My Name's Justin, and I Pla…err...Teach Cello

When I went to graduate school, I had a certain goal in mind: find a glorious tenure track position from which to teach collegiate cello students and perform the music of my choosing wherever and whenever I could. I knew that I would have to complete a doctorate to make this goal a reality. Seven years later, I have an alphabet soup of degrees, including that doctorate, but instead of said glorious tenured existence, I have followed a different path, as a freelance recitalist/chamber musician and a private teacher. This was not my intention: the continued adjunctification of higher ed, combined with the economic priorities that have institutions from pre-K to university-level cutting music programs has forced me down this path. But, it turns out, I have fallen in love with this path that I'm on, and most of all, I love teaching. Working with young students - from beginner to advanced high schoolers - has proved incredibly rewarding. Unfortunately, even with three degrees in music, and having learned from a couple of master teachers along the way, I was completely unprepared to be a cello instructor. At any level.

Musicians who hold performance degrees are tragically lacking in their ability to teach and communicate with young students. Speaking for myself, I believe this to be the result of years of mandatory, isolated practice during which, I didn't spend much time thinking about how to verbalize criticisms and rectify problems in others' playing. It is one thing to practice ruthless SELF-criticism, it is a different thing entirely to constructively criticize a student and help to fix their problem(s). Collegiate/conservatory music programs perpetuate the myth that 10,000 hours of practice will lead to mastery of a craft, which will in turn lead to full-time, gainful employment. To that end, many (if not most) programs encourage performance majors to practice thirty hours and attend dozens of hours of rehearsal each week, but simultaneously offer only one dedicated course in pedagogy in their entire four-year curriculum, if they offer any courses at all. This is a travesty. 

I am not implying that every Tom, Danielle, and Harry with a performance degree should be a master teacher. Certainly, I'm never going to be Bernard Greenhouse or Aldo Parisot (to name two master teachers of the cello). But I do believe that performers should be well versed in the pedagogical traditions of their instrument, and should understand how to verbalize instructions, criticisms, and congratulations to all students, whether that student is a 4-year old beginner, or a graduate student at Juilliard. Face it, performers: whether you're the next concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic, or a freelancer in ::INSERT YOUR LOCATION HERE::, you WILL be teaching. Teaching is a part of the history of our craft. Your teacher had a teacher. Beethoven had a teacher. You will one day be a teacher. Just like performing, teaching is fulfilling, even more so if/when you're good at it. Don't view teaching as this necessary evil that wastes your practice time. In fact, just like performance, you become a better teacher by practicing. Get out there and do it. Strive to become a better teacher any way that you can. 

When it comes to the preparation of artist-teachers in higher education, I'm not sure why music education and performance departments are so segregated. Within music schools, nobody believes that an excellent education in music history and theory is unnecessary to becoming an excellent musician. But, with all due respect to my first theory professor, Tom Cody, I've had to use the skills that I leaned in my single pedagogy class far more often than those gleaned through my countless theory courses. This isn't to say that one is more or less important than the other (theory is crazy important, boys and girls). That's kind of the point, though: theory isn't any more important than pedagogy, so why is it taught so disproportionally in higher ed music schools? 

Similarly, why did I, a performance major, over eleven years in higher education NEVER have a class with a music education professor? Was I just lazy and shortsighted?! To further explain my perceived segregation of these departments: why were music education students generally exempted from recital preparation/performance? Why are there so many examples of performers who can "do, but not teach," and of music teachers who can "teach, but not do?" I don't think that music educators should be so quick to run out of the practice room, passing on the way those performers who seek - equally unnecessarily - to isolate themselves within. 

For the sake of public school music programs and music students, I believe that music performance and education programs must find a way to collaborate, incorporating ideas from different viewpoints to create more well-rounded students. This isn't just about the the economics of a music degree, this is about the history of our craft! There should be a course for performers, taught by a music educator, detailing, say, teaching techniques in one-on-one, private lessons. Maybe there should be a seminar class for music education students, taught by an applied performance instructor, that might touch on practice techniques for those who only have an hour, three times each week. I would have enjoyed discussing education research pertaining to students of young ages. I imagine some teacher colleagues may have enjoyed similar courses on performance anxiety or right hand technique. 

So, get it together, higher education. Instead of developing newer, more specialized programs (whose only purpose, it seems to me, is to bring in more tuition dollars while simultaneously failing to prepare students for the modern music world), music schools should engage in some vital reflection: are our students - performers and educators alike - leaving our programs as truly well rounded, high achieving professionals? Are they able to teach as well as they perform, and vice versa? Have we given them all the tools to both continue to become better performers/teachers and also succeed in the changing economy? Will the tradition of classical music continue, unabated, to be taught to the next, youngest generation of children (some of whom will hopefully become performers or teachers)?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'no,' then changes, they should be a'comin.