Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

Collaboration in the ACHT Studio by Janice LaMarre

The following post is by Janice LaMarre.

The ACHT Studio, comprised of the students of Heidi Castleman, Misha Amory, Hsin-Yun Huang, and Steven Tenenbom, at the Juilliard School, is a unique entity at a unique school because of its high level of collaboration between teachers and students. Sharing teachers, studio classes, information, and funding allows students to thrive in a nurturing environment. Heidi Castleman explains below how the shared studio began:

To thrive humans require both closeness and autonomy. Traditionally, the studio teacher is isolated from his/her peer group; in the mid-1980’s I turned to team teaching because it afforded me the possibility of contradicting that isolation. In 1994 when Dr. Polisi invited me to join the Juilliard viola faculty, he asked me to identify a colleague with whom I would like to share students. Immediately, I proposed Misha Amory; in that first year we shared 9 students. With Hsin-Yun Huang and Steven Tenenbom joining us, the studio has gradually grown to include an average of 30 students. Happily, it is a home to which alumni continue to return and contribute.


1. Collaboration’s rewards: Collaboration leaves everyone with a feeling of “win-win” through opening a myriad of possibilities.

Misha Amory explains this concept as his favorite aspect of the studio:

 I have had occasional experiences sharing students outside the ACHT studio. While there have been successes, it is impossible for the teaching collaboration to feel “close” in the same way that ACHT offers. This difference is due in part to the superb organizational effort on the part of Heidi Castleman and Yi-Fang Huang, who over the years have refined a studio structure resting on weekly studio classes, several formal studio recitals, a Google site enabling shared lesson notes, this blog, and a host of data-gathering efforts at the beginning of each school year. Add to that the fact that the four of us teachers are close friends and value the opportunity to discuss our many students with each other, and you can easily understand why the team-teaching in this studio has such a good basis for success.

To answer your question, I would say that my favorite aspect of collaboration within our studio is knowing that the other teacher has your back: he or she sees the same picture of a student that you do, and is helping to chart the same course to help the student progress. It is not merely two teachers who are consultants, checking in on the student from time to time, a feeling that can take hold in a more casual collaboration. Better yet, when you are stumped about how to help a student on a given problem, there is an excellent chance that your colleague will see something that you don’t, and will jump to help solve it.


2. Collaboration has to start at the top. Studio culture is not set by words, but by the actions of the teacher. That means treating everyone with respect, and providing regular constructive feedback. Trust is required for every successful collaboration.

Yi-Fang Huang finds Heidi’s approach to be the most unique part of the studio:

If you ask Heidi Castleman what makes the ACHT studio unique, she will probably credit everyone around her rather than drawing attention to herself, even though the idea of team teaching was first started by her. She believes that the team teaching approach benefits the student by making available the wisdom and experience of multiple teachers. She also believes that, if well-coordinated, the cooperative efforts of the teachers and the interactions of students and faculty in weekly studio activities, create a supportive musical community for the students.

Just like all the great organizations have great leaders who always act, think, and communicate from inside out by first asking themselves why they do what they do, the ACHT Studio is unique because we have a great leader who inspires all of us- Heidi Castleman. She has a precise vision of what she believes. She fosters a safe environment for students to grow by her love and wisdom. She is a selfless and devoted educator. She is confident in what she does and yet it comes with incredible humility. Heidi is the force that drives all of us to be better. I feel very privileged to be part of the team.


Molly Carr explains this aspect of the ACHT studio collaboration succinctly:

 The greatest part of the collaboration is that it all springs from Heidi’s brain. Because she’s such an amazing person, everyone who is involved is so happy to get things done and be involved. It’s all for her, and it’s for a good cause, and there’s no conflict because she’s the fairy godmother above it all.


3. The biggest barriers to collaboration are not technical – but instead, are cultural and organizational in nature. Everyone benefits most when teachers focus on building a studio culture and developing processes through communication and shared goals, rather than allowing internal competition and bureaucracy to thrive.

Indeed, Yi-Fang Huang says she enjoys working in the studio largely due to its overwhelmingly positive culture and impressive level of organization, for within the studio…

– All teachers and students are respectful towards each other.
– Teachers are passionate about music and supportive of each other.
– Teachers share similar values and always have students’ best interests in mind.
– All four of the teachers are like the best students who never stop learning.
– Other than weekly lesson and studio class, there are also play-through classes, scale classes, Bach classes, eurhythmics classes, and guest masterclasses and lectures.


4. Collaboration cannot be deployed, but embraced. Teachers must be willing participants who model collaborative behavior – even so far as embracing new technology tools – not just taskmasters. All team members must be committed.

In the ACHT studio, all students are requested to read and respond quickly to emails in order to keep up with the studio’s frequently changing google calendar. Changes in this lesson calendar are largely the responsibility of the students; when one student agrees to take another’s lesson time due to a conflict, the whole process is completed before the teacher is ultimately notified, thus creating goodwill and allowing teachers to focus on more important tasks than regulating the schedule. The teachers also occasionally cover for each other in cases of a conflicting performance or travel plans.


5. Good ideas come from anywhere, so the more voices the better.

Heidi Castleman is proudest of “the multiplicity of fine minds (faculty, teaching assistants, and students) thinking about how each student can realize his/her potential the best.” For this reason, students are given important leadership roles in the studio and are also often called upon to actively comment in studio classes. Furthermore, unexpected guests (often even from outside of the music world) are invited to give presentations/lectures at various studio classes throughout the year in order to shed light on performing in new ways.

