I thought I’d offer a few ideas about what a teacher may be looking for in a student. Each person has their own strengths, but there are a few over arching ideas that I usually apply to prospective students.
First and foremost, I think most teachers would agree that it is a great joy and privilege to hear prospective students. I don’t for one minute take for granted that I’m hearing a person who has expended great effort in honing their art and craft, and usually considerable trouble and expense to come to play for me. I’m always appreciative that I am included in their list of possible future teachers.
The young musicians that I find most intriguing are the ones who give all of their energy and attention to performing in that particular moment. It’s important to remember the teachers already know that applicants are usually not a finished product. We are looking for those glimpses of the student at their very best, when musical idea and energy line up with a technique that is capable of transmitting these ideas and feelings. Sometimes, the technique may be so limited that these moments of clarity last for only a few instances- that matters very little. I want to hear the best a player has to offer, even if this particular snapshot in time contains only a few short glimpses. Part of my job is the help make these glimpses last longer and longer.
As a teacher, I am a source of information, experience, and in some cases a communicator of appropriate aesthetics for a given situation. I can offer many observations, and also many suggestions of ways to incorporate information into your knowledge base. I can suggest ways to acquire a skill. The crucial skill that I try to guide students toward is the skill of being the most active participant in their own education. The sooner student learn to hunt for themselves, the more abundant their bounty of true knowledge. My goal is to make myself obsolete to my students. I look for a person who clearly relishes taking responsibility for their own development, who is obsessed with attaining that perfect marriage of dynamic musical feeling to transparent technique. It is this pursuit of pure expression that is important, not any notion of perfection.
This of course assumes a baseline of a certain level of technical proficiency. Intonation, tone, rhythm, pulse, gesture- these must be at a level at least high enough to insure that whatever problems may exist do not totally distract from the musical impulse that lies beneath. The important thing to remember here is that the list of technical deficiencies in one’s playing may be short or it may be long, but it is NOT infinite. Each time you recognize a weakness in your playing, it shouldn’t be a source of discouragement. It should be a source of joy and excitement, because now you have one more thing you’ll eventually be able to cross off your list. Hopefully I can help make this process fun, even if it’s difficult at times. Our goal is to be a true conduit for the music. Thus, technique work is about cleaning as much corrosion off of that circuit as possible so we can transmit our musical energy as purely as we can. In this way we can attain fulfillment not just through a truly expressive and communicative performance, but also in the very process of honing our “voices”.
The best students accept where they are at any particular point in their development and stay determined to perform and communicate to the best of their ability in that given moment, while also having the combination of tenacity and patience that growth requires. Determined to improve in the long run, yet living in the music in every present instance.
- Learn more about the Northwestern University double bass studio in the Double Bassist’s Guide to Colleges!
- Check out our in-depth conversation with Andrew Raciti on Contrabass Conversations.
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