Thursday, February 7, 2013

Glorious Youth Part III (i think) - 15.5 hour teaching day

Yesterday, I taught all of my university students on a single day, which meant  12.5 hours of teaching, 2 hours of travel and eating and one blessed hour for practising.  A typical 15.5 hour work day starting at 7:00 a.m. and ending at 10:30 p.m.
Managed to get breakfast, lunch and dinner ready for both me and my son and answer emails about tour travel and the latest CD project that is about to go to press.

For the first time this year, we were assigned a beautiful teaching room that had large windows (which helps me when assessing reed work), tables to put our computers and cases and music stands.  The university is so strapped for space that we are often in a tiny room, crouched on the floor trying to look at reeds under a dim light, music propped on window sills etc.  Canada does not have luxury facilities for bassoon players yet!  But yesterday was nice.

I ache a bit today and yet feel great because of the contact with all of my bright young colleagues, each one so incredibly committed and yet acting on blind faith that this is all for a purpose.  Each of them is processing my teaching in their own way and these are some very smart, stubborn, busy people.  It is beyond fascinating to see how they each deal with me and my demands.

I feel I need to describe the day a bit in case anyone is interested.  This is part of life for a classical musician who wants to survive and participate in our future.

Since I tour so much, I teach my students (aka future colleagues) how to plan ahead so they aren’t left stranded before a recital or important audition.  I am push them to create timelines and practise logs that map out both their schedules and their ambitions.  When I am on the road, they take lessons with members of the Toronto Symphony and they must make the contact and arrange the lessons.

Inspired by my beloved last teacher, Sol Schoenbach, I require them to keep notes.  Unlike Sol, I want to see their basic lesson notes.  I used to send them my notes after lessons.  Now I require that they send me their notes and I comment or return my notes (I always make notes but I really want to know how they have processed the session).  The student-led system is better.  Anything that puts the ball in their court is better.

I have other basic, slightly odd, very serious requirements, including:

1. daily lucid scale routines that include the full range of the instrument.  I am thrilled when they develop their own routines, but they still must do my basic psycho full-range routines.  My routines evolve but cannot go anywhere until my students do the first level of intense, daily scale work combined with reed-making.

2.  Freehand Reeds and Complete Working Notes:  I show them how to make freehand reeds so that they can go out into the world with a knife, easel and piece of cane (and a few other basic things).  They can stop fearing the cost of equipment or the mystery of shaping and just get to work.  The hard part is putting it in writing but they all eventually do it.

3.   a tabbed binder that I can point to with stabbing gestures when required, or (preferably) with admiration.
-recital programmes - repertoire lists
-lesson notes
-reed notes
-technical exercises
-practise log/memorization charts
-audition excerpts
-masterclass notes

4.  The only ‘studies’ that I require in addition to obsessive scale routines are the Braun Solos (for tenor range control, voicing skill and flicking).  I encourage them to read and develop the hundreds of other studies that exist for bassoon but I am not interested in hearing these in lessons.

5.  Repertoire and  Recital program - we decide repertoire for the year’s work.  We design a program that has some set pieces that will also serve as audition pieces and other pieces and that can be switched once more research is done.  Rep is decided early in the season and work starts right away. It took a few months (and in some cases, years) to convince them that I am serious about this and it is paying off with some students in a big way.  Memorization makes them serious contenders for concerto competitions and for our annual Vivaldi Christmas Concert... anyone can do it with enough lead time.

Again, it has taken some of them years to realize that I want them to commit immediately, and when they do, the results are spectacular.  One of my education majors has memorized two concerti since the beginning of the year and is gradually coming to the level of my experienced performance majors.  Yeah.

Another student, a composition major, had an epiphany two weeks ago.  He is a bassoonist, composer and is learning to speak mandarin and play the guzheng.  He told me that he realized suddenly that you cannot “give” yourself time but that you can “make” time when you are clear about your goals.  He said it was life-changing in that he no longer felt victimized by demands on his time but rather, motivated to construct his time.

I feel inspired by my students.  Man, I’ve gotta practise now.

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