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Musical Teams - Introduction: The Mexico Experience

To All My Friends in MEXICO

Three years ago I was invited to run a week long workshop for string teachers who work in school and neighborhood projects. This trip to Mexico was one of the most special trips in my entire life. I had the opportunity to work with young enthusiastic teachers who understand the meaning of music in society, who understand the transformational power of music and who are eager to learn more and more about the music, about themselves and about giving.

In addition, I felt lucky to work with a group of about sixty young people who grow as people and as artists in an environment that hardly resembles the learning conditions we are used to see in conservatories in Europe or in the U.S. It seemed that for these children music is an integral part of life. In our conservatories, where people are getting an individual lesson every week with famous teachers, it seems that music is becoming more and more a luxury and an upper class activity. Those young musicians played with so much enthusiasm and were open to try everything our participants and I had to say. Further more, they were absorbing very quickly, assimilating and incorporating the new information in a natural way that I have rarely encountered.

In this introduction I will discuss some of the important themes. The experience described here has become the inspiration and basis of this book, Musical Teams- Principles in Musical Group Instruction.[if !supportFootnotes][1][endif]

1. The preparation process:

Not knowing the participants I had to find a way to design the workshop using my own experience and my set of values and priorities.

The first principle I used is that Teaching is an Art.

I have decided that we have to play a piece and really work on it artistically, for us and for the children that we will be working with. For that matter I chose Eduard Elgar's Spanish Lady Suite.

The next thing I had in mind was that our goal is, that the children will also learn to feel and think like artists. For that matter, I have chosen pieces that will represent certain aesthetic values and will be relatively accessible so that we have enough time to discuss musical matters and not only spend time on technical issues.

I have chosen pieces that will enable us to apply all the things we will be discussing with the teachers during the morning sessions.

The third principle was that there are certain things which are universal and are common to all string instruments. All the technical exercises I have suggested, address basic technical skills and are all demonstrated in a simple way that can be used with even the most beginning students.

The forth principal was the Role of the artist in the community: Do we as artist have to look for a meaning of our artistic endeavor which is beyond art? What is the meaning of our work to other people ? to society?

Last but not least, was the subject called Meta-Learning. Thinking about the learning process itself. When we are aware of our learning process we can be more aware of what our students need, and we can better guide them in their learning and their practice.

This way we can help our students grow as independent and creative individuals, as artists.

2. The Workshop

We opened the first day with a very brief round of introduction. Afterwords, we had our first session on basic string playing skills[if !supportFootnotes][2][endif]:

[if !supportLists]I. [endif]Not holding the instrument and not holding the bow.

[if !supportLists]II. [endif]Using large muscles.

[if !supportLists]III. [endif]Weight and release.

[if !supportLists]IV. [endif]Sound as a function of bow speed, arm weight and bow placement.

[if !supportLists]V. [endif]Left-hand relaxation exercises. (left hand Pizzicato).

The second session that day, was devoted to lesson planning. We worked in groups and we prepared the afternoon session with the young players, were we would work on Beethoven's fifth Symphony.

Each one of the members had to decide the paragraph that he or she will be working on, and they