ESTA (UK) Summer School 2019 Charlotte Howes
In this short report I’d like to say something about the 2019 ESTA (UK) Summer School. I was able to attend this thanks to a generous bursary from the Nannie Jamieson Nutshell Fund, for which I am really grateful. This opportunity was particularly useful for me as four years ago I moved from working for my local county music service to being mainly self-employed. Now that I’m working this way, opportunities for sharing new ideas with colleagues, and especially other string teachers, are limited. The ESTA summer school was a great chance to remedy that.
I was pleased to see “Rolland Basics” with Joanne May and Joanne Erwin on this year’s Summer School program. I have been a long-time admirer of Sheila Nelson’s teaching and once attended a week-long workshop she ran. Inspired by that, I borrowed and watched all of the Paul Rolland teaching videos. So these workshops offered me an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the techniques and learn more. Joanne May is a clear and thoughtful communicator and warmly encourages interactive discussion. She made me look at my own teaching again and I’m starting to introduce things I learnt. For instance, I like the way that many of the movements used in the early lessons translate to other things later on. I’ve introduced the use of left hand pizzicato at beginner stage to help to shape the left hand; setting up a good hand position and strengthening the fingers before starting to make new notes. With slightly more advanced groups I have been using the same technique but in low, middle and high positions. I’ve used a sticker at the octave point to mark the middle position and this shuttling backwards and forwards between low, middle and high positions will prepare for shifting later on.
The summer school offers the chance to learn new approaches that can shake us out of habitual teaching practices. A great example of this came from Mark O’Connor. He has come to teaching from the world of folk and jazz, a very different background from most of us on the course, and I totally agree with his premise that we should be giving our pupils the wherewithal to enable them to go in any musical direction they choose: classical, folk, jazz, or all three. He taught us how he uses one particular tune, “Boil ‘em cabbage down”. This is a very useful tune that I knew from Sheila Nelson, but I now have more variations, rhythm, bowing, and double stopping, from Mark. I have been using this as a warm-up with my junior string group, who now play it endlessly!
Paul Harris was brilliant and thought provoking, and every music service should invite him to talk to their teachers! He talks about making learning a collaborative process and, although I have been trying to do this I haven’t always succeeded. Having found his website I have already been consulting it for support. Lucy Hare encouraged us to look at the way we approach our teaching, and our own playing, and I especially enjoyed her talk, “The Magic of Making Mistakes”. In particular, I like her idea of a Safe Mistakes Environment and have already introduced this concept in my private teaching. I will also be using her tool for improvement with some of my older pupils.
Sarah Upjohn’s talk, “Preventing Injury in Young Musicians”, was fascinating and confirmed for me the importance of ensuring that children playing in groups sit safely and properly. We are shockingly undereducated about our own bodies! I am introducing a warm-up at the start of my lessons, and a few stretches afterwards. Sarah has also given me the means to resist children, and their parents, when they push to be moved onto the next size of instrument before they are ready.
Another physical aspect of string playing was introduced by the lovely Jane Fenton. Her yoga classes, with their focus on breathing, were very relevant to string players and something I will try to introduce in my teaching. They were also a much-needed antidote to the busy course schedule!
Although I’ve been reassured that my teaching is moving along the right lines, I have come away feeling that I can do more to set up my pupils with a solid foundation. I’ve now bought, “The Teaching of Action in String Playing” by Paul Rolland, and intend to use it to build on what I’ve learnt at this summer school. While the week was so intensive that it’s hard to consolidate everything, I hope to have given a flavour of it and of how useful it has proved to me. And talking of flavour, good food and convivial mealtimes were a feature of the week which, together with efficient, friendly, and helpful organization, helped to build a camaraderie among the participants. As well as being educational this week was great fun and I will be back!