Steven Tenenbom explains his enthusiasm for the shared studio, in an informal interview, as follows:

The collaboration aspect of our studio is great! I even prefer to share students over teaching on my own. For the right student, I think two teachers can be a wonderful experience, especially in our studio where there is strong teamwork. If a teacher were adamant that a piece must be played in a certain way, that would make cooperation more difficult. The way we four teachers work together within the Juilliard viola program is fantastic. Our common thread is Heidi, and even if she is away, it seems as though she’s still here and the studio runs smoothly. The fact that Heidi is really our central pillar makes it really great. It’s also interesting when we collaborate not with Heidi, but with the other students. That’s nice for other reasons: it’s interesting how different brains work together.


6. Collaboration enhances personal communication skills. As team members interact and play to their strengths, they learn to be authentic and genuine, which increases their effectiveness as well as their skills. They reach agreement faster and communicate more.

As Molly Carr explains:

The fact that almost everyone in the studio has more than one teacher is truly unique. In most schools there is conflict between teachers, if the student studies with two teachers. It may be a question of ego, but there is none of this in the ACHT studio – the teachers are all careful to communicate with eachother and keep up-to-date through weekly lesson notes on each student.

7. You get out of collaboration what you put in. Another of Heidi Castleman’s favorite aspects of the collaboration is that “everyone gives and receives quality attention.”


8. Collaboration success means changing both roles and rewards. This means creating processes that allow more perspectives, but making it clear who has decision-making rights. It’s essential to provide incentives to change-ingrained behavior.


9. More interaction opens opportunities to create more artistic value. Within the Classical music world, opportunities exist that are often missed unless everyone is listening and communicating.

Students come to Juilliard from around the globe. Their unique perspective may shed light on how to play a certain style of music more authentically, tailor concert programs to different audiences, or unearth new topics for musicological research. By welcoming their voice, the diversity of the studio is enhanced. Top teachers including Robert Vernon, Thomas Riebl, Barbara Westphal, and others are invited for master classes and to work together.


10. The studio gets out more than it puts into collaboration. Students are the most obvious beneficiaries of this method, but teachers gain deep satisfaction and help from this work.

Collaboration accelerates innovation, improves agility, increases adaptability, and cuts costs all at once. But building a collaborative culture is not an easy transformation for the traditional fiercely independent teacher. How can each of us incorporate these elements into our own studios?

Reflections on a German Education by David Lau

The following post is by David Lau.

After suffering through the second security-check my one way ticket aroused at PDX, I squeezed into 18b sandwiched between a woman clearly requiring two seats and a talkative man in his forties with breath that reminded me of my childhood goat Henrietta. Making myself as comfortable as possible on the 13 hour flight to Frankfurt, I leaned back practicing my two sentences in German. One asking the location of the toilet, the other an inappropriate request I had learned years before at a music festival.

I came to Germany almost by accident but what ensued was a constant reminder of the role Destiny plays in our lives. In my last semester of a Bachelors degree at Juilliard I waited eagerly for my Fulbright Scholarship to Austria. Having been assured by the professor of his excitement to work with me I imagined the whole thing a done deal. But when the thin envelope arrived in my mailbox I frantically looked for alternatives. As luck would have it I was able to join the studio of Professor Barbara Westphal in Lübeck which quickly proved to be one of the greatest learning experiences of my musical education.

Manhattan to rural northern Germany is quite a contrast. I am from Oregon and at that a very country part of the hippie/farmer state. But having spent four years in New York City I felt more at home in the anonymous bustle of the city than anywhere else. Needless to say arriving in Lübeck, a town of 200,000 butting up against the Baltic sea was a bit of a culture shock, but I did my best to settle in and make the most of this new adventure.

Die Musikhochschule Lübeck was located in the center of the old city. Made up of five 18th century merchant homes connected inside by a labyrinth of passageways it oozed with the old world European charm I, as a young traveler, longed for. I naively thought coming from Juilliard I would breeze through this school, land a job and set forth on a wild life of concerts and travels. To my surprise and eventual pleasure, the ignorance of my assumptions quickly became clear. Whereas before if it was loud, fast and in tune you struck awe in your audience, here there was a specific nuance and style, a new musical language that proved more difficult to learn than German.

This tiny music school had pockets of grandeur. Concertmasters of the Berlin Philharmonic had studios here, star clarinettists, pianists and cellists whose students quickly filled the vacancies in major European orchestras. In a place I had never even heard of before, music was being taught and played in new and exciting ways. How refreshing it was to come away from the heavily competitive world of large scale American conservatories and find the students immersed in not only their own studies but in enthusiastic collaboration with each other.

The difference in how one approached music here began to unfold itself to me. There was an inherent quality that the German students could produce that I was before unaware of, especially in music from the Baroque and Classical periods. When it came to music from say 1920 onwards, I found the differences not so great, but everything before was black and white and this fascinated me.

In Germany every audition requires Hoffmeister or Stamitz. You might balk at this pieces thinking how juvenile and easy, but the shocking truth is, nine out of ten violist stumble through these pieces like a bull in a china shop. I spent the next years of my education focusing on the subtleties of works from these periods because I knew I wanted to audition for an orchestra here. And the first hand knowledge I would receive by studying with the direct inheritors of these traditions was something I wasn’t going to find anywhere else.

