Some Thoughts on an Artistic/Teaching Philosophy

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“Technique is merely the means to an end, the tool to be used in the service of artistic interpretation”.

Ivan Galamian

With luck, there comes a day when we touch a musical instrument for the first time. I can’t remember that day exactly anymore myself; it was a long time ago, but the joy on a youngster's face having this experience is an unforgettable reminder of where we came from, and how far we can go, with lots of practice, patience and perseverance, towards achieving the greatest heights.

“Go on; don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine”

Ludwig van Beethoven

It is my intention here to clarify some of the teaching ideas and goals I have formed while working with and learning from my students.

One learns enormously through the process of teaching/sharing.

Students everywhere require a broad musical and cultural understanding, and need a great variety of experiences. Through my own experiences as a Concertmaster, Chamber Musician, Soloist and Recording Artist, and the discipline and practice of Tai Chi Ch'uan, it is my wish that my students may glean many insights into the multitudinous facets of our profession, and music making.

Because students have such busy scholastic , and social lives, it is extremely important to maximize the quality of one’s practice time, therefore we need to set goals and organize practice time wisely, establishing an intelligent, methodical, and efficient approach to practicing; organizing ample time for foundation work based on the principles of violin playing; changing or working on technical approaches to various problems, strengthening basic violinistic/technical/musical foundations, body/posture awareness; working towards a natural (free, open, relaxed, liberated) body posture/movement conducive to beautiful tone production (through my practice, over some 8 years now, of Tai-Chi-Ch’uan and Chi-Kung training, I have gained many great and useful insights that have enormously enhanced this eternal learning process), isolating left hand “difficulties”; developing an acute awareness and attention to intonation, finger patterns, independence of the fingers, passage work, double stops, shifting, coordination of rhythmic impulse with the bow, aspects of vibrato, etc., isolating specific bowing difficulties; refining the all-important
Art of Bowing in all of its dimensions: tone production, dynamics, techniques such as détaché, spiccato, string crossing, achieving a multidimensional tonal palette, a true legato, smooth bow changes and musical phrasing, memory work; studying scores away from the instrument, to create an inner soundscape and a structural understanding is most helpful (in this way many fingerings and bowings can be decided on, and an architectural understanding of the music before us can begin to be established before even approaching the instrument), the exploration of interpretive/stylistic concepts, the observation of musical/harmonic structure and respect for textual authenticity, the development of sight-reading skills, maintaining and building repertoire, leaving room for “performance time”, etc….

Never far from mind must be the ultimate goal of music making: the achievement (through an increasingly transcendental technique) of the emotional, expressive and spiritual qualities of the Music; discovering the “message” of the music (within the boundaries of any given style, according to the composer‘s intentions).
Technique (and personality) must always be in service of the music.

Certain fundamental pedagogic materials will obviously be useful in the curriculum for most students, including a regimen of scales (Carl Flesch or Galamian’s Scale systems, for example - applying whatever isolated technical problems that arise from actual repertoire to the scales is useful). Carl Flesch's "Urstudien" and various ingenious studies by Dr. D. C. Dounis, among other exercises, can be useful (exercises that are especially beneficial in strengthening both left hand and bow arm technique when used properly), ever-aiming towards creating a beautiful sonority (unless otherwise required!), and a transcendental technique.
Of course these are just some of the ideals!
Traditional violin etudes and Caprices by Kreutzer, Rode, Dont, Paganini, etc., are excellent aids in developing technique and foundations (aiming always at musical re-presentations of these Opuses as well!).
In conjunction with offering students constructive, positive guidance towards accomplishing their obvious scholastic requirements (including exams and recitals, assuming responsibility in preparing for the “outside world” and professional life), it is expected that all students will explore a large range of solo and chamber music repertoire in all styles, and it is desirable to encourage studies in orchestral repertoire (preparation for orchestral auditions); to become familiar with a vast repertoire, and, outside of their violin studies (and the violin literature!) it is my profound desire that all of my students study, listen to, and absorb as much music as possible, that they may have a
comprehensive knowledge of each composer’s total output, and a strong idea of the historical context of the repertoire that they are playing.

Apart from private lessons, I believe it is important for students to develop confidence, performing regularly in the presence of other students both privately among themselves and in Masterclasses, encouraging open discussion and observations from all students.

My work as a Recording Artist has been a vitally important key, not only in terms of the "success" of my personal career and artistic development, but also in my thinking and teaching, as it has given me a gigantic, and invaluable, aural magnifying mirror, allowing a certain objectivity into my own playing, and into music making in general (an objectivity that I would like my students to develop). I cannot begin to express how valuable this experience is while working towards an artistic ideal with students.

How to divide the curriculum between less advanced and more advanced undergraduates, and to continue with MA and DMA students is an important question (for some people), and must, I believe, be determined by assessing
the essential needs of each individual; considering and observing over a certain period the student’s present technical/instrumental abilities/artistic strengths and talents, intellectual/psychological development and character, determination in achieving specific aims (work ethic), and inclinations (preferences) towards the various areas of our profession and repertoire.

Some students will naturally have stronger ideas about their personal goals than others. I try to establish what these goals are at the earliest stage possible, offering guidance and direction, nevertheless believing that a well rounded approach, incorporating the increasingly comprehensive knowledge mentioned earlier is vital for everyone. Not everyone can, or would like to become a soloist. That does not, however, exclude studying the repertoire! Ideally, this interchangeable attitude should apply to all other areas of our profession. Indeed one area of expertise should never exclude another! Developing the skills of listening and teamwork (ex. knowing when to blend and accompany, or give and take the dominant voice in the musical foreground, etc.) can best be learned by emphasizing the enriching activity of chamber music playing. These skills are naturally carried over into orchestral playing. Everyone must continually study and return to the basic principles of violin playing, as this work is never truly finished, and improvements can always be made.
Etude/technical materials and repertoire must not only emphasize a student’s strengths and inclinations (ex. some students will be more adept, or feel more comfortable, in the romantic style than in the baroque, classical or contemporary styles), but should also be chosen for the purpose of strengthening any technical or musical deficiencies.
It might be said that
normally the MA and then DMA students will have more experience and therefore will be more advanced than the undergraduates, and that their work will have spiraled into increasingly deeper (or higher) levels of understanding and that they will be maintaining and broadening their repertoire in all of the aforementioned domains, and therefore be more prepared for the professions’ many challenges. However, these divisions, especially in the study of music, and string playing in particular, are rather arbitrary at best, and individual exceptions to the “rule of class separation” can supremely challenge a teachers’ flexibility, insight and experience!

The development of a sound technical foundation incorporating natural, relaxed and fluid body movements, learning quality practice and study habits that lead to self sufficiency, an understanding of the structure and different styles of music, and finally, an Artistic realization of the Music are the goals I set for myself and my students; that ideally they may enter the “outside” world and the professional field prepared for the unexpected, and can likewise, if they so choose, continue to share their acquired knowledge and experience with yet future generations.
Of course it is obvious that each individual’s personal psychological makeup, and individual character, will determine, in part, the method in which we approach studying how to play an instrument and playing music together.
I believe that the best teacher is the one who can teach his/her students how to teach themselves; to develop self sufficiency, ultimately inspiring the exploration and discovery of one’s true life’s aim and purpose.

Andrew Hardy