Sunday, March 22, 2015

Japan String Quartet (Day 3)

In place of a surprise performance today there were many hours of rehearsal and coaching.  After our morning warm-up hour, the cellist of the Japan String Quartet arrived and worked with us.  It was an interesting coaching in that he spoke a lot of English and I could learn a bit from the way he was teaching. 

We got some udon for lunch and then headed back for more rehearsal before our last coaching with the second violinist.  I'd heard she was a tough teacher and I was not disappointed.  She studied at Indiana University during a time when some of my favorite teachers studied there.  After the coaching she reminisced on what an incredible place it was, something she accredited to the number of talented Jewish members on the faculty.  Regardless of the origins of the faculty there during the 60s and 70s,it was an incredibly talented group of musicians and teachers (Starker, Sebok, Gringold...), from whom I've tried to grow as much as possible through the strong teaching they gave to their students.  

And her coaching carried what she had learned.  Unlike the previous quartet members with whom we had worked, she gave practically no praise. And she seemed unconcerned about how her words or her manner of speaking might fall upon our soft hearts.  She had things to tell us, things she thought were important and relevant to helping our quartet, and she was going to make herself as clear as possible.  This was the way she shared her love.  It wasn't soft or apologetic.  It was direct and honest, working through each section of the third movement, pushing us to understand how to better phrase, how to listen to one another; a familiar way of working to me, though admittedly couched in a slightly stronger tone.  Throughout the coaching (mostly in Japanese but with English to help as needed) I perhaps detected a small amount of derision towards us as orchestral musicians.  We were too bound to the beats, too much like a conductor, too regular and predictable.  

It was a wonderful beating, an honesty and calling to truth that is too rare in these orchestral days of my life.  I wanted to hug her everytime she told me I was too loud, that I let the phrase drop, that I pounded every note, that I was early and not paying attention to the melody.  Grow me, please, grow me.   

What is it like to be such a person, to be such a teacher?  She is unlike her quartet mates in this regard.  Unrelentlessly demanding, never satisfied.  Does she miss having one to follow?  Perhaps, as with the other Indiana University music students of her generation that I've known, it comes across in the constant evocation of her teachers and her admiration for them.  Hardly an encounter goes by without recalling them.  Perhaps this is how one can sustain oneself; not in the self, but in what one admires and seeks to emulate.  

After about 5 hours of quartet today, we were all tired, but we've grown.  And I wonder if it is something that we can take with us to the next quartet, or if it belongs to us, to only our particular group.  I think perhaps a bit of both; just as the things learned by a student from an incredible teacher belong to only that time, but are passed along.  It won't be the same, but we can carry it forward. 

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