With much patience and persistence the subtle world of German classicism opened up to me. Rules of where, when and why to vibrate, when and why to lift my bow in phrases,(Absetzen), cadential nuances, (Abphrazieren), the things I found my German colleagues just knew, I had to learn. The approach to Baroque and Classical music here was a new and freeing experience for me. I slowly began to feel less bogged down by the stodgy institution of “Historical Performance” and found if I just listened I would understand why certain pieces where played this way. The rules weren’t rigid unmoving parameters boxing in my expression but more like phonetic guidelines. If I wanted someone to understand me when I played Mozart then I needed a slight space between two notes that came after each other if they were the same tone. It also wouldn’t take away from the excitement of my performance when I made slight diminuendos at the ends of phrases it would make it comprehensible. I found a new freshness in my performance of this pieces and an imaginative freedom. There were no “rules”. With these pieces anything was possible I just had to learn how to speak the right language.

Aside from the different approach to music here, the repertoire is also more varied. I have never played so much Opera and Ballet music before in my life. This mainly do to the fact that almost every small town has its own theater and company. Even better were the discoveries I made playing countless church gigs. Uncovering new baroque composers on another random religious holiday previously unknown to me or playing weekly cantatas with the Thomaner choir in the loft of the Thomaskirche while looking down on Bach’s grave. Music is a part of almost every occasion. There is a closeness to the music that one can almost touch here.

Studying in Germany, and now working here, has been tremendously eye opening. I enjoy the sense of being at the source of the music. Brahms, Telemann, and Buxtehude in Northern Germany. Discussing and playing Debussy and Ravel with French colleagues. And now playing in the Gewandhaus orchestra in Leipzig where Bach, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner, and Mahler all lived, studied and worked. There is an encompassing sense of tradition and understanding of music because it is their history and an important part of their lives.

Orchestras and schools are funded mainly by the Government here. Which means school is only 80€ a semester and most of that goes to pay for your bus pass. Upon graduating debt free the bulk of quality reliable jobs can also be found here. Berlin Philharmonic, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Gewandhausorchester and Dresden Staatskapelle all have openings now and these are just 4 of the 133 orchestras that exist in this country roughly the size of Montana.

Learning German has proved less of a challenge as I once thought, having almost flunked out of my course at Juilliard. And it is perhaps a language all musicians should be required to learn. It is pretty satisfying not to have to look at a dictionary when learning a new Hindemith sonata or Mahler symphony, or simply being able to read Mozart’s letters in their original.

I have been living in Germany for 7 years now and think I will eventually come back to the states, but it is an experience I would recommend to any musician. For now I continue to take advantage and play a role in a society that values its musical heritage and fights to keep it alive.

So you have been invited to give a master class – by Kathryn Steely

The following post is by Kathryn Steely.

I wrote the following piece waaay back in 1990 as part of a pedagogy independent study project while I was a student in Heidi’s studio at the Cleveland Institute.  Of course, it reflects her wonderful philosophy and these ideas have informed my teaching in group settings ever since. 

Master Class Skills

The purpose of the master class is the giving and receiving of information in an atmosphere that promotes learning rather than emphasizing presentation of works. Both presenter and performer have responsibilities in making the class a time for growth, both for presenter and performer, but for the audience as well.


For the presenter:

  • Always be aware of the staging aspects in order to include the audience in the lesson. This may include some rearranging of music stands, etc. so that the presenter does not find herself with back to the audience.


A presentation should include the following:

  • Give genuine, positive feedback to the performer and show appreciation for the gift that has been given.

  • Pick two to three areas to work on, depending on time available, and present these at the outset.

  • Proceed by isolating the problem, examining why it occurs, and exploring one or two ways to make improvement.


Additional comments for the presenter:

  • Give limited try-out time for suggestions – don’t get hung up on one issue.

  • Make every effort to help the performer understand what you are trying to present.  As a last resort, let them work on the idea on their own time.

  • Consider emphasizing different aspects of playing with different performers. This allows for a variety of topics and presents a well-rounded class. This also serves to keep everyone interested.

  • Don’t fall into the trap of talking too much. Be clear and concise in the presentation of ideas.  Excess verbal activity only serves to “muddy the waters”.

  • Take care to speak slowly and clearly – no mumbling!

  • Bring a healthy amount of energy to the presentation. Show that the give and take of information is immensely important, not only to you but to everyone in the room.


For the performer:

  • As a performer in the master class setting, it is important to consider how you can be helpful in making the teaching setting work. Too often the emphasis is only on how the performer played at the outset, which is NOT the purpose of the class.

  • Be open to considering new ideas presented.  Try them out in earnest.

In summary, a master class should be a positive learning experience for everyone in the room.  Hopefully everyone leaves with a few new ideas to try in their playing and in their teaching!

An Interview of Heidi Castleman by Edward Klorman

The following is an interview of Heidi Castleman by Edward Klorman.

EK: I’d like to ask some questions about viola pedagogy–the “life cycle” of the time you spend working with a pre-college, undergraduate, or graduate student from when you first meet them to when they graduate. What are you looking and listening for when you first meet a prospective student? What playing skills are most important? Are there qualities besides playing skills that signal that a student is a good match?

HC: a sense of wonder, an ability to be the music, a keen ear, an awareness of time, a physical connection to sound.

EK: What is the best way for a student to prepare for an audition–either for pre-college or college study? What does the panel listen for, and how should this affect one’s preparation?

HC: Start learning the material well ahead of the audition date.  A musical personality, general competency, good preparation, a natural way with the instrument and with the music. Prepare in a way to build consistency; as well as learning the pieces, practice performing.

