I enjoyed the ESTA Summer School very much and send my heartfelt thanks to the Nannie Jamieson Nutshell Fund for giving me a bursary and also to my Corporate Sponsor Thomastik-Infeld Vienna.
I came away from the summer school buzzing with insights and ideas from all the sessions throughout the week without exception.
I’ll attempt to encapsulate some of them which have already had an impact on my cello teaching
1) Kay Tucker. Cello.
Kay stimulated the imagination from the first of her sessions on staccato. She pointed out how so often we think of the start of the note, paying no attention to how it ends. Asking the group to think of all sorts of words from ‘tree’ to ‘zoom’ focused minds on how we articulate verbally and how we can translate that to the bow with articulation from the right arm and fingers. Distributing small soft toys for us to clutch (tactile, squidgy) gently with the bow hand before picking up our bows stimulated and awakened sensitivity in the hand.A great way to introduce the bow to a young pupil. Other ‘bow hold sensitising' Kay suggested were writing our names on our left knees while sitting in cello playing position and keeping balloons in the air with the point of the bow while standing. This brings unusual and helpful exercise to the fingers on the bow.
James Halsey. Cello. Clear and concise, James advised us all to have our own overall picture of sitting a pupil down with a cello for the first time. His own was a four point structure, the most helpful to me being ( before giving the cello to the sitting pupil) to raise their left arm to their collar bone to see their arm bent ‘shape’ and hand position thus giving a precise indication of where the neck of the cello needs to be for their comfort. The other points were sitting position, bow hold, and right hand action. In left hand shift work James advocated being very at home and comfy with the handshape before the shift and equally comfy in the destination hand shape and practising one to the other. His ‘tear drop’ shape in the right hand to facilitate smooth bow changes at the point made more sense to me than the confusing ‘figure of eight’, way of teaching.James talked of circles and weight in cello playing contributing to the sound. He made many helpful observations that are still resonating with me for my playing and teaching. To mention others briefly: focus on shoulder blades in the back for any problem with bow shakes; for double stops stretch out from strong first finger to find hand balance for sound quality in both notes; in fast work both arms need to know where the first beat of the bar is; and always listen carefully.
2) Charlotte Tomlinson
I do not suffer from nerves now, luckily, but pupils are bound to go through them at some stage and Charlotte’s talk was hugely helpful and gave me tools to tap into, should the issue arise. To nutshell a few points:
- to see the audience as your friends; to eat well before performance;
- if you’ve had some kind of shock to stand and ‘shake’ everything all floppy for as long as you can …the physical moving literally can shake out shock; mistakes are normal (we do not criticise a child for falling over when learning to walk); criticism can appear to be judgmental; we can be a model to our pupils with helpful criticism, devoid of emotion, facilitating in them an inner permission to make mistakes and turn them into helpful tools.
4) Gavin Sutherland.
A very informative, clear and fun session on how to conduct which I learnt a lot from. Learning the basics of 2/4, 6/8, 7/4, keeping the framework of the baton movement within a rectangle in front of the face, how to give clear signals with the left hand and leaving the right to communicate the beat were very helpful. I conducted a small part of Palladio and realised I could not see the score so glasses will be helpful in future! I found confidence in not looking down when the score was removed so gained an inkling of what ‘could be’. I feel far better equipped to conduct a school ensemble should the need arise!
5) Sarah Drury.
Sarah’s idea and venture was extremely well told and moving. Having not been in touch with her for 25 years or so, I was especially impressed with her entrepreneurship and her ability to have found ways of bringing her ‘Partnerships with Schools’ project to fruition. A seed of possibility was certainly sown in me and undoubtedly others. The possibilities of bringing awareness and understanding to children across many social backgrounds, with music and art as catalysts is brilliant. Sarah has opened the door to potentially exciting projects that could be put into practice nationally and internationally, bringing, in my view, great value to social cohesion.
6) Sian Ford. Dalcroze.
This was hugely enjoyable and uplifting. I was right back to being a child enjoying moving to music and enjoying the physical challenges Sian set up to help feel both off beats and syncopations. It was a really lovely experience to skip and run to suddenly changing pulses. Sian introduced many tools that teachers could replicate in a classroom whether with tennis balls and bouncing them to a rhythm or pushing balloons to a partner… again in rhythm.
Fun exercises taking us straight into the body, where expression starts and music is the impetus and vehicle. Fantastic.
7) Bojun Cvetreznik Jazz Session.
A great admirer of jazz, this session highlighted my shortcomings!
I was reassured when Bojun said that those jazz musicians rooted in piano and keyboard were more capable of building jazz chords as they ‘thought harmonically’. For string players, maybe without that solid background, to get anywhere near familiar with the harmonic progressions enthusiasm to learn and hard work were the necessary ingredients. The session involved playing the root, first inversion, fifth or seventh along with pre-recorded sequences of well-known pop or jazz tunes. There was enough time to get the gist of playing along comfortably… in itself a valuable feeling.
I immensely enjoyed the music played in the evenings on the course by Bojun’s Slovakian group Terrafolk.
All the concerts at the Summer School were extremely enjoyable and enriching.
I was able to purchase music for string ensemble in the trade opportunity days. Notably these included the new string group pieces by Kathy and David Blackwell. I found it a valuable opportunity to play through some of the pieces during their session. These pieces will be very useful to my pupils across the board.
Thank you very much.