Students, Prodigies, and Teaching

Earlier I gave several examples to prove how generally the most obvious, and at the same time most important, things are neglected. In the course of the book I shall give many more. What I regret most is not so much that the cellists do not play to my taste. Even if I have to hurt people I have to tell these cellists that they have not had the proper guidance. Very little responsibility has been shown towards either the students or the music.

Hundreds of cellists have played for me and some of them have become my students. I almost always ask two questions: why they have come to me and where do they feel they are lacking. The answers are chiefly: faulty technique and depleted repertoire. Thus the cellists who come to me have all completed their formal musical training, many of them have positions with orchestras either as first-desk solo cellists or in the section, of with quartets. They are persons one could call accomplished and expert in music.

What has always amazed me is that not a one has even come close to saying: I realize that I do not play that badly but I find it impossible to express that which I have in my mind; or, I have a certain idea of how the cello should sound, but I cannot achieve it alone. This has led me to the conclusion that most instrumentalists, at the stage when they are allowed to become independent by their teachers, should therefore be able to think independently. They should be clear about their instruments and their music. Yet they are not prepared for such a situation, and are therefore hardly capable of developing alone. As sad as this may be, I can only thus explain to myself the standstill most musicians come to at a certain age and level. They feel that as soon as they leave the school or the teacher they have reached the height. But is not this the point at which the development begins.

The most blatant example is the prodigy. The prodigy is usually the performing voice of a good teacher: he is soft putty in the teacher's hands. I am of the opinion that a prodigy is not even destined for music, but that is another matter. In any case, it is a fact that most prodigies do not develop into artists, but at that moment when their own personality should make its appearance, they fail completely. Many reasons have been advanced for this and each case is different. Probably common to all is that, as long as they are under the influence of teachers or their often profit-seeking parents, they are treated as machines. No one tries to influence and develop their personal lives as musicians and people. On the contrary, in order to get the most out of the object-the prodigy-it is necessary to keep under strict control whatever appears to be the most advantageous as a momentary goal. But the prodigy is completely unprepared for the future as an independent, thinking human being; he is completely defenseless.

This development, which is considered normal, is similar for most musicians. I intend to write neither a theory nor a method. I do not even know if this will be a thick book or a small pamphlet. I think that the title "Words of Advice" approximates what I want to say. I might say that a method describes how something should be accomplished. There have been many methods written with the best intentions and with much success. There will be directions for how one should draw the bow, what the different keys are, and surely some progressive exercises, so that the student achieves a certain facility and precision in his intonation, and if he is talented and has a good teacher, he will play fairly well up to a certain point.

Because of my experiences with musicians on my own instrument, and with violinists and pianists as well, I would maintain that the most important point, the most important goal, has been ignored. Only thus is it understandable that good players, if there were an attempt made to explain to them the goal and the route to accomplishing it, could without much effort improve their playing to an amazing extent. I would like to say that it must first be clearwhat one wishes to reach and the how will play a secondary role.



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