EK: In an earlier blog post, you described your technical curriculum for how you approach instrumental skills over several years of study. Could you say more about how you make plans and goals for the two or four years you work with a student? How do you choose repertoire for study? How do you establish performance goals for a student? How much repertoire should a pre-college, undergraduate, or graduate student study at once, and how long should they spend with each piece?

HC: In terms of instrumental or technical development I start with a student’s self-assessment of skills and design a program to address the areas of the student’s greatest concern.  After collecting information about repertoire already learned and performed, as well as learning what pieces not yet studied interest a student, I will recommend pieces either because they are in a style not yet studied very much or because they are pieces of major importance in the repertoire.

EK: How do you help students choose summer festivals or other complementary musical experiences?

HC: Clarifying what the student’s greatest needs are comes first: private study, time to practice, chamber music study, orchestral training?  Evaluating faculty, performance opportunities, networking potential comes next? Obviously considering budget, any geographical constraints, as well as length of program is also involved.

Between the first and second years of the Master of Music program, and between the junior and senior year of college (sometimes also for high school students), it is important to consider as well how a summer experience may figure into linking students to the next step in their education and young careers.

EK: What aspects of viola playing are the hardest to teach?

HC: A very good question.  Inner discipline and unflappable diligence.

EK: How do you teach younger students to get the most from their practice time?

HC: Being clear about what and how you want the student to practice is probably the most important tool a teacher has in encouraging maximum practice efficiency.  Following up by consistently hearing in lessons what one has assigned is the other essential element.  As the life around us gets busier and busier, I have found this increasingly challenging to do reliably.

EK: Some of the more obvious goals of viola lessons are to master new techniques and repertoire. What are some of the less obvious goals of viola lessons (eg., learning to listen contrapuntally or harmonically, learning to hear the full score, appreciating musical styles, fostering self confidence and charisma in performance, etc.)? How do you approach cultivating these areas?

HC:  Helping students develop in all the areas you mention above is probably the most rewarding part of teaching.  However, explaining in words how one accomplishes this is not easy because essentially these areas are more easily penetrated with intuition rather than analysis.

EK: Do you encourage students to be well-rounded, “generalist” violists or to focus on areas of special interest–say, teaching, performing contemporary music, preparing for solo competitions, or preparing for orchestral auditions? At what point in a student’s development is such specializing helpful? Are most students aware of which specialties or paths match their strengths, or do you need to guide them?

HC: Initially a student needs to focus on developing basic skills, vocabulary, instrumental fluency and a knowledge of diverse musical styles. Building on a student’s special interests and passions always is a “win-win” because these motivate growth of expertise and excellence.

Some students are aware of which specialties or paths match their strengths, but many are not. Students who have a clear perspective on the music field and good self-knowledge have a much easier time moving forward violistically and professionally.  For those without a strong feeling for how to match their gifts with possibilities, the best form of guidance usually is to direct them to a short-term experience in the particular area in question. The resulting enthusiasm (or lack thereof) will take care of the rest.

EK: What is the ideal balance between (a) scales, exercises, and etudes and (b) repertoire in a student’s practice time? What is the balance in lesson time? Does it vary from student to student?

HC: In the early years of my career I would have found this question much easier to answer!  The expectation was 4-5 hours of daily practice, the first half of which was devoted to technique (scales, arpeggios, double stops, exercises, etudes) and the second half to repertoire (excerpts, Bach, sonata, concerto and short pieces).  Many years later, the realities that each student comes with a different background, learns differently, and that every school day offers a different set of circumstances has led me to appreciate how important it is to tailor the balance of technique and repertoire to the individual.  Constructing an appropriately balanced curriculum requires good teacher/student communication and the setting of clear and specific goals.

Loving Music, Loving Children: An Orchestral Performer as Administrator by Katie Carrington

The following post is by Katie Carrington.

This past winter, I was given the chance to step up as Artistic Director of the Greater New Orleans Suzuki Forum. I had been teaching group classes weekly for this organization and helped redesign the web page, but taking the directorship would mean a large increase in responsibility. I was not sure at first that this is something I wanted to undertake; after all, I just started with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and was also building a private teaching studio. I’m also younger than most of the teachers here and don’t have as much teaching experience. However, the more I thought about it, the clearer it became to me that not only do I as a teacher need this organization, the city of New Orleans (NOLA) needs and deserves an organization like this.

My Story.

* public schools, private lessons, and on to Juilliard

My musical career started very differently from most of my colleagues. I started playing the viola in fourth grade at age ten, through the public school system. I was a nominal practicer and participated in orchestra because it was fun, but by no means was I top of my class. I didn’t even consider becoming a musician until I was 16, when I took my first private lesson outside of school. Four years and many hours of practicing later, I found myself a first year student at Juilliard.

This experience kept me wondering: what kids are we losing because of inadequate opportunities for music study? I was even in one of the “good” districts that still had arts education, and I almost missed out on my future career. Perhaps our next Yo-Yo Ma lives in an area that has no music education of any kind. Our next Gil Shaham never given a violin!

becoming interested in teaching

While I always believed in the importance of quality music education for all ages, I didn’t start teaching myself until recently, and for a rather uninspiring reason: making ends meet. However, I soon realized that I enjoyed it and found it to be a better and more reliable source of income than the freelance scene!

Why Suzuki?

