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Watching how great teachers teach is to take the study of a discipline (in this case conducting) to a meta level, studying teaching itself. Here follow some spontaneous and random observations of Leonid Korchmar’s and Oleg Proskurnya’s approaches to teaching.

  1. Good teaching is not about the ego of the teacher – ‘do things as I do.’ It’s strictly based on observable principles – i.e. ‘more intensity, less motion’ or ‘stay lower.’ Within that context, individual styles are accepted and respected.
  2. Students are continually challenged, but not to the breaking point. Challenging a student is actually a sign of recognizing their potential to improve; or else they would not be worth the effort. Anyone who is motivated to learn is worth the effort. Progress is acknowledged.
  3. We all need the scrutiny of an exacting eye so that we can learn to apply that level of meticulousness to ourselves.
  4. Great teaching gets to the deeper level – not just the mechanics of a discipline, but the internal dynamics which drive the whole discipline; its laws of physics – its ethical, energetic, spiritual levels.
  5. Great teachers embody devotion to a discipline and model what that means.
  6. By the same token, they honor the spirit of the student who is in earnest.
  7. They don’t mince words, but they are not disrespectful.
  8. They wear lightly and comfortably the authority of their knowledge and experience.
  9. Physical concepts that pertain to conducting: first and foremost, gravity (i.e. pendulums). Conservation of energy. The mechanics of levers. Working with ideas of moving through various materials: plunging hands into water, etc.
  10. Examples of high level teaching: explicating the specifics of the mental discipline and focus that’s required for conducting. Teaching the complexity of doing a high level task – for example, working with multiple musical layers, learning to combine musical gestures to show both sustain and pulse in one hand. Teaching how to transform a musical impulse into an energized and communicative gesture.
  11. Great teaching has kindness in it, even if it is not apparent on the surface. It should, however, not be too far beneath the surface.
  12. Great teachers can and often do beneficially operate on the energy fields of others, perhaps through their nervous and muscular systems. In the presence of such teachers I sometimes get a vicarious chill or feel a wave passing through me. (Of course, since conducting and music in general are about transmitting energy, this is hardly surprising.)

[My teacher of musicianship, Marianne Ploger (with whom I studied at University of Michigan, presently at Vanderbilt University), is another great exemplar of these and similar principles, and a strong influence on my understanding of what great teaching is.]

We are all students, and we are all teachers – both simultaneously and continuously. Both are serious (but joyful) responsibilities, complementary and deeply interrelated.

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