ESTA Summer School Report 2018 Catherine Taylor
Thank you very much to ESTA Nannie Jamieson Nutshell Fund Bursary sponsored by Universal Edition, which enabled me to attend this superb Summer School. At the trade stand I enjoyed meeting staff from Universal Edition and choosing some newly published music.
This was a week of contrasts - from daily Alexander technique lying on the floor ‘not doing’, to playing violin and dancing at the same time, and from 17th century tutor books to contemporary pieces presented by the author.
Our Alexander teacher Rosamund Hoskins recommended incorporating the technique into personal practising, ideally during a break in the middle. I have started doing this to help restore good posture. I will discuss initially with adult pupils how they could use practice breaks well, especially to help with back and shoulder problems.
The theme of good maintenance was also applied to our instruments. Cardiff Violins talked about the details of correct instrument set up for getting the best sound and for comfortable playing. With more knowledge about what to look out for, I expect to point pupils sooner towards local specialist advice. If for example pressing the strings down is difficult, the bridge could be lowered, and the luthier would explain the likely effect on the sound.
Two presenters gave a historical perspective on music education and teaching materials. In Richard Crozier’s thought-provoking talk, he explained how the Victorians promoted music to aid a sense of wellbeing, when people had moved from the countryside to harsh city working conditions and turned to alcohol. Meanwhile in the Upper Strings basics sessions, Louis Pantillon dipped into a wide range of teaching repertoire from John Playford's 1654 'Introduction to The Skill of Musick' onwards, highlighting interesting features of each. As a group we played melodies from them, some via IMSLP. Louis said that it’s important for each of us build our own collections of pieces we choose from various sources. This alleviated my concern, following lots of time spent searching for good material, that maybe I was reinventing the wheel. With the benefit of Louis’ advice and Thomas Gregory’s introduction to the attractive and practical pieces of Vamoosh, I am encouraged to continue looking through new and old books.
Aleksey Igudesman taught us tunes which required dance steps at the same time as playing. Laughter prevailed! I was clumsy but enjoyed one because it was a familiar folk genre and I could almost do it! It was helpful to be in the role of a student finding it difficult to learn something. So, I plan to seek new ways to give pupils freedom whilst playing, and to develop my empathy.
In Aleksey’s playing, he showed the playful side of the violin, and improvisation as a really gripping dialogue. Welcoming participation from the group, he showed that we need to respond to the other person’s playing, consider if we want our improvised reply to agree with theirs or not, make sure we don’t ‘talk’ for too long when it’s our turn, and repeat things if needed. The talks from Helen Dromey and Sarah Crooks gave easy starting points for this, which I will try with all ages. Using a familiar piece, I can suggest that my pupil misses out alternate or occasional bars and improvises during those. That should give them a sense of safety (which they may initially need), because there is a distinct duration for the improvisation. Another suggestion was for one person to play 4 crotchets, then the other person could copy just one element of it, e.g. I could play 4 spiky F sharps, then invite the pupil to play the same notes legato, or different notes spiky. These new activities will provide practice in being different as well as copying, so should help build ensemble playing skills.
Some memorable moments also came in impromptu lunch break sessions. Louis took us through wave phenomena such as natural harmonics, and the extra note sometimes heard alongside a double stop. I’ve put some of this into a worksheet for lessons or homework. Ted Wilson demonstrated vibrato exercises. This is one I will try this term: on G string find the
harmonics at the positions of D and C in 1st position. Then, keeping the thumb in the same position, alternate playing these harmonics with 4th finger. Move up to 2nd position and repeat with 3rd finger, and so on. This ensures that the whole arm is moving backwards and forwards whilst avoiding gripping the neck of the violin. These sessions also reinforced that experimenting with harmonics and being aware of sympathetic vibrations helps us listen carefully and so improve intonation and bring out the beauty of the instrument’s tone.
What made the Summer School special was the sense of community. Working mainly from home, it often feels strange to get the end of a week having spoken to no one about teaching. It was so nice to share experiences and ideas over meals. This was all made possible by the work of the ESTA team, pulling out all the stops to make things run smoothly.