Teaching is a complex art; part knowledge, part the ability to communicate that knowledge and transfer what you know. If either is missing, the ‘whole’ falls apart. And passion for your topic helps.
Many years ago I began teaching private lessons in my home. That expanded to substituting for music teachers in school systems. I would conduct bands, orchestras and choruses, direct section rehearsals, and give private instruction. That expanded to being asked to teach music at a college, and that snowballed into two more colleges approaching me. Into the mix were some unusual teaching gigs - like the year I spent teaching music at a prison (yes, they let me out after class!). My gigging and lecture schedules can be hectic, but I don’t envision a day when I stop either. I guess part of the reason I feel so strongly about teaching is that I’ve had the good fortune of learning from some very inspiring and accomplished people. I studied bass with Richard Davis and played a master class with Gary Karr; I studied flute with Harvey Estrin, piano with Mitchell Andrews. Teachers that have led me through lessons of music and life that I’ll never forget.
My first piano teacher was Eleanor Seifter. We remained close long after I stopped taking lessons from her, and I visited her periodically throughout the subsequent decades. When she was in her nineties, I told her I was wrestling with the best way to teach my class about fugues. Without hesitation (as if she was waiting for me to ask) she suggested an approach that I still use today. She taught me when I was a child, and taught me nearly a lifetime later. I’ve gleaned so much from my teachers, lessons big and small, and do my best to pass along the pearls.
While some teachers guide you through technique, how to read music and so forth, some don’t explore how music works. What makes something sound good... or not! (This, of course, is a very subjective and sensitive area - likes and dislikes - but can still be addressed. Not, “That sounds horrible!”, but “Why don’t you try this option and see if you like it?”). So when I began teaching, I promised myself (and my students, albeit silently) that I would never leave this part out. Sure, I want my students to know how to play their instruments, but I also want them to know why certain notes might be more effective in certain situations, others less so. I want them to have the full arsenal of ingredients with which to construct the recipe. They can choose which to use and which to ignore, but they have to know the available options in order to make informed, deliberate choices.
My teaching is flexible in direction, paced according to the student’s progress and aptitude, constantly evolving, and always includes the big view of how music works. There are few things as satisfying as those days when I see a lightbulb ignite over a pupil’s head. Ah! They got it! And I suspect it’s as satisfying to them as it is to me.
And that’s why I teach.