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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Monday Morning Check In: How Teachable Are You?

When I write my Monday Morning Check In posts, I find that I usually choose a topic that is something I have been thinking about during the week. This week I have been in a different country, working with different musicians, and involved in different musical scenarios. My attitude and patience has been put to the test in many ways. Let me share some of my thoughts.

We learn in many different ways. Each one of our five senses is a window of learning opportunity from which we can process new information. I have written before about knowing what learning styles we prefer to use, and about how helpful it can be to process new information with our preferred style. Even more powerful is our ability to learn through observation and imitation, sort of an osmosis of learning, if you will.

I have been blessed since 1984 to play under the leadership of a wonderful violinist. Phil Ruder is the former concertmaster of the Cincinnati Symphony, and for many years he has served as the concertmaster of the Sunriver (Oregon) Music Festival, of which I have been a member for 27-28 years. Mr. Ruder plays with very clear intention of what the musical phrase should be. His gestures and physical approach to the violin as it relates to the music he is playing makes it very clear to the musicians who sit behind him what is expected of them. Then for a decade, I was even more blessed to sit alongside him. In the beginning, I was hyperaware of everything Mr. Ruder did. While I played I would hear the voice of my former teacher (Helen Kwalwasser) giving me instructions: make every note beautiful, more vibrato, match the string color, watch the sagging phrase on the down bow, etc. Of course, I realize now that it is not my teacher's voice I am hearing but my own voice that has grown from those years of exposure to Helen's influence. [She really was a terrific teacher, because she taught me how to be my own teacher].

Those ten years with Phil were marvelous for me because of how much I learned just by sitting with him. He did not have to say anything, because I was so open to learning from him. I watched, listened, and imitated. I got so good at this, in my opinion, that there were times when we would be trying to stagger a bow change, and we wound up doing it at the same time. This happened even when we were trying to avoid changing together!

I am currently sitting in various places of the violin section this week. I have rotated as concertmaster, associate concertmaster, and assistant concertmaster depending on the other players who are available on a particular day. I have also been a soloist as a chamber musician, and I have accompanied singers during vocal chamber music and operatic coaching and rehearsals. This means that I have sometimes acted as the leader and given instruction to others, and at other times I have followed someone else's intentions as well as the conductor's gestures.

This week, why not step back and identify the different areas of our life in which we act as leaders (role models) or as followers. Then consider how well we perform those roles and whether there is any area that needs improvement. Along with leadership and following, consider whether we are also acting well as a collaborator.

Happy practicing!

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