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TEACHING PHILOSOPHY

"Teaching is close to a sacred duty." -John Mack

One of my favorite quotes about making music comes from Sound in Motion by David McGill: "Music's effects are magical, but it is not magic to create those effects” (298). This statement tells both of music’s significance, and of our ability to produce great art through the cultivation of our own musical skills. It also speaks to my primary teaching goal: to foster confident, independent musicians who have strong convictions about what they want to say musically and the necessary skills to share those ideas in performance. Such musicians should have a passion for the oboe and music which transcends any instrumental limitations in order to share their impactful musical vision with audiences. To achieve these goals, my teaching focuses on the importance of fundamentals, an objective process for reed-making, and a thoughtful, detailed approach to the preparation of repertoire, all done in a supportive and collaborative learning environment.

 

My approach to teaching is rooted in my playing and performance goals, which include:

  • The ability to emulate the voice, including the skill to float on the line and elevate it with ease

  • The ability to phrase lines with control and consistency

  • A fluid and accurate technique

  • A wide dynamic range

  • And sound concepts such as ring, depth, variety of colors, and beauty of sound

 

Possession of these skills means we can put the needs of the music at the forefront of our playing and interpretive decisions. In order to help students master these elements, I have devised a four-year undergraduate curriculum which methodically imparts a strong foundation in fundamental techniques, including posture, support, focus of the sound, long tones, scale patterns, and variety of articulation. I teach my students to incorporate these elements into a thoughtful and thorough warm-up plan, which prepares them for what they will encounter in the music. I aim for students to overcome the difficulties of the instrument and reach such an ease of playing that their audience forgets any technical or reed challenges. While I have a highly organized and rigorous curriculum I strive to follow, each student has unique strengths, deficiencies, and their own personal goals which I incorporate into an individualized plan.

 

Reeds are of course a perpetual consideration for oboists. My reed classes seek to maximize students’ knowledge and skill, since it is essential to be self-sufficient and make good reeds quickly. Ideally, a reed should do most of the work, leaving less effort for the player. Through objective tests and a systematic approach, I help students recognize the symmetry, stability, balance, and vibrating characteristics a reed requires. I cover cane selection, correct use of gouging machines, the process for making blanks, and techniques for scraping and reed-finishing. I also teach students that when it comes to reed-making, it is as horn player Jeff Nelson asserts: “Either it’s a success or a lesson.”

 

It can be overwhelming for students when they begin learning a new solo or orchestral work for the first time. In order to help lessen the anxiety, I encourage students to practice in layers—with understanding that it’s not possible to incorporate every element of playing from the outset. As students build their interpretation of a work, I encourage them to ask questions which help organize their thinking, including: “What do you know about the composer and his or her style? What is the background of the work? What is the form, mood, meter, key and tempo and how do these impact how you play the music?” By progressively studying solo repertoire, études, orchestral excerpts, and technical studies, each student is equipped to perform with authority and confidence.

 

Music is a universal language because it profoundly