PART ONE, THE CELLO
Practice and Teaching, Continued...
How different it is with us! Usually one hour a week is reserved for the lesson-and what are sixty minutes?-the student has time to play a little for the teacher, correct a little, and say: I will come again next week.
It is also necessary to have time to treat the pupil as a human being, to show him the problems and a way to solution. How often does it happen to me that at the beginning of the lesson a question comes up which brings up other questions along with it. I try to explain, to demonstrate how it should be done, while others pupils who are there come in with their problems. Before you turn around, the hour is over and the pupil has not had time to play what he had prepared during the week. I am very sympathetic towards a pupil who has not only done his homework obediently, but who has concerned himself with all the thorny problems. He has a right to question this "one lesson a week" system, which hardly gives the teacher time to teach his student, let along influence and enlighten him.
My ideal is for the teacher to watch the student during practice. Where would the comparison to painting lie? How and where would it be possible to carry over the art of teaching painting to music? The teacher could work with his students in the same building; in this way students could always have their teachers as "ears" and the teacher could go from room to room, correcting pupils while they are practicing. This would be Utopia! Not only because of the question of room. Candidly, teachers are not always inclined to lend their ears to their pupils for any longer than thirty, forty, or sixty minutes. A significant question remains, whose answer is hardly in the affirmative: how intensively or meaningfully do the teachers themselves practice?
As I have said above, the lesson for the most part goes as follows: from one lesson to the next the student must complete a certain amount of work: perhaps a scale, an etude, and a section of some piece. If the student is diligent he will practice his lesson, that is, he will repeat what he will have to play during the lesson numerous times, so that he can play the scale, etude, and piece fairly cleanly and up to tempo. The teacher is satisfied, corrects a wrong note here and there. Possibly in the piece he will suggest a ritardando at some point (that may not even belong there), at another point he may speak about poetry (without being able to explain how poetical feelings can be translated into reality on an instrument), and the student gets a new assignment for next week, which he practices just as faithfully. Thus the lessons go throughout the year until the student reaches a point where he can play fairly cleanly and quickly, attain a beautiful tone (it is to be hoped), and gain mastery over the cello repertoire or at least be acquainted with it.
An untalented or lazy pupil practices little, gets stuck in his lesson, the teacher scolds, the pupil needs two weeks for a lesson instead of one, and reaches that final point mentioned earlier after a much longer period of study, perhaps even never.
I have played cello for thirty years. My experiences with my own teachers and reports given me by many of my pupils about the lessons they had had up until then, have convinced me that with certain positive and negative exceptions, in general, the lesson proceeds as described above. And I also know that piano and violin are taught in the same manner, but with the difference that there have been many great masters in both, and there has always existed an elite of teachers who have taught in a way which I would like to see developed on the cello.