Michelle Kelly ESTA Summer School Report 2018

While teaching this year I have had occasion to mull over a number of issues in my pupils’ playing. Looking for help in this direction I was fortunate to be awarded a bursary from the ESTA Nannie Jamieson Nutshell Fund, sponsored by Jargar, and so was able to attend the Summer School in Chichester. As well as addressing specific elements of string tuition it is wonderfully energising to mix with fellow string teachers, swap ideas, concerns and repertoire, offer support, and occasionally find time to play together.

I shall take away so many ideas from this week. Here are just a few- I was wondering how I could incorporate my beginners’ love of playing together with focused learning. Sarah Crookes and Helen Dromey encouraged us to rethink our distrust of large group learning by listing everything a child would gain from playing together. We were then given oodles of practical ways of tackling musical concepts at beginner level, with equal emphasis on enjoyment, learning and pride in their achievements.

Through Dalcroze (moving to music) they showed how the concepts of pulse, crotchets, quavers, rests, could be felt in the body, and then replicated on the violin. The concept of distinct bars and then phrase lengths can be learnt through walking for the first bar and resting on each alternate bar. Large-movement conducting activities can be used for 3/4 and 4/4 meters in both violin and singing classes, along with other Kodaly activities (children’s singing games)

I particularly loved the idea of using Avo Pärt Spiegel Im Spiegel for follow-my-leader games, encouraging pulse and watching the conductor all in one. Four children place themselves in a diamond formation, the front child invents a movement on the first beat- the others follow either in turn on each beat or all together on the third beat. This happens for four bars, then the whole group turns 90 degrees, a new leader is at the front and the game is repeated.

Louis Pantillon’s general philosophy of learning, his research into teachers from the past and his practical detailed analysis of technical issues were enlightening. Having looked into violin pedagogy from 17th century up to the present day- we were privileged to play from a number of early tutor books. All had very useful duets of various standards to be found on ISMLP- great for ensemble work, playing in different keys, for GCSE requirements, listening and tuning. He mentioned Paul Rolland in the States, and Geza Silvay (Colourstrings), both of whom encouraged good Left Hand position by plucking with the little finger high on the G string. Moving the body in opposite direction of the bow stroke to discourage locked muscles.
Geza believed in reading from the very beginning- even if it is non-music symbols- as pupils then equate deciphering code with moving the bow to produce a sound. We then discussed the opposite approach taken by Suzuki.

Louis’ pupils write their own practise notes each week, having drawn and annotated a picture of their violin in the first lesson. They are even required to copy out the ‘music’ they will be practising - simply symbols in the first few lessons, but eventually proper notes on the stave. Louis noted that we sometimes ‘tell’ pupils rather than lead them to work things out for themselves.
He suggests asking them leading questions- so they feel they have discovered their own solution. I took notes throughout- but even then missed odd bits- however we were well supported by Sheila Holdsworth who sent us transcripts of each session after the course. The course was both enjoyable and useful.

Nannie Jamieson Nutshell Fund