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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: Played for Every Professional Player That Passed Through Town (4 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Something I was taught at a very early age was to try and play for every single professional that came anywhere near my hometown.  Sometimes this was in master classes and other times this was in private lessons.  Performing in front of as many professionals as possible was immensely important in me gaining the confidence to play at my best in a wide a range of circumstances.

Master classes are the easiest place for a college student to gain access, even if only briefly, to a professional traveling through town.  It was my experience that a visiting artist could say the exact same thing that my teacher had been saying all along but in just a slightly different manner and it would make everything click in my mind.

I am always telling my students that all performing and teaching, both good and bad, counts as “data” that helps to mold me as a musician.  If I hear a concept put in a way that makes a lot of sense I am of course sure to share that with my students.  Likewise, if someone teaches something in a manner which doesn’t click with me or that I disagree with it only serves to strengthen my own point of view.  Keeping this in mind, any master class that I ever attend is worth my time.  Always.  And any great teacher will address exactly what you personally need to hear if they hear you play.

When I was a young student I was taught a great trick when someone was listening to multiple students play in a master class.  Always volunteer to play first.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, when conducting a master class it can be very difficult to keep track of time when working with students. If a teacher does not manage their time well the student playing at the beginning of the class will always get more time and not less time.  It is very difficult to stick to time slots as a teacher and the people playing at the end are always the ones that are affected.

Another equally important reason is that it is natural to be distracted and nervous until you get in front of the group to play.  You are going to retain very little information that is given to the players who play before you.  If you volunteer to play first, you can simply relax, take notes, and learn from all of the people that come after you.  Sometimes the information that is shared without you being on the hot seat can make the biggest impression.

I always raised my hand immediately in every single master class whether I felt like playing that day or not.  As a result, I played in every class, got at least as much time as everyone else that played, and was able to focus on the teaching and not myself for the remainder of the class.

Finally, it is great to be able to get a private lesson with someone passing through town.  Speaking from experience, my schedule rarely allows time to meet with people individually but there is a trick to increasing your chances of hearing a “yes” when asking for a lesson.

First of all, contact the person before they come to your town or school.  This has never been easier with email, twitter, facebook, etc.  If you can’t find them through any of those channels then simply ask your teacher if they might know their info.  It is a lot easier for me to schedule my day around giving a student a lesson if they contact me ahead of time.

Second, you should always offer to pay someone for their time.  Frequently, when a student asks a traveling professional for a lesson and offers to pay them they will teach them for free.  This is not always the case but it definitely sends the wrong message to not offer to pay someone for their time.  Even if you are very up front in stating that you have no money and understand that you wouldn’t expect them to be able to teach you, this will be received well.  It might not get you a lesson, but you will leave a good impression in a business where are impressions are imperative.