Saturday, November 14, 2009

Care and Feeding of the Bass Teacher, Chapter 3: Should You and Your Teacher Break Up?

Okay, so you’ve analyzed your teacher type and you’ve studied the owner’s manual. Things are going great with your teacher now, right? Everything’s humming along nicely? What, you say things aren’t perfect with your teacher? You feel some vague dissatisfaction? Or perhaps it’s more than that; perhaps you even feel like your teacher may be failing to help you achieve your goals? Not sure what to do?

If you spend enough time with almost anybody you’re bound to find something that you don’t like about them, and your teacher is no exception. From their hairstyle to their teaching style, parts of your teacher’s personality are virtually assured to annoy you eventually. It can be hard to figure out what things about your teacher are just annoying and what things may indicate bigger problems. Here are a few broad guidelines for assessing your teacher conflicts.

Eeeew!: The first category of teacher annoyances includes anything that is definitely not music-related and not inconvenient to you in any way. This would include odd clothing choices, gross personal habits, weird odors, or bizarre accents. If you are otherwise happy with your teacher, it’s usually wise not to let these kind of things bug you too much, since most of us only see our teacher once a week at most. It’s also a good exercise in kindness and forbearance, as all human beings have some weird quirks that others have to tolerate. You can regale your friends with stories of the one ratty sweater that your teacher wears to every lesson, or the smell of cabbage that permeates their studio. That said, there are indeed some things that might be so gross, or push your buttons so badly, that you can’t concentrate or learn around them, so in extreme cases this might be a deal-breaker for you.

Stuck in Traffic: These annoyances are not music related but are problematic or inconvenient for you. Some teachers are definitely worth spending an hour in traffic each way, or shelling out $125 per lesson, or climbing six flights of stairs, but some just aren’t. We all have limited amounts of time and money and we nee

d to find a teacher that can be a part of our schedule rather than a drag on it (and our budget!). These issues are tough, but you shouldn’t beat yourself up about them; often your teacher will understand and can help you find another good teacher in these circumstances.

Big Jerk: We discussed the Dictator teacher model in part I, and of course dictators as a rule tend to not be that nice overall. but Dictator teachers are often very kind people; they reserve any dictatorial tendencies for musical activities only. This category instead includes teachers who are just plain mean or rude, who say unnecessarily disparaging things about you, who put you down as a person in some way, or who make racist or sexist comments. There may be a few teachers out there whose musical gifts are so great that you will decide to grit your teeth and put up with them, but overall I think it’s wise to not stick around with these sorts if possible. Again, I’m referring mostly to non-musical issues in this category, although musical bullying can be a problem as well.

Goal Disconnect: This is the primary music-related problem that we’ll address, and it’s the most important one. Why are you taking lessons? Are you an amateur looking to have fun and learn some new rep? A beginner starting out on your instrument? A young professional taking auditions and trying to get work? If your teacher is trying to teach you something different than what you want, and they don’t seem to be able to recognize your goals as their goals in your lessons, you may be ready to change teachers and find someone who will give you your money’s worth. Sometimes your goals change; you start to realize that you want to take music more seriously, or the opposite occurs and you decide to make music more of a hobby in your life rather than a passion or a career choice. Many good teachers can make the transition with you to a different lesson style, but some can’t or simply don’t want to.

Not my Style: Like any two people, sometimes you and your teacher are just really not that compatible. Most of this topic is covered in Chapter One; you need to figure out whether your teacher type is the best one for you. One additional wrinkle of this can play out in a purely musical way. No matter how objective your teacher tries to be in their work with you, they themselves have certain musical preferences that can affect how they teach you. If you love Bottesini and your teacher hates it, you may have to be more proactive to get your teacher excited about working on Bottesini with you. This is seldom a huge problem since we need to be able to play in a wide variety of musical styles and it’s impossible to find a teacher who likes them all. In fact, it is often good to have a teacher with different musical tastes than you so that they can expose you to new stuff. Still, it can occasionally be problematic depending on the intensity of your teacher’s preferences (or yours!).

So, how do we deal with these conflicts? The same three basic ways that we deal with any relationship conflict:

- Talk about it with the other person,

- Just put up with it,

- Or end the relationship.

The most important question to ask yourself before you decide which of these goal to pursue takes us back to the “Goal Disconnect” issues I mentioned before. Are you getting what you want and/or need from your teacher? Are you seeing improvement in your playing? Are you enjoying your musical life? If so, you should probably try to put up with as many annoyances from your teacher as you can stand. If you aren’t sure, then maybe you should discuss your concerns with your teacher. If you are pretty sure that things are not progressing well for you, then perhaps you should consider switching teachers.

If you do decide to consider other teachers, make sure that you know what the consequences could be! If your teacher is the only good teacher in your town, consider how far you may have to travel to find another. If your teacher is a well-connected and influential musical figure in your town, then consider what consequences might befall you if they don’t take your decision well for some reason. If you are in college and want to switch studios within your school, consider what your fellow students might think and be prepared to provide a clear explanation of your decision. Please note that I said “could;” often teachers are more than willing to help students move on if the relationship isn’t working. In many cases the teacher turns out to be feeling the same way as the student! No one likes being in a relationship that isn’t working.

This will probably be the final chapter of this little series. I hope it’s given folks a few insights into obtaining a teacher and keeping it happy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Peabody '09-'10: Catching Up Report

OK, so as always with my blogging goals, I have failed utterly.... In this case I’ve dropped the ball on my efforts to create a weekly report on what’s going on at school. Life events intervened and kept me from keeping up with my pledge. So, in time-honored fashion, I’m gonna play catch-up by doing a catchall midterm report now and then try to get back on the horse next week with regular updates.

Things are certainly busy these days at school. Lots of things instrument-related are happening. We’ve had visits from two top bass makers this month - first came Chris Threlkeld-Weigand, followed soon after by Kai Arvi. They each brought instruments for our students to try out. We have several folks here who are currently on the hunt for a new bass, and it’s wonderful that these excellent luthiers are able to make time in their schedules to drop by school and bring their instruments right to us. I certainly recommend that anyone looking for a top-quality modern bass check these two makers out.

Another exciting bass-related event here at Peabody happened last week with the delivery of our new school bass. About a year and a half ago, a generous donor offered to give the school an old instrument for our use. The bass was in need of a total restoration to be physically sound and playable. Tom Wolf, an excellent bass maker and restorer, agreed to take on the job. Tom was a recent prize winner at the ISB convention for one of his bass and is a fantastic luthier and repairperson. Besides his excellent work on basses, he is also a world-renowned maker of harpsichords and fortepianos. He did a complete restoration of the bass, fit it with a new extension, and drilled a Laborie-style angled endpin hole into the bass. It finally arrived at school on Thursday and it sounds fantastic! We’re so grateful to the donor and the the school for helping make this possible; having an instrument of this quality available for students that can’t currently afford one is a huge benefit for our program. Here’s a photo of current Peabody graduate student Minh Duc Tranh with the bass. He’ll be using it for the upcoming Nashville Symphony bass audition.

Finally, we are preparing for our second visit from Artist in Residence Hal Robinson this Sunday. This time around, there will be no public events scheduled so that Hal and the students can stay focused and maximize their time together. The theme of this visit is bowstrokes; Hal will be demonstrating the various types of bowstrokes that he uses and then working with the students in three groups on their own bowstroke work. Hal’s first visit had a “get-acquainted” quality as he met and heard the students for the first time. In this class I feel like everyone’s going to really focus and get down to work absorbing all the information and examples that Hal can dish out on this critical topic.