If there’s one thing that being at the WCMS Festival this summer taught me, it’s that every musician is on his or her own journey. Teachers, mentors, parents and friends are there with us, nudging us this way or that way, exposing us to an idea, a piece of music, or a person who could change our trajectory forever. But at the end of the day, it’s really no one else’s journey.
As a teacher, I’m accustomed to feeling like a tour guide on my students’ journey. I’ve been traveling in the land of the violin for awhile, and I know some things they don’t know. I’ve made mistakes, and I can help my students avoid them. The way I play, the exercises I teach, the pieces I assign, the language I use, the attitude I expect — these are all major signposts along my students’ unique paths. As every teacher knows, this feels like a Very. Big. Responsibility.
But perhaps as teachers, we place too much emphasis on our own role. Perhaps we underestimate the intelligence and intuition of our students.
At the festival, I spent some time reconnecting with my old teacher Rohan. He recalled that I, at sixteen years old, marched up to him at GBYSO camp and asked if he would be my teacher. I remember this clearly, too. I had seen him coaching and performing, and was incredibly inspired. I knew immediately that I was ready to move on from my wonderful childhood teacher, and that Rohan was someone I wanted to work with. (Had I not studied with him, I would never be the musician that I am today.)
A few years later, when I chose my undergraduate teacher, I was in a completely different place. My mom remembers me saying, “I need a Russian!” — in other words, I wanted someone very strict who would devote serious attention to every aspect of my technique. I ended up with Connie Heard who, while American, did exactly that. And Olga Kaler, with whom I got my MM? Ukrainian — and absolutely “The Russian” I’d always dreamed of studying with.
Of course, since I made music my career, I know that I wasn’t a typical violin student. But looking at my beloved students, I know the time will come when they, too, will realize that they need something different from their teacher. I hope I can be graceful and wise, as my teachers were. I hope I’m lucky enough to play music with them again, years later. And I hope my students look back on all of their teachers with the gratitude that I do.
Rohan and me, grown-up teammates in the festival flamingo hunt. Photo, aptly enough, by Rohan’s current student Kim Vermilya.