I had always been aware of the Suzuki Method, although I wasn’t a product of it myself. As I continued teaching, I became more and more interested in it though – after I realized that I wanted to work with younger and younger kids and had heard that several of my friends had done the Suzuki training. When I eventually took Violin Book 1 training in June 2012, I quickly became an advocate for the Suzuki Method.

* Its positive message

I now believe that the Suzuki Method is the best way for a young child to learn to play an instrument. Every institute I attend to further my own training shows me the extraordinary results one can achieve with this method. In many schools now, the curriculum treats children just as unintelligent adults, which I know from working with kids to be far from the case. The Suzuki Method shows a respect towards the spirit and intelligence that all children naturally possess. The Suzuki Method also has dual aims: produce sensitive, fine musicians, and sensitive, noble adults. Respect and empathy are taught as well as vibrato and shifting.

* Parental involvement

Indeed, one of the reasons I chose to be a Suzuki teacher is because of the parental involvement that it fosters. Parents are expected to attend lessons, take notes, and practice with their children. This is no easy task, especially at first. Over a period of time, it produces a parent/child relationship that is always functional, no matter what else may be going on. With every student I teach I feel privileged to be able to foster this relationship.

* Teaching focus

I find that teaching using this philosophy recharges rather than drains me. I have always believed in my students, but now I have a clear way to show them that. I can now tell my youngest students that we are working on circle bow resets to get ready for Song of the Wind, two pieces away. I can explain that we are working on independent fingers to prepare to play in G Major, which Etude is in. One aspect of the Suzuki Method that I find challenging as a teacher, however, is that I only get to choose one point each week for them to work on. But this challenge forces me to focus on the one thing that will be most helpful, and makes me a better diagnostician.

* Benefits of teaching Suzuki in MY OWN practicing

Teaching in this way has also changed the way I practice. I get to work on one point at a time, and no more than that. I realize how and in what ways repetition can help. I am now always going back to the basics of playing the instrument, and that helps me simplify what I need to work on. In Don Juan is it the string crossings that are difficult? The fingering? All of the above? How should I tackle this to ensure myself success? Instead of focusing on what went wrong, I focus on what went right, and try to emulate that. This way of practicing is more energizing and encouraging than my “default” methods that had begun to feel like ruts.

Building Hope in New Orleans!

* Some New Orleans background

New Orleans is one of the oldest in the US, with many landmarks from the 1800’s still standing and used today. There is a long history here and people are proud of it. Something like 77% of people born here still live here. It has a very strong sense of community and civic pride. The bad news is that the city currently has a fourth grade average reading level. The public school system has been dysfunctional for decades and as a result, schools are heavily charterized. It is not uncommon to hear of families moving in search of better educational opportunities for their children. Whereas in most areas only the wealthy send their kids to private school, here lower middle class kids and up are attending private academies, often at great cost to their families. Many families feel that home-schooling is the best option for them. I see many parents are very involved in their children’s lives and want to give them the best possible start. Many even realize how instrument study can do this, but have never heard of Dr. Suzuki. Mention the Suzuki Method in this area and you’ll most likely get a question about motorcycles!

* Finding teachers – starting the Teacher Incentive Program

After taking all this into consideration, I strongly feel that Suzuki music education can help this city in great ways. But I also realize that even if I were the best teacher in the world, I would always be limited by how many students I can teach. I recognized the need to organize a larger group of people to raise awareness and provide a support system for the teachers and the parents of this method.

Following my acceptance of the position of Artistic Director of the Greater New Orleans Suzuki Forum, a problem I addressed immediately was the need for more Suzuki-trained teachers. One of the services the Forum offers is a weekly group class on Sundays. We offer classes in Kodaly, Pre-Twinkle Violin, Violin Book 1&2, Viola, Cello, and Music Mind Games, a beginning theory class, as well as a Parent Education course. We have had real struggles this year ensuring we have enough teachers to cover all the courses. The first program that I implemented was the Teacher Incentive Program, or TIP. The program seeks to send teachers to take Suzuki training and provides funds to do so. In exchange, that teacher agrees to teach a set number of group classes for free. The benefit to the Forum is that we really don’t lose money and we gain a larger pool of teachers to draw from. In addition, by helping to set up local Suzuki teachers, we create more Suzuki students. This helps us to attain larger enrollment numbers and simply raises awareness of the Method. It helps the teachers because they get useful training and build their resume while also getting experience in teaching group classes. So far, the TIP has already selected one candidate and is still accepting applications.

* Summer Institute

Another challenge that became quickly obvious has been learning how to run the 2013 Summer Institute. The GNO Suzuki Forum has held a Summer Institute every year for 25 years. It is one of the only Suzuki Institutes in the gulf region and gives the Forum a national presence. The Institute draws faculty nationwide and offers masterclasses, performances, group classes, electives, note reading and theory classes, and teacher training. When I took over as Director, much still needed to be planned. I have certainly had a sharp learning curve in dealing with contracts, faculty, scheduling, and the many, many other tasks associated with holding an Institute!


* Long-term goals

Even though I am still in the midst of the transition to Artistic Director, I can already tell that it’s worth it. While I know I still have much to learn and to deal with, I have a vision of what the GNO Suzuki Forum can bring to this city. My dream is for the Group Class School to be so well attended that we need two teachers for every class, plus an accompanist. I want the teaching spots to be competitive enough to keep the teaching level consistently high. I can see a way to a time when New Orleans is represented in the enrollment at top conservatories and universities, competitions where New Orleans natives are among those recognized. I want to bring in guest clinicians and draw on the relationships I have with some truly outstanding teachers and musicians. Farther out than that, I envision a time when our students today become audience members and supporters of the arts wherever they may end up.

