I’ve been re-reading through my collection of performance and teaching books, and remembered how much I love this one.
Eloise Ristad writes beautifully about using movement, and acting, and the occasional silly game to release the creativity and inherent musicianship and even the technique of her students. The stories resonate with me, because I feel as though my most successful lessons are the ones in which an unexpected, informal turn of phrase makes a student suddenly connect the dots.
In a recent lesson, a college student and I were working on phrase direction. I talked about the music moving forward or resting as it approached and then arrived at a cadence. No real result. We talked about keeping his articulation consistently light while ADDING direction and flow to the cadence. He couldn’t find that technique in himself either.
We bounced back to good old Barret page 46 – an intensely dull-looking set of exercises on short notes and slurred notes in scale patterns. We talked about Tabuteau’s system of “up” and “down”. I tried to translate that into the visual of a violin bow.
I was dancing all over the room, making phrases with my body and my arms, and talking and talking and talking, and it finally occurred to me that the problem was that I was SHOWING but he wasn’t DOING. I asked him to play two measures of quarter notes which went down up up up down up up up down, and to ACTUALLY go physically up and down with the words. He spent a few minutes on his tip toes raising the oboe and bringing it down, and suddenly he got it. I could close my eyes and still hear the direction. After just a few minutes he could stand still and still produce it. The breakthrough ONLY happened when he translated our words into his body, and after we got there he couldn’t go back to hearing motionless, static quarter notes, or to making phrases artificially with length or dynamics. It was a night-and-day difference.
I talk about body language when I teach – but I rarely ASK for it. I loved reading Ristad’s book to remind me that words are not always the solution. It’s inspiring to have new teaching ideas. This is a book I’ll keep returning to.