It’s solo and ensemble time, which means a lot of last minute preparations with my own students and with other students for whom I’m playing piano accompaniments. I just got my complete list of “clients” this morning, and I am playing for twenty-one students tomorrow, which I know is more than the rules technically allow – but such rules have never much interested me. (Those are audacious words coming from a law and order man like me.) As far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier.
It is so interesting to see the wide range of preparedness among the twenty-one young musicians I’m playing for. Some of them are still glued to their music as though their life depended on it (the music does not have to be memorized, but of course it tends to compromise the quality of the performance if it’s not) yet seem remarkably certain that by tomorrow they will be ready to go. Ah, to be young and fearless! Others have been memorized and ready to go for weeks, totally meticulous in their preparation. Tomorrow’s performances are likely to be a similar mix, including surprises both pleasant and unpleasant, which is what happens when music is involved. You never quite know what’s going to happen- who will fall apart and who will hold it all together- who will strike out and who will hit a grand slam home run.
One highlight in these last few days of contest preparation came last night when I rehearsed with a young flutist who will be playing the opening movement of the first Mozart Flute Concerto. This young man’s flute instructor, Frank Suetholz, has been principal flute for the Racine Symphony for as long as I can remember – and a highly esteemed teacher. And last night when he came to sit in on our rehearsal, he demonstrated to me all over again what a superb teacher he is and I felt so lucky to be in the room. Frank has this truly exceptional gift for listening to a performance and quickly discerning what would make it even better – and just as important, he has a wonderful gift for conveying his thoughts very clearly and succinctly. And although he zeroes in on what needs to be better, he also has a great instinct for including just enough positive encouragement in the mix. Maybe most importantly, Frank has a way of making it all about the student and the music- and not about himself. He is nothing like those teachers who carry on as though standing squarely in the collective spotlights of the world. (I’m reminded of a great line from “Doubt” in which the older nun, Sister Aloysius, is reprimanding the much younger and inexperienced Sister James for “performing” too much when she teaches. And when Sister James asks incredulously if it can possibly be true that she performs in this way, the older nun sternly replies “as if on a Broadway stage!”) There are way too many music teachers like that – and I tend to be one of them – so whenever I see good pedagogy come in a quietly humble and selfless package, I am grateful for the opportunity. In short, he is a fantastic teacher- one of the very best I’ve ever seen- and at the end of our rehearsal session, I felt the odd urge to take out my wallet and pay Frank for that time we had together, as though the lesson had been for my benefit.
pictured above: Frank advising his young student on the Mozart Flute Concerto in G. By the way, Frank himself is a superb flutist. One of my fondest memories from my many years hosting Racine Symphony concerts is of a concert many years ago which featured music from Carmen. There is an orchestral prelude for flute and harp that is incredibly exquisite, and I can still remember – ten years later – how beautifully Frank played this . . . as wonderfully as any professional recording might be. It’s yet another reason why I so appreciate Frank and what a superb teacher he is.