I know these seem like impossibly high ideals, but I still see this as a path we as a society can take. And if it means I need to figure out how to do a mail merge on Excel, then I’m willing to try! I’m inspired often by this quote about Dorothy Delay: “Dottie has a way of overlooking obstacles, and sometimes, if you overlook them long enough, they tend to disappear.

Top Ten Practicing Recommendations (a la David Letterman) by Laura Seay

Learning how to practice your instrument is just as important as learning how to play your instrument.  Laura Seay’s Top Ten Practicing Recommendations are an outgrowth of her study of 47 students at Juilliard (14 violinists, 12 violists, 5 cellists, 1 bassist, 11 pianists, 2 percussionists, 2 bassoonists) completed while at Teachers College, Columbia University. This study looked at retention of information from and preparation for lessons; scheduling of practice sessions; tasks addressed during the practice sessions; how and when breaks are scheduled; motivation; problem identification in playing; facilitation of mental practice; and amount of time practiced.
10. Find a system that works for you and to help you keep track of information acquired during lessons
9. Schedule practicing into your daily schedule
8. Come up with goals at the beginning and end of each practice session
7. Isolate technical exercises outside of repertoire
6. Drill problem sections of repertoire within a larger context
5. Schedule breaks into your practice session and leave the room (STOP with the viola!) when you are on break
4. If you don’t feel like practicing, make a deal with yourself to try and practice for just 15 minutes
3. Incorporate mental practice in each session
2. When faced with problems, look at HOW you’re practicing in addition to how much you’re practicing.  Mention this information when asking for help from a teacher or colleague
1. Pay attention to what works for you!

Passing on the riches… Inspiring students, educators and community in Sarasota by Elizabeth Power

From H. Castleman:
Elizabeth Power, Executive Director of The Perlman Music Program/Suncoast, Inc., (PMP/S), studied viola with Misha Amory and myself in the very first class we shared at Juilliard.  Her knowledge of music, her passion for teaching and her expertise as an admininstrator have made her the perfect person to spearhead the development of a model educational outreach program, one in which the Sarasota (FL) community generously gives an emerging PMP/S string quartet to area schools for multiple residency visits.

The Players:
The Perlman Music Program (PMP) is a program that brings together exceptionally talented young musicians from all over the world (ages 12-18) to study in a rigorous, but non-competitive, atmosphere.  As a summer program on Shelter Island (NY), PMP now also encompasses a permanent two-week winter residency in Sarasota, Florida (PMP/Suncoast), which includes study as well as many open rehearsals and concerts, all available free to the public.

Program Overview:
In 2009, PMP/S launched a curriculum-based education outreach program to connect PMP alumni with Sarasota and Manatee County school students. This year-round Education Outreach Program, brings PMP alumni quartets, now professional musicians, into elementary, middle and high schools in Sarasota and Manatee counties for three one-week residencies during the fall, winter, and spring.  This program provides curriculum-based, in-school experiences including interactive performances for fifth grade students and hands-on training for middle school and high school orchestra students and teachers. Thanks to the great support and commitment of the PMP/Suncoast Board of Trustees, residency visits are fully funded by sponsors and offered to schools free of charge.


  1. to support school-based music programs, especially in-school instruction of string instruments, and
  2. to support PMP graduates, who are emerging young artists.

Concert Series:
The alumni quartet also presents free concerts throughout the year as part of PMP/S’s Emerging Artists Performance Series, providing opportunities for families and adult audiences to hear the PMP alumni quartets and learn about their activities in the local schools.

Program features:
1) Alignment to meeting curriculum standards (including core tested standards in subjects other than music),
2) Meeting the individual needs of orchestra classroom teachers with regard to improving students’ playing and performing skills as well as inspiring them.
3) Multi-media support materials designed to provide readymade interactive activities introducing students to the visiting artists, string instruments, musical concepts, and celebrated composers of chamber music,
4) This season 23 schools and more than 4,000 students have participated, and extensive evaluation process including written surveys and personal interviews of participating orchestra and elementary school music teachers and their students.

(“P.S.” Students and teachers alike consistently comment on the “wow” factor of hearing young artists of professional caliber, perhaps generating one of the greatest benefits of all — inspiration. These PMP teaching artists are seen as rock stars in the eyes of the school students they visit.)

As the PMP/S Education Outreach Program continues to grow and mature, we hope it will serve as a model for other communities in developing successful collaborations between schools and young concert artists, while also providing those artists expanded opportunities to support and enrich their own career development.

For more information, visit www.PMPSuncoast.org.

The Business of Private Teaching by Laura Seay

On February 14, Laura Seay gave our studio a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift: a teacher training workshop for those interested in private teaching. Today’s post shares her recommendations on issues to address in setting and communicating studio policies. In a future week, her perspectives on how best to get students will be the subject of a second post.  Laura Seay’s guidance is informed by her extensive performing experience, as well as by her educational training and experience as a teacher and as a teaching artist. To learn more about Laura (http://www.LauraSeayViola.com), see below.

