Once again I’d like to thank ESTA and Jargar for enabling this experience to take place. The teaching placement allowed me to learn a huge amount, and I hope that future young teachers get to share the same invaluable experience as me.
Arpeggione is a wonderful umbrella of courses that teaches viola playing from all angles. The approach is simple but important, giving the instrument and the unique character of the viola the special attention it deserves. Thanks to ESTA’s Nannie Jamieson Nutshell Fund Bursary and the generous sponsorship of Jargar strings I was able to attend this April’s Intermediate course as a junior teacher, an experience that has been invaluable to me at the point in my career where I’m transitioning from being a student to a working musician.
On the course students aged 8-15 enjoyed the complementary mixture of playing in chamber groups, playing in a viola orchestra, and also engaging in daily masterclasses where the focus is brought to their solo playing. Beyond this range of perspectives for the young viola players, the success of Arpeggione is down to the exceptional team of viola players who run the course. With years of high level playing and expertise between them, they team teach with rare insight and every element of the course was pulled off with great teaching skill and a characteristic humorous touch. It was wonderful to learn from not just what they teach, but also the manner they went about their teaching.
During the week most of my attention was devoted to coaching the chamber groups. There was a great variety of music - with arrangements including Fauré for six violas and some Corelli for viola quartet amongst others - and I found myself approaching different concepts with each of the groups. For example, with the Fauré, the group was averaging around 14 years old and at their level it seemed most useful to talk about beginning to develop good ensemble intonation through understanding the harmony at work, and about deciding who has the leading line so to hone the balance. With the younger groups we discussed how to go about listening to others whilst playing and how to approach rhythms that pose a challenge (putting the instrument down I’ve found is always helpful!). The responsibility of being left to work with these groups on my own was wonderful. I got to try things out for size and see what was effective or not according to the ages and individuals.
In the evenings, I would talk to the other teachers about how my coaching had gone and it was here that I found I really benefitted. I’ve found it’s rare in the day-to-day world of teaching that you really get the time to talk with others about your philosophies and obstacles in teaching, yet in these conversations I found a group of teachers who were interested themselves in thinking about these things and who cared about finding the right way to go about educating people in music. They shared many great kernels of advice with me in these conversations. Beyond the music we talked about the best way to interact with children and teenagers in terms of how to make things effective and fun, but also topics regarding safety, appropriateness, and child protection. We discussed when to indulge the process and when to take a more no-nonsense approach, how to pace sessions and how to work with the child with the 2 second concentration span. Almost without exception the teachers at Arpeggione had stimulating answers to my questions. On several occasions I was also able to observe some of their teaching and it was, of course, very interesting to see their ideas put into practice.