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.
- 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.
- 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.
- We all need the scrutiny of an exacting eye so that we can learn to apply that level of meticulousness to ourselves.
- 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.
- Great teachers embody devotion to a discipline and model what that means.
- By the same token, they honor the spirit of the student who is in earnest.
- They don’t mince words, but they are not disrespectful.
- They wear lightly and comfortably the authority of their knowledge and experience.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.