Setting studio policies

  • Fees
    • Charging by semester, by lesson or monthly?
    • Setting a fee
    • When to raise fee
    • Scholarships for students – work study
  • Attendance policies and lesson times
    • Key to successful private teaching: accountability and prompt communication
    • What if they miss?  What if you miss a time?
    • Make-up policy?
  • Timeliness
    • Do you want students to show up early?
    • What is the length of a “lesson”? Door-to-door start time or playing time?  Decide ahead of time and be consistent
    • What if they’re late?  What if you’re late?
  • Expectations for practice
    • What do you expect?
    • Are minutes practiced or getting through a check-list more important?
    • Are you being clear at each lesson what you expect to be practiced?
  • Performance
    • Where?
    • Accompanists and rehearsals
    • Charging families a recital fee
    • Printed programs
    • Photo opportunities
    • Receptions
  • Parent involvement (at home and at the lesson)
    • Parent’s responsibilities in lessons: take notes, manage student behavior – you are not a babysitter
    • Visual modeling of interested behavior (i.e. don’t read news papers, respond to emails, etc.)
  • Summer lessons
    • Biggest challenge for teaching
    • SAA (Suzuki Association of the Americas) teacher search website
    • Juilliard private teacher database
  • Participation in summer music camps
    • Motivational – “Your life will be so much easier in the fall!”
    • Makes practicing easier
    • Opportunity for family to create memories and bonds that last a life time via music
    • Exposes student to a different peer group


  • Laura Seay’s credentials:   1)  educational training — BM/MM (Juilliard) EdM (Columbia-Teachers College) DMA-candidate (University of Colorado – Boulder), 2)  teaching experience at The Juilliard School Pre-College, Perlman Music Program, Chamber Music of the Rockies, Killington Music Festival, Lucy Moses School of Music and the Colorado Suzuki Institute and 3) experience as a Teaching Artist in Residence, 92nd Street Y (2008-9); Perlman Music Program Suncoast (2008-2010); Florida Music Educators Association Special Presenter (2010); Orchestral director – Virginia All-State Orchestra (2012); Odyssée/Association de Centres culturels de rencontre/ProQuartet (2011-12).

What Are You Afraid Of? by Steven Tenenbom

The following post is by Steven Tenenbom.

My ongoing quest to become a better student

During his last days, my stepfather-in-law, Ara Zerounian was suffering from a severe form of dementia.  Ara was a wonderful, highly respected teacher in Detroit who was an inspiration to hundreds of gifted students, many who went on to have illustrious careers.  His pupils included his stepdaughters, Ida and Ani Kavafian, former concertmaster of the Minnesota Orchestra, Jorja Fleezanis, and violists Kim Kashkashian and Robert Vernon.  When we would visit him late in his illness, he would often have difficulty communicating with us.   However, we could almost always “bring him back” by asking him about his teaching.  He could clearly remember all of his students, what they played, how he helped them, and even what they were currently doing!  At some point in each conversation, I would ask him a question, “What is the secret of being a great teacher?”  Without hesitation, he answered each time, “You must love your students!”  And he did.  I think that he imparted a combination of wisdom and inspiration that enabled his students to become better at learning both the instrument and the process of discovery.

Those conversations with Ara got me thinking.  Why do some students progress quickly while others struggle?  Why are some concepts so clear for some and so elusive for everyone else?  Perhaps my transformation from someone who practiced “just enough” to being able to truly enjoy the process of learning gives me a perspective that I can share with those who have doubts or fears that might inhibit their improvement.

So, what are we afraid of?  For me, it was a fear that I wasn’t going to be able to excel like I had hoped.  For others, it may be a fear of making mistakes and the embarrassment they feel.  These fears manifest themselves by avoidance of practicing or by a lack of creativity and risk taking in both musical thought and performance practice.  In both of these cases, the performer feels a sense of disconnection from the art of musical expression.  They seem to be more concerned with what they can’t do than what they would like to do.

I would like to share some of the thoughts that have helped me become a better student.  They are both thoughts that have been passed on to me from earlier generations as well as thoughts that are a result of self-discovery, though sometimes these two can easily blur together.

Be reasonable

This has many meanings.  It can refer to the notion of “progress, not perfection.”  Keep pace of your improvement.  Good technique takes time to develop.

It also means that we should always try to find solutions to problems that make sense to us.  Most often, the simplest solution is the most successful.  I like to think of being a scientist in a lab working on my experiments.  I learn from the successes.  But, I learn even more from my failures.  People hear what you are thinking.   If you are only trying not to make mistakes, we count every one.  If you are trying to make a beautiful phrase, we hardly notice a stumble.

Learn to relearn

No matter how great any idea or instruction is, it won’t mean anything until it has become part of you.  As Dr. Steven Frucht said in his presentation to our studio class, “All great players have one important thing in common.  They all clearly understand the mechanics of their playing.”  At some point, you have to have your own clear idea about how everything in your playing works.  How to hold the bow, how to hold the viola, which muscles open the bow arm, how to move your fingers, etc.  Develop a palate of expressive sounds.  What is the difference in moving a phrase with bow speed or pressure?  What does the word diminuendo really mean in a particular passage?

Think about thinking

One of the most powerful processes for my improvement was learning how to prepare, or anticipate both technique and music making. This involves thinking about organizing finger patterns, hand positions, bow distribution, string crossings and other technical instruction well ahead.  For instance, in a passage where you will eventually be shifting to a very high position, you will need to finger some notes in a lower position with a hand position that is already coming around the instrument to anticipate the clearance you will need over the top edge.  Practicing grouping notes together into “packages” facilitates speed and virtuosity.  In a study of music and the brain, researchers discovered that the speed in which music is played is faster than the brain can process.  This means that good players learn how to accomplish this packaging technique.  In phrasing, learning to have many measures in your head before you begin will encourage proper pacing of the shape of the music.  Plan backwards from climaxes so that you know exactly where you are going in your phrasing.

