My teaching philosophy is governed by a set of values that have sustained me throughout my career as a professional violinist. My mission is to guide the development of artists and world class musicians who remain motivated and curious throughout their lives. In order to achieve this, they must have a free, organic approach to violin technique that allows them to play with their own voice, become critical thinkers, and develop the tools needed to maximize their artistic potential.
Here are some insights into my own personal journey.
After 10 years of studying under Galamian tutelage, I began studying with Dorothy DeLay. She suggested the I start the Beethoven concerto, which was a dream come true for me. However, what came next changed my outlook on studying and practice for the rest of my life.
When I asked for “the bowings and fingerings”, as I had been trained to do for the last 10 years, she gave me an amused look, and sat me down with an outline of tasks for the next few weeks. First, I was to purchase the orchestral score and do a harmonic and thematic analysis of the first movement. Only after that I was to look at the violin part in the score. She explained editors’ fingerings and bowings were their choice, but they didn’t have to be mine. I should begin to choose my own bowings and fingerings based on my analysis. After that we would “discuss”.
“What!!!!” I thought. “I don’t have time for that! Can’t you just tell me what to do?” But this was when I began the journey from student to musician. In the weeks that followed, and indeed throughout my four years as her student, she would constantly challenge my choices and insist that I defend my interpretations with harmonic, historic, or traditional reasons. It was a lot of work, but ultimately provided me with the independent thought process that we all seek as individual artists. This method is a cornerstone of my own teaching philosophy.
Organic approach to technique
I had a highly active concertizing career in place when I graduated from Juilliard. But after a few years of constantly performing, I developed tendinitis and severe pain issues. I was confounded by my inability to resolve this. When I was a student, the mantra was “you must learn to play with pain”(!!) Struggling to find ways to cope with the pain and frustration, I discovered Kato Havas, whose books were given to me by a friend. I travelled to Kato’s home in Oxford England, and began lessons with her. Through her brilliant insights into violin playing, she saved my career as a performer, and instilled in me the tools which, to this day, I pass on to my students. Through my studies with her and exploring in depth the “New Approach”, I re-established my own physical relationship with the violin. I was given the tools to fix bad habits and formed new healthy techniques, all the while continuing my professional commitments. When I began forays into the world of historical performance and played without a chin rest or shoulder pad, my work with Kato gained an even higher relevance.
While teaching at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I gained extensive experience with the Alexander Technique through my personal studies and a fifteen year collaboration with Robert Britton, an internationally recognized teacher trainer of The Alexander Technique and resident AT teacher at the SFCM. Alexander Technique lays a foundation for remedying issues by substituting tension with a dynamic, healthy approach to the physicality of music making, an approach which aligns perfectly with the teachings of Kato Havas.
The sum of my experiences allows me to show my students how to focus on the basic balances of playing the violin and connect their technique with their well informed, inner creative energy. As a result, discipline will come from a place of joy, discovery, curiosity, and love of music making.