TEACHING PHILOSOPHY AND EXPERIENCE
Outlined here is my specific approach to instruction of developing musicians, specifically to help keep frustration at bay while promoting a growth-minded attitude. It is my belief that through awareness and more mindful action that one can produce a highly effective level of performance. I will outline and give examples of four specific approaches that I utilize: Learn to develop a kinesthetic sense of your body; balance your witness and participant; employ the performance equation of “intentions plus beliefs plus actions equals results plus personal reactions to these results;” and always work towards a state of “flow” when in both practice and performance modes. By using these approaches to growth students can better control their progress.
Developing a kinesthetic sense, or motion perception, of what our bodies can do during performance is essential to the athletics of playing a musical instrument. By body-mapping and discussing proper function and alignment students can begin to organize themselves to play their instruments more efficiently and effectively. Ideally, performers learn to get maximum results from minimum efforts for greater ease of performance. One example of this would be to body-map the breathing mechanism within the human body, the muscle and bone structures involved, and to explore healthy movements.
Another approach that I employ is to BALANCE THE INNER WITNESS AND PARTICIPANT so as not to be excessively or insufficiently involved in either side but to operate from a more neutrally active position. This will help to better realize attitudes, intentions and actions and move towards an increased sense of self, thereby operating from a greater sense of purpose and interacting more effectively with others. Developing a deeper understanding that performers are in a state of constant awareness of sound, as well as their ability to control their sound while producing it, is an example of a balanced state between one’s witness and participant. Described below are definitions and examples of each aspect:
WITNESS: Active, mindful observation upon which to base actions, which leads to increased awareness for deeper growth and connection to performance activity. Students are encouraged to explore how their private teachers are a witness to their growth until they internalize a stronger sense of witness that eventually directs their own growth and development. Students are also encouraged to record both practice and performance sessions, since recordings act as an unbiased witness. One example of witnessing is for the player to be constantly listening to the sound that is produced on one’s instrument as the sound always provides feedback as to what action to take. Students explore the tenets of quality tone production through a structured embouchure for an ideal reed opening, combined with sufficient air speed to create a desirable tone, stable in pitch. An example of the state of under-witnessing is the student that demonstrates simple actions riddled with multiple errors of judgment, perhaps not holding and operating from a steady sense of pulse and rhythm.
PARTICIPANT: This is the active side of physical, mental, emotional and causal levels of involvement that leads to increased presence of being. Students learn how to better focus their involvement in practical actions to assist in their development as a musician. Students are encouraged to take specific actions, elaborated below, to help guide their practice in a specific effort to behave their way to success. An example of over participating would be excessive finger motion and/or finger pressure during performance. This leads to sluggish technique, poor rhythmical skills, and harsh tone.
Enemies of balancing the witness with the participant are described as follows: apathy, boredom, lack of focus, lack of purpose, procrastination (delaying satisfaction of impulses), withdrawal/abandonment, over-focus on identity/self, heightened reactions, and over-focus on others, to name a few.
My personal approach to teaching, as well as to my own performance, is based on the equation: INTENTIONS + ATTITUDE/BELIEFS + ACTIONS = CONSEQUENCES + REACTIONS. Every aspect is explored to create a more fluid experience, solid in comprehension, technique, and expression at the maximum level.
This equation is examined and explored to assist in putting the student in a pattern of steady growth by means of constantly reviewing all aspects of the equation, especially their personal attitudes and behaviors/actions for optimal performance results/consequences. Students will learn how to continually balance this equation through self-exploration, which results in increased presence in their personal process of realizing their best performance abilities. In order to alter the results, one has to further examine and adjust all other parts of the equation in order to get the desired performance. Students will ultimately learn how to comprehend and operate from a steady sense of performance flow.
INTENTIONS: Clarifying the desired results is important to the student not only for daily practice but also for long-term performance goals. Students are encouraged to look for both small and significant changes in performance ability, which compound over time into the creation a well-rounded, capable, and conscientious musician. Students utilize this specific approach, moving towards a performance mode of playing as defined by playing from start to finish, non-stop, with minimal errors.
ATTITUDE/BELIEFS: It is important to examine any previous approach or residual mental state that contributes to the students’ current disposition. Often mental road-blocks need to be examined in order to release the student from personal limitations and a fresher perspective is needed to obtain the next level of their personal process. Limitations are defined by the students’ weaknesses, which are brought to their awareness by asking specific questions as to their perspective on their sense of flow.
