Sunday, August 07, 2011

Masters and Students

“You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.”

- Conrad Hall

This quote came to my mind frequently as I was doing some guest coaching in Chicago at Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago last week. It’s not often that I am in the position of coach or teacher. Most of the time I am out on the road, performing and rehearsing, and when I am home I try to catch as many lessons with my voice teacher as possible, and in these ways I am mostly focused on forging my own path of musical growth – I am the perpetual student. The closest I ever feel I come to that position of “master” is the rare occasion that I am asked to give a Master Class or (like last week) work privately as a guest coach/teacher.

Earlier in the week before flying out to Chicago, I had a two-hour lesson of my own with my teacher in New York. After having spent most of the summer away from her in Europe, hopping from one performance to another, I found it a bit jarring to put my student hat back on. I was impatient with myself, and easily frustrated – it felt like banging my head against a brick wall. I left the lesson feeling fussy that I hadn’t made as much progress through all the upcoming repertoire that I wanted to touch on with my teacher. Having not seen each other in so long, we decided to go for a drink to catch up, and I forgot my frustrations as we chatted over a glass of wine on 7th Avenue.

A couple of days later in Chicago, the thing that struck me so much about my guest coaching sessions was how working with the singers who came in last week was actually a lesson for me in being a student. I was struck by how open they were to try my suggestions and how inquisitive they were in trying to understand the numerous concepts that I was throwing them. Listening to them grapple with and digest these new ideas as they took giant strides forward was fascinating. It made me realize how much I can get in my own way in my own moments of study – jumping straight from the stage to the studio can be a very tricky transition. Being on stage requires an ownership of knowledge and experience in order to find the confidence and trust in oneself to stand up and perform for an audience. Being in the studio, donning the disciple’s robes requires a different kind of mindset – that open and inquisitive one that the singers who were working with me in the CAIC studios had.

When I returned to New York over the weekend, I met up with my teacher for one more two hour extravaganza. This time, though, I came with that open mindset and did my best to set all the knowledge and experience I already had aside, quieting the impatient voices in my head, and only calling on all that experience when it related to something she was saying. The lesson was incredible, and perhaps one of the most productive I’ve had all year. We made tremendous progress, and I left feeling a sense of accomplishment and focus.

I guess we just have to constantly keep adding to the pot of knowledge and experience – it’s bottomless, really, and never full.

(reposted from the CAIC blog - Collaborative Musings - where I am a guest blogger once a month)

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