. The peers listening to their colleagues’ performances, in turn, gain practice as teachers: they learn to listen with compassionate ears, watch for physical problems that may be getting in the way, and think critically about interpretive choices. In addition to the inspiration of seeing their studio-mates grow and share, this time together helps students build and reinforce colleagueship in a meaningful way that ripples out into their chamber music playing and their teaching.
My teaching philosophy is simple at its heart: I respect my students. Whatever their background, skills, and path may be in music, I believe that each person has the potential to grow and to have a meaningful impact as an artist. My hope and intent is to be a source of belief in them – of support, information, and advocacy – so that when our time together is complete, they are even clearer on why they do this: on their vision as an artist, and on how to deepen their relationship with music, in whatever capacity that vision requires.