Viola Day and Vulnerability

Next Saturday I am hosting the second-annual Schwob Viola Day. I’m super excited to say that Carol Rodland, violist and pedagogue extraordinaire, will join us as the guest of honor. I had the very good fortune of studying with Carol for my Master’s degree, when she was still teaching at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. After NEC, she taught at Eastman for (I think) 9 years, and now graces the halls at the Juilliard School… after teaching at three of the country’s most prestigious conservatories, she most definitely knows a thing or two about refined viola playing and teaching! It’s a fantastic opportunity for me and my students, and everyone who comes to Viola Day (which is free and open to the public), to learn from one of the best, so please join us!

We’ll start the day with a brief concert, and as I mentioned in my last post, I’ll be playing the first movement of the Reger g minor solo suite. Because I’m pretty sure Carol hasn’t heard me play since my master’s recital in 2005, and I want to sound as refined as I possibly can for my former mentor, I decided to do something out of the ordinary in yesterday’s studio class: I played for my students and asked for their critique (in fact, I asked them to be brutally honest), and provided each student with a copy of the sheet music so they could point out specific points.

Asking for brutally honest critique from students is a rather unusual thing for a professor to do. It has the potential to shift the balance of respect, or any number of less-than-ideal repercussions… But I decided to be vulnerable, and put myself out there. Why?

Because we’re all on the same path. At some point, each and every one of us committed to becoming the best darned violist we could be. And the only reasons I’m at the front of the room are 1) time, and 2) tenacity. There is nothing extraordinary about my musical abilities. I was not a child prodigy, and I had to work incredibly hard to get to where I am today, and I continue to have to work hard every time I pick up my viola. Of course many things have become easier with time (thanks to the excellent tutelage from my amazing teachers!), but I cannot imagine that I will ever reach a point where everything is accessible without practice. I don’t think I want such a thing to happen.

Practicing is a beautiful art of self-motivation, self-observation, self-assessment, and self-exploration, and it allows us to grow as musicians and people. I do not want to stop growing. So I decided to let my students give me a hand, and while it turned out to be a rather scary thing, in the end, I am glad I did it. I got a lot of helpful comments that have guided my practice today, and I hope I showed my students that we are all in this together, that we all have something to learn from one another, and that viola playing is a never-ending journey of growth. My students even helped me figure out how to make that pesky high B-flat sound better. So thank you students, for your honesty, and for still respecting me the next day.

Happy practicing.