I am very grateful to the Nannie Jamieson Nutshell Fund and PartPlay for their generous bursary, which enabled me to attend the full week on the 2017 ESTA summer course. It was a genuinely inspirational and enjoyable week, providing me with a wealth of positive ideas to take into the new teaching year. I work primarily for a Music Hub, and I look forward to sharing many of these ideas with colleagues during our development days in September.
To be immersed in the ESTA bubble for a whole week was a luxury with the benefit of being able to share and evolve thoughts constantly with other teachers.
Each day began with the wonderful Sian Ford demonstrating how to teach music musically through her Dalcroze sessions. Her fast paced, well-structured lessons full of clear instructions and positive energy were a masterclass in how to engage larger groups in multiple learning activities. I stole a few Dalcroze activities from the previous course I attended, in 2015, and have been using them in my whole class teaching ever since. Sian has provided me with more material that I can use in my group and individual lessons. I intend to use some of the activities as warm ups with our younger ensembles, especially at the start of each term, both as a musical ice-breaker activity and as a way of introducing elements of new repertoire. In my violin teaching I want to use similar exercises to build awareness of rhythms, articulation and dynamics in repertoire before showing notation. I have already started practicing on my own children!
An area of overlap between the Dalcroze sessions, Paul Harris’ sight-reading talk, and Bojan’s Upper Strings presentations was the need to develop a pupil’s musical memory. In Dalcroze we sang and moved in response, sometimes in canon. For Bojan we attempted to learn a number of folk tunes by ear (which revealed a weakness for some of us). In line with Paul Harris’ simultaneous learning approach I will now aim to build my pupils’ ability to learn melodies more regularly and as part of learning of new repertoire. This should also have a positive impact on both their intonation and the relevant segment of the ABRSM aural tests too.
Bojan Cvetreznik’s Upper Strings classes became increasingly inspirational as the week progressed and the different elements of his teaching system were revealed. His approach is quite different to methods I have witnessed and had some experience of, including Suzuki and Colourstrings, although there were a number of parallels. This opened up a number of questions in my mind and I will continue to evaluate the benefits of what he does and how to incorporate the best bits into my own teaching. I saw a lot of benefit in his bowing exercises and I have been doing some of them to improve my own technique since the end of the course. I am also working on the flexibility of my left little finger following his advice. Most of the exercises he demonstrated were accompanied with wonderful imagery. I am looking forward to seeing my pupils travel by hot air balloon from Egypt to Greenland, piloted by their right elbow, and avoiding sunburn and frostbite - you had to be there.
Whilst much of what Bojan taught us was new I also found constant links with Ted Wilson’s sessions. Ted is fantastically precise in his instructions, which makes stealing his ideas immensely easy. I attended his vibrato session in London a few months prior to the summer course and I have had success with at least two pupils already using his exercises. At the summer course he used a number of examples from the current ABRSM syllabus, which was incredibly useful. He was also generous enough to give me a short individual session to answer questions I had about vibrato and bow strokes, which I have started implementing in my own practice and will improve the way I teach these things.
All the presenters were equally fantastic, especially in their ability to encourage positive thinking. In particular Charlotte Tomlinson’s session to help us coach our pupils in dealing with performance anxiety. I have subsequently been looking at Charlotte’s resources online. Having her session early on in the week was very useful in encouraging others to continue the discussion and share experiences. I now have several ideas for helping pupils develop their stage confidence.
To conclude, attending this course was great for discovering new resources both from presenters and from other colleagues. Each session was followed up with additional notes or links to further resources to look at. Everyone I spoke to came from a different background or had a different teaching philosophy, which enabled me to broaden my knowledge and philosophy. I am certain my pupils and colleagues will benefit also.