This is partly my fault. But still!
Over the past few weeks, I have had numerous students insinuate that I am not a cellist, but only a cello teacher. This bizarre contradiction sometimes makes me laugh. Yesterday however, I stared at my student until beads of sweat appeared on her brow and she started fumbling for a way out of it. I told her to stop digging the hole and worked very hard not to go into the all-too-ready diatribe on the tip of my tongue.
The genesis of this blog was this very issue. I will take responsibility for not performing frequently enough for my students: I have largely been recording, gigging at rock venues or injured–not the ideal paradigm for the hopeful cellist slogging through Old Crunchy looking for inspiration. Still, I would love to Vulcan mind-meld with the students who have a one dimensional view of my experience so they could see the years of every day rehearsal, 6 hours a day of practice, concerto competitions, solos, master classes, jazz and rock gigs, studio work. But in the end, it’s my perspective that’s gone all one dimensional. I have a job to do with my pupils, and that job does not include making myself look like some sort of super cellist. It’s a good exercise at non attachment that I am normally a little better at!
With my recovery from ulnar surgery, I hope to have the physical wherewithal to make performance a more substantive part of my identity as a cellist. As a matter of course, this means I will have less time to take students: I hope the ones in my studio appreciate the balance I try to strike. It wouldn’t be the cello if it was easy.
In addition to the performer/teacher thing, there's one more comment that especially piano teachers hear all too frequently, "What else do you teach? Oh, only piano?" …
Certainly any student who feels that way needs to spend some more time in the studio of hard knocks. They have no idea how good they have it!
How can someone who is not a cellist be a cello teacher? This needs to be mutually inclusive, not mutually exclusive. Do they teach logic or reasoning in school anymore?
I reflected on this issue recently:
But the bottom line is, some students (and their parents) are just not very gracious and misunderstand the student/teacher relationship. I had one parent tell me last week that I hurt her son's feelings by saying (in a perfectly appropriate context), "Here, let me show you a better way to do that." She expected me to change to accommodate the kid, and when I refused, she got nasty. I prefer to work with folks who respect my expertise as a teacher.
On another note, I actually think it's really good that you don't try to appear to be super cellist and show off for your students. This behavior can be really intimidating – the all-knowing guru-teacher is an all-too-prevalent phenomenon, and a destructive one at that.
Thanks for keeping it real! I love your posts about the less pleasant aspects of teaching.
[this comment was made incorrectly to another post. I am reposting it here]
Nobody ever accused Margaret Rowell of not being a "real cellist" even though her domain was more in pedagogy than performance (even though she was also a capable performer).
Maybe you'll do for Balto/DC what she did for SF!