During the last couple of months I have gained a new harp student who
is very musical, but self taught on harp. She is around 50 years old
and is very conscientious about correcting her technique. I enjoy her
as a student. Before taking lessons from me she started teaching harp
to a young teenager in her church. She told me this girl is very gifted
and composes music for a variety of instruments. My student has not
acquired enough technical proficiency to be able to demonstrate good
technique as a teacher. I wish very much I could teach her student
because my training is in composition and harp, and it sounds like this
girl has a lot of potential, and doesn’t realize that her instruction
could be problematic. It feels socially impolite to directly tell my
student that a professional harpist should teach her student, so I am
figure out how to handle the situation. The young girl’s family pursued
my student for lessons, so it is what they want so far. I feel it is in
interest of the young girl to get well grounded instruction. I did ask
my student if the girl had ever taken composition lessons because I
offer those, and later mentioned that I am still recruiting harp
students, but did not address it more directly than that. I would
appreciate any advice from fellow harpists.
During the last couple of months I have gained a new harp student who
Thank you for your thoughtful posts Carl and Alicia. I just found out
about it this week, and didn’t confront her clearly because it stings a
little and I try to stay detached especially with critical issues. I
did make those hints and I hope it was not taken as socially rude as
Alicia suggested. I really like my student and appreciate her sincerity
in correcting her technique. I’m not entirely clear about feeling a
student belongs to a teacher because I don’t relate to my students in
that way. If one of my students is exploring a skill, and I know a
harpist more experienced than me in that skill, I love to set them up
with a lesson together. It’s rewarding to share professional resources
with students, giving them a chance to network and learn. I do value
respectful behavior between teacher and student.
Since graduating it has become more clear every day the need to let go
of feeling entitled to anything beyond our control. Those of us who
have paid our dues and received diplomas that state we “are entitled to
all the privileges pertaining to this degree” soon realize that life is
a bit more complicated than that. Being trained through the graduate
level often requires investing tens, if not hundreds of thousands of
dollars and all the blood, sweat and tears of our young adult lives. I
spent 16 years in college and grad school, receiving two masters and a
doctorate all in music, and leaving with a boatload of student loans.
Many of my peers have left music by the wayside, but I am thankful to
live in a good area now, and realize it takes time and patience to find
people who can use our skills. I love my little studio of harp
students, and have found a recent opportunity to help it grow. I wish
more people could understand exactly what our years of training allow
us to contribute to students, since it often requires the same number
of years as law school and medical school.
The desire to be helpful and positive is good and important, but when
it prevents truth from being told, it is not so good. It can be
weakening. You have the right to tell your student she is not qualified
to teach beyond “a certain level.” You can express the hope that as her
student progresses she will encourage her to move on to an experienced
teacher. Sometimes we have to be cold. I had a prospective student play
for me whose agenda was to be told she was or could be professional.
She played fairly well, but with no sense of rhythm at all, so I
swallowed and told her no. We work very hard to be professionals, and
it is an insult to compare yourself to us if you haven’t worked for it.
Not that everyone has to be as good as the rest. She never came back,
but I did what I am sure was right. I could have pandered to her, and
pretended to agree so she would come back, but that wouldn’t have been
honest of me. Yes we have to be careful about judging people, but it is
upon us to set and maintain at least minimum standards, like playing in
rhythm, with tempo control, dynamic range, reasonable tone quality and
volume, reasonable facility, and musical understanding. Salzedo and
some pupils tried a licensing setup at one time, but it didn’t take
hold, needless to say. We could establish minimum standards, like being
able to play the Taco Bell Cannon, or Grandjany’s Automne or something.
But this is a democracy, so that won’t happen. Since it is a free
market, you are free to say what you want.
It is kind of sad to read that this is going on in the harp world, though I should have known it would. You should see how many people consider themselves VOICE teachers who haven’t the slightest idea what they are doing. But it sometimes seems that anyone who has had choir in high school knows how to sing — NOT, of course. I have a master’s in voice and am often amazed at the things people are doing to othersInactiveAnonymous on March 22, 2006 at 6:37 pm #88608
This one is a real problem, and I hope you will let us know how it all turns out.
What your student is doing is ill-advised, but there is the very real danger of losing her as a student if you point that out to her.
Gordon, thank you for your concern. The issue at hand is “what is the
most respectful way to treat people?” Do you allow someone to
unknowingly pass on habits that could cause physical damage? Do you
withhold information from people because you assume they are too fragile
or lack the capacity to cope with it? Do you attack one person emotionally to spare another,
or do you promote good communication with good faith of mutual respect?
If correct technique served no other purpose than to establish elitism,
then imposing it on others would be wasteful and foolish. Correct
technique is information on how to play an instrument in an efficient
and healthy manner, to avoid the crippling effects of tendonitis,
carpal tunnel syndrome, fatigue, and back and neck aches. These
effects are quite common to those who spend consistent time practicing
If you feel her feelings would be hurt by coming right out and saying she should not be teaching yet, then I would say something like this: “As you know, good technique is very important, and it takes a lot of experience to recognize bad habits and correct them before they become extremely difficult to eradicate. So I suggest that your student come to me at least once, preferably twice a month, so that I can see if there is anything requiring correction. This would also help you in designing a lesson plan. If you prefer, you could both come and we can work together.” The student’s student should keep a notebook into which you both would write the week’s goals, exercises and pieces, with all the suggestions in point form. It would not be long before the student would recognize the better teacher. Even if you only gave her a lesson a month, the girl would at least have a chance to become a proficient and uninjured harpist.
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