I was teaching a lesson to one of my private students the other day, a very talented and lovely young girl. She made an error and immediately stopped and said, “I’m sorry!”, and I looked at her sternly and said, “You’re what?!”….to which she smiled and replied, “A diva warrior princess”. Much better. I am trying to build her self-confidence, and so I have her say this every time she says she’s sorry when making a mistake. It makes her laugh (me, too), and hopefully will help her begin to see herself in a more positive light. So many young people grow immeasurably through the study of an instrument- not only about phrasing and fingerings, but also about themselves. I love watching timid students begin to find themselves, opening up and realizing their potential. Of the many things I love about my job, that’s the part I find most rewarding about teaching…giving the gift of self-confidence through music that was given to me when I needed it most as an awkward junior high student.
Over my twenty-nine years of teaching, I have watched countless students grow and change. I see an important part of my responsibility to them as helping them see their worth and their strength. It takes courage to perform in front of people, and we have the fear of failure and ridicule ingrained in us from such a young age. I was the same, believing that I had to be perfect in everything. I tell my students to be brave- it’s okay to make a mistake (I tell them if they do make a mistake, to go out in a flame of glory…it makes them laugh, but gets my point across). Of course we want to play as accurately as possible, but we are human, and mistakes happen. The more fearful we are of mistakes, the more mistakes we make…a self-defeating cycle, for sure. If I can get students to believe that they can do something, they are much more likely to be successful. Of course they still have to put the work in, but so much of performance is mental. You bare your soul when you perform, and your mind has to be in a place that lets you know with all your heart that you have the ability to do it. As soon as you stop believing that, the demons of fear and doubt take over, and that is never a good thing.
It sounds really silly and cheesy, but I tear up when students make a big breakthrough, because it reminds me of why I do what I do. I have many special memories that I cherish: a student who could barely play when he started played a difficult Brahms sonata with great musicality and passion his senior year; a student who stuttered and constantly demeaned himself came in and played confidently for the first time ever…I will never forget the huge grin on his face when he finished playing and I hooped and hollered; so many students over the years who have grown into even more wonderful young people through the discipline of studying clarinet. Some go on to be teachers and performers, some doctors and nurses (UAB is a big medical school), some accountants, social workers, psychologists, and on and on. Every year as another group of students goes out into the world, my heart swells (after I shed a few tears…they become my children in a way), and I am grateful that I have had a small part in helping them to get to this place in their lives. I don’t worry about the future knowing that my students are going out to make the world a better place, and I will be cheering them on every step of the way. I so love what I do, every single day.