What was I nervous about? Living in a far-off land (the east coast might as well be a foreign country) for a month, being partially responsible for the education of a bunch of high-schoolers, meeting new people… what could I possibly be nervous about? I shouldn't have been nervous. I was heading to one of the most beautiful and magical places in the world: Tanglewood. It’s so magical it has its own time-zone,Tangletime. Which means when you get there it’s like you never left, and when you leave it’s like you were never there. Or, in the words of Dr. Jen Bill, “long days, short weeks”. And I was going to teach at BUTI (Boston University Tanglewood Institute, and, yes, the acronym’s pronunciation is lost on NO ONE), one of the finest summer programs for high school musicians in this country. But first, I had to move in.
I arrived at Hubbard House to meet the motley crew called my housemates, a group of people I quickly came to love dearly. I learned so much from the cross pollination of living with string players, singers, and a collaborative pianist slash vocal coach.The way a singer knows what rep is the best for their voice (every voice being a unique instrument) is fascinating. What if wind players knew what rep was best for their playing style and personality? Awesome to think of. And the dedication and knowledge of repertoire that comes from being a string player or a vocal coach is a kick in the butt. How cool to live with that for a month!
And then the kids. What amazing kids. That's what it’s all about. I remember these summer programs from my high school years, and remember how formative they were for my early musical career. From my teachers I learned what details to focus on, and how to do so. From my coaches I learned how to interact with my fellow musicians and how to delve into the music as an autonomous ensemble. And mostly I learned from and was inspired by my fellow students. From them I learned how hard I had to work to keep up with the best. I learned the need to be well rounded (as a player and as a person), to be curious, how to stop practicing to play Euchre, how to circular breathe, how to decipher a Macedonian accent (why were there so many Macedonians at Interlochen?). So a huge part of my job is to encourage the students to work with and learn from one another.
I can’t go into details about the students - I wish I could. However, here’s a vague story. A student comes in on day one and doesn't play a particularly good audition. I quickly come up with a couple theories on why. And we get to our first lesson, and it is the student’s first lesson (how is that possible?), and we figure out the problem immediately. By the end of the month, the student is playing brilliantly. It came about by the student's hard work, and the inspiration of the other students, and only a tiny bit from the faculty. And yet, can I tell you how amazing that growth made me feel? I cannot. The right words escape me. Every student came in with a unique tale, and grew in their own unique way. And the same kids who less than a month earlier were struggling to meet the demands and high expectations we placed on them made some amazing music on their final concert. Music that literally brought tears to my eyes.
Guys, teaching is the best.