What Performers Gain From Teaching

teachingMost classical performers teach in some capacity. I went to school for performance and still consider performing to be the primary aspect of my music career. That being said, I do quite a bit of freelance teaching, and for the most part I really enjoy it. Many performers are “forced” to teach because it’s too difficult to make ends meet with performance alone. This makes for a vast array of music teachers in the field: on one side of the spectrum, those who received an education degree and have full-time teaching positions; on the other, performers who resent teaching and see it as a better supplemental income than Starbucks.

There’s a lot to be said about how much we learn about ourselves when we’re teaching someone else, but I won’t get into that. What I’m interested in is the societal impact of teaching music lessons. With every student we teach, we have the ability to turn them into a “fan” of classical music. Naturally, a student’s appreciation for a particular instrument will be increased simply by studying it. But beyond that, we can inspire their appreciation and enthusiasm for music by sharing our own. A person is much more inclined to attend a concert of a Vivaldi concerto if they remember a Vivaldi piece they played in high school than if they have no reference at all.

As a teacher, I like to share bits of information about my performing career with my students. I think giving students a bit of insight into the life of a performer can be intriguing and can also deepen their appreciation for what we do. As a young cellist, I got the opportunity to sit in on some rehearsals of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra in New York City. It was thrilling to see all of the musicians in their natural habitat—I felt cool just sitting at lunch with them. When I sat in on some chamber music rehearsals, it was illuminating to hear the types of discussions (and sometimes arguments) they had in order to reach their finished product.

When I was in grad school studying early music performance, I let my mother sit in on a class. She has no musical background but had been attending my concerts for years, always doing her best to find something she could grasp and make sense of. She watched a chamber group get coached by a faculty member and was fascinated by the advice given to the performers and how that advice shaped the performance. “I really thought if you just play the right notes at the right time, that’s all there was to it,” she explained. “But now I can see it’s a lot more than that.”

It’s unfortunate that classical music can be so alienating—if you weren’t fortunate enough to be taught about Bach and Beethoven, you have very little understanding what this music is about, why you’re only allowed to clap at certain times, and why the titles of pieces all seem to have numbers in them. Every music teacher has an opportunity to destroy these barriers, to invite and excite their students not only about the repertoire they’re learning, but about the entire context of their repertoire.

Musicians, do you teach? What do you gain from it? Classical music fans, have you studied an instrument? How has it affected your position as an audience member? Share your experience and let me know your thoughts.

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