Practice listening

You will hear more in the music each time if you really listen.  Practice listening to a piece by concentrating only on the bass line.  Then, listen again for the harmonies.  Then, try to find a character and see how the composer accomplishes that feeling.  Lastly, make sure that you listen to yourself as you play as if you were sitting in the audience.  Are you really saying what you intend?

Become Beethoven

At a lesson a few years back, a composer and I were discussing the end of the 1st movement of the Brahms clarinet/viola sonata in E-Flat, op.120 #2 and why we get teary-eyed each time we hear it.  He described the modulation and the ensuing circle of 5ths.  Then he said, “Brahms knew what he was doing.”  Good composers and good musicians have this in common.  They understand the way music expresses itself and how to move the listener.  We don’t have to know all of the theory or compositional techniques, but we do have to try and understand what the composer is doing with the music.  Then we can find a way to express that intention so that a listener can have the same experience that the composer tried to put onto paper.  Our job is to think like they thought.  When I play a quartet by Beethoven, a crescendo takes on a very different meaning than in a quartet by Mozart.

Have heroes but don’t copy

It’s great to have idols that inspire you and open up your imagination to new possibilities.  However, we now live in the YouTube age with instant access to both sound and video recordings.  It’s very tempting to imitate.  The way I see it is this – copying has neither the soul of the original or the imitator.  Next time you hear something that you would like to try, first ask yourself, “Why did they do that?”  Having said that, I personally love to listen and watch recordings of great artists from the early part of the 20th century to better understand styles that may have gone out of fashion yet have great expressive possibilities.  For instance, one can learn from Ilona Eibenschütz, a pupil of Clara Schumann who heard Brahms play, that Brahms played the 2nd movement of his op.101 piano trio with great delicacy and freedom.

Be generous

When I realized just how great music was in its power to move people beyond the mundane, it became easier to understand that this whole thing wasn’t really about me.  To really begin to feel comfortable sharing my music with others, I needed to become generous.  Think about it.  So many of the musicians and composers I really love are warm and generous.  Even Beethoven thought he was sharing the notes that God was sending to him.  Open your heart; it’s your strongest asset!

Promote yourself to CEO of your own company

If you treat your work on your instrument as a business venture, you will be more objective in how you get things done.  Develop a system of strategic planning for your practicing and performance preparation.  Learn to become a good problem solver, focusing on solving one problem at a time.  If you are working on a shift, don’t let a squeak in the bow distract you.  Set goals for yourself and meet them.  Make an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.  Stop practicing the strengths and tackle the weakness, one at a time.  Discoveries will begin to happen – Eureka moments, if you will.  Your confidence will soar.

You already know the answers

I believe that we are all preprogrammed with great musical instincts.  If you feel emotions, then you can begin to create them in your playing.  Search within yourself.  It’s your brain, your muscles, and your feelings.  No one knows them better than you. The answers are there.  Don’t be afraid to fail.  Your positive attitude towards learning will be much more helpful to you than talent.

So, Ara Zerounian was right.  You must love your students.  I have seen the wonderful, nurturing results that have come from dedicated, caring teachers.  Can we then ask the question, “What makes a great student?”  How can we nurture our love of music while maintaining that wonderful curiosity that keeps us creating and moving forward every day?  I think Ara would answer, “You must love learning!”

The 7 Habits of Effortless Music-Making: Mind-Body Integration

The following post is by Heidi Castleman.

How can one teach students to engage musical imagination, emotions, and physical gifts reliably in performance?


Cultivating each habit suggested below in practice will allow the integrated musical self to emerge in performance.


Habit 1: Hear the music (its sounds) first, feel the physical aspect next, and only then play.  This sequence is the fundamental basis to secure playing. Summarized: the mental concept of the music and body movement precedes physical action.  How far ahead one needs to hear is dictated by tempo and complexity.


Habit 2: Breathing is essential to integrating the musical and the physical. To begin playing, give a clear preparation or signal – one which mirrors the duration and character of the pulse. Remember: when the exhalation is complete, inhalation occurs naturally.


Habit 3: Balance (rather than hold) the viola between head and hand; this requires very little effort. If the instrument sits on the collarbone, one should feel 51% or more of weight on the thumb, and the scroll should seem almost weightless! The head joint should always be loose, much as if one is nodding “yes”.


Habit 4: Allow gravity to make the work of the torso and of the right and left hands effortless. Helpful concepts to remember:

* Most of the weight is in bones

* Breathing allows the spine to lengthen and the torso to widen; exhaling releases the weight of the bones and eliminates pressing

* Muscles allow us to move weight

* Joints allow us to direct this weight and should remain loose and be sensitive to the quality and tempo of the pulse


Habit 5: Move only arms, hands and fingers; the body should be primarily still. When the 15 inch-long viola string is a moving target, the fine motor skills required in making music become much more challenging!


Habit 6: In the silence before you play, internalize in both your mind and body: the pulse, the sub-pulse as relevant, and at least a measure (even better a phrase worth of measures).  Since music is an art form of sound organized in time, the rhythmic context always must be center stage.


Habit 7: Your fingers are sensors and a primary source of information about the sounds you are making. Therefore, cultivate the ability to “hear” through your fingertips!