Former MoASTA President Valerie Bell presented Gary Lee with the MoASTA Outstanding Studio Educator 2016 Award
On Thursday, January 28, at the Missouri State Chapter of American String Teachers Association Awards Luncheon I was honored with the Outstanding Studio Educator 2016 award. Thank you to all those who selected me as worthy of this award. Most especially I thank all my cello students who made it possible for me to receive this award. After all, the students keep me going as a cello teacher as I share my love of music on the cello.
MoASTA made a huge impact on my life during my youth. MoASTA founded and has continued operating the Missouri All-State Orchestra. I understand the three years I participated as a high school student were the first three years of its existence. In my senior year of high school, I was having trouble deciding what I should do in college. My piano instructor advised me that if I was equally good at cello as on piano that I should major in cello because there are so many pianists. Yet, I didn’t feel my cello playing measured up to my piano playing. At the Missouri All-State Orchestra that year, I was seated principal cello and that gave me the confidence to decide I could major in music. Music has been my passion and I can’t imagine being as happy doing anything else.
Organizations like ASTA are extremely important to professionals and their students. The magazine provides many useful articles and meeting with colleagues offers support and encouragement. Conventions offer opportunities for receiving professional enrichment, enjoying concerts, and interacting with vendors. I would like to encourage my private string teacher colleagues who are not members of ASTA to consider joining.
Can a tuning fork go flat? If you would have asked me this question years ago I would have a different answer than now. When I was in college, I carried an A-440 tuning fork with me wherever I went. I had hoped to memorize an A-440 if I kept sounding it frequently. I felt that the fork was calibrated perfectly and was always at 440. In theory, I considered that metal can heat up and cool down and that may affect pitch. I owned and trusted same tuning fork for 25-30 years.
These days we use tuners and we now have apps on our cell phones. When I was in college tuners were more expensive than today. At a gig a few years ago (maybe more years than I think) a colleague said my tuning fork was flat. I though, “Huh? How could that be?” She pulled out her fancy new cell phone with its new tuner app on it. Sure enough, it said the tuning fork was flat. Later I went home and checked it against a couple other tuners. Sure enough, it was flat. Carefully I sanded the ends of the fork until it matched 440. Yay.
Six months later. Someone again said my tuning fork was flat. You must be kidding! How could that be? Once again I checked against the same tuners. Flat again. I looked at the tines. It appeared as though they had been slightly bent toward each other. I tried to bend them back outward. Snap! The tuning fork broke. But now I know, yes, a small tuning fork can go flat.
I did buy another to keep in my cello case for when batteries go dead on my tuner or cell phone, but I no longer trust it like I did.
Now that we are in the last two months of the calendar year and school has been in session for a while, some students are getting encouragement by their school orchestra teachers to take private lessons. Parents may wonder why invest in them? With the holiday season coming up followed by the new year, adults may also be thinking about trying something new. It is never too late for them, contrary to what some non-musicians might think.
There can be a number of reasons why a student needs private lessons. For the short term it may be to reach certain goals like move up to a better position in the orchestra or to take an audition in an honors orchestra or participate in other opportunities. Certainly one on one work with an instructor will help the student move to a higher level of playing. Of course, the student has to do his/her part in preparation through practicing.
An orchestra director has a whole room full of students. It is impossible for the director to pay close attention to what each individual is doing. True, the director hears quite a lot, but doesn’t always have time to speak to a student one on one. Sometimes the director might have to find a tactful way to point out a technical issue to the whole class. Singling out one student may not be a comfortable experience.
In private lessons, the student has individual focus from an instructor. Students can learn to accept criticism as the instructor assists the student in learning correct technique and playing music at a higher level than ever before. In many cases, the student-teacher relationship lasts multiple years and its mentorship has great positive impact on the student. Ultimately it is still up to the student to take the advice and direction of the lessons.
An important task of the private teacher is to teach correct technique. A number of years doing any specialized activity with incorrect technique can create a number of problems from inefficiency to physical injury as well as detract from the quality of that activity. After a playing job, two of my colleagues were in a conversation. One held out his wrist showing he had carpal tunnel surgery. Then the other colleague held out her wrists and showed her surgical scars, commenting that only now she knew how to play correctly. That underscores why I think the qualifications of an instructor are important.
Private lessons are tailored to one’s rate of learning. Ability and talent come into consideration but it’s also encouragement and motivation. Some of this comes from the music and the teacher but it also comes from family members and the student. As a student progresses motivation builds. This results in a desire to continue to work or to work even harder. The higher level of playing opens the door to participate in more opportunities and have a bigger selection of music that a person is capable of playing. In turn, enjoyment of music is enhanced. The discipline, focus, and hard work can be applied in life to other endeavors. Private music lessons certainly open the door to wider opportunities while our brains and bodies benefit from the physical activity of music making. If you asked me, I’d suggest to give cello lessons a try!
Before I graduated from college, my cello teacher Robert Luke told me, “‘Practice makes perfect’ is a lie. Practice makes experience.” I have carried this with me since and I have shared it with my students.
Performance is often imperfect. No matter what there is nearly always some detail we don’t like in our performances and performance situations. Sometimes the environment is not ideal. Sometimes it’s the chair we sat in, what we had for a meal beforehand, lighting, etc.
When we practice, we are building experience. If we are playing a note incorrectly, that is our experience. If we play a note correctly, then that is our experience. We can train ourselves to play out of tune; we can train ourselves to play in tune. If we play a passage correctly 95 times and incorrectly 5 times, what are the odds we are going to play it correctly? If we play a passage correctly 5 times and incorrectly 95 times, what are our odds then? By building good experience, we hope to prepare ourselves properly to increase the possibility of a good performance.
Too many times I see students who want to learn too much too soon too fast. They want to play through a piece over and over again. Beyond an initial sight read through, I try to discourage practicing by that way. Too many times we waste time doing that. Once in college I was practicing when I became aware of someone playing piano in the practice room next door. She went through the piece until a certain point when a mistake happened. She stopped, started over from the beginning until the same mistake happened. She repeated the same procedure with the same results. Again and again she reinforced the mistake. I couldn’t take it anymore I had to leave my practice room and move to another.
Often these days I may say that if you make a mistake you are either playing too fast, playing too many notes, or both. In all that we do we build history in our brains and muscles. So, I believe that practice makes experience. Thank you, Mr. Luke, for those words of wisdom.
Okay. I’m going to do a plug. Have a wedding coming up? Have a party? Any other special event? Hire the Landolfi String Quartet. Tell them Gary sent you. It’s an excellent quartet and often I play cello for them. If there isn’t the budget or need for a whole quartet, a trio or duo can also be hired. Just remember to tell them Gary sent you. It is helpful for them to know how the job came through, regardless whether I can play for the event. This quartet is a part of my means of supporting my family. While Landolfi plays in St. Louis, I’ve subbed in the quartet when playing in places an hour or two drive outside the St. Louis Metro area as well as playing close to home. Support the arts. Support live music. Hire Landolfi String Quartet.