ACTIONS: Listed here are some of the numerous approaches for strengthening specific techniques required to play the oboe:
- reed crowing and lip buzzing for proper embouchure settings
- large interval training exercises for embouchure flexibility
- performing from memory all major and minor returning scales and dominant 7th exercises for mental as well as physical concentration, endurance, and heightened awareness to the weakest of fingers
- demonstrating articulation and dynamic exercises for clarity of response
- developing reed making skills such as gouging and shaping cane, tying on a reed blank, as well as scraping techniques for a variety of results, measuring skills for consistency, all finishing scrapes for a polished and balanced tone
- building a solid foundation for rhythm comprehension by simultaneously demonstrating pulse, subdivision and rhythmical articulations
- developing the comprehension of high register notes and their fingerings as well as demonstrating instant recall of those fingerings
- performing effective practice techniques for any level of ability, including observing techniques during periods of physical rest
- learning to balance many actions at one time through breaking them down of into more digestible parts
- examining and balancing musical shape, architecture and color of the lyrical line as well as more deeply operate from the composers intentions
- demonstrating proper tongue placement and voicing of the interior of the mouth to get a desired tone and quality of articulation
CONSEQUENCES: All results of the work applied towards a more fluid performance will provide a response to be studied. Personal resistances to any part of the equation are also examined to explore where the students can apply themselves in a healthier manner. Exploring these results helps to set up the next level of actions necessary for development. Students examine the consequences to more deeply understand where changes are to be made in their personal approach to performance. Once a performance occurs, an inquiry is made as to how the particular performance went and how the student felt about it. Of course, an example of the consequence is the performance itself: how it flowed, how all of the actions lined up, how it was completely realized and experienced.
REACTIONS: Responses to the results often need to be neutralized and minimized to keep a student on task for a steadier flow in performance. Exploring each reaction provides information as to what steps to take next as the student becomes more closely aligned with their intentions. Ultimately, all actions move towards knowing what to do at any given moment to keep everything in flow. An example of a reaction would be when a student tends to stop playing every time an error is made. The student tends to fixate on notes rather than the composite picture of all musical elements happening at once. Typically, they tend to let go of pulse and steady flow for the sake of playing the right notes, therefore, overbalancing to one aspect. Techniques are then provided to help them with their reaction to include maintaining a steady pulse, or at least keeping track of it so that they always know where they are rhythmically when in performance mode. Examples of examining specific reactions to mistakes during performance would be altering of tempo, failing to continue playing, lapsing in attention to other details, and engaging in distracting motions.
Finally, I always have my students work towards a state of increased flow as defined by the following characteristics: play from point A to point B (practice: shorter tasks like a specific measure or phrase; performance: beginning to end of composition), non-stop and with minimal errors. This approach is self-explanatory. I find that it is best if students are allowed to have room for error as focus can shift from performance to performance. There is always room for improved expression.
Through these approaches musicians can more actively participate in and take charge of their own growth and development more successfully, thereby moving them towards a higher level of performance with greater efficiency and ease.
POSITIONS HELD AT THE FOLLOWING:
- The Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, NJ: Adjunct Oboe Instructor 1993-1995
- Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA: Adjunct Oboe Instructor, Orchestra Director, 1994-1999
- SummerTrios, Bethlehem, PA: Chamber Music Coach, Summers 1994-2001
- Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA: Adjunct Oboe Instructor, 1997-1998
- American Institute of Musical Studies: Audition Seminar Presenter, Summers 1999-present
- Governor’s School for the Arts, Norfolk, VA: Oboe Instructor, Fall 1999-2000, 2002, 2005, 2016 to Present
- Naval School of Music, Virginia Beach, VA: Oboe Instructor, 2012-2013
- Christopher Newport University, Newport News, VA: Adjunct Faculty, 2013 to present
- Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA: Adjunct Faculty, Spring 2014
- Oboe Holiday, Norfolk, VA: Summers 2006-2008, 2012, 2014 to present
LECTURE PRESENTATION TOPICS:
- Posture and Alignments,
- Breathing Techniques,
- Performance Injury and Prevention,
- Audition and Performance Enhancement,
- Master Class
PRESENTED AT THE FOLLOWING LOCATIONS:
- Atlantic Fleet Band (VA)
- Diller-Quayle School of Music (NY)
- Carnegie-Mellon University (PA)
- Bay Youth Orchestras of Virginia (VA)
- American Institute of Musical Studies (Austria)
- Vocal Arts Society of Hampton Roads (VA)
- Old Dominion University (VA)
- Christopher Newport University (VA)
- College of William and Mary (VA)
- University of Virginia (VA)
- Oboe Holiday (VA)
- Governor’s School for the Arts (VA)
- Multiple Churches in the Hampton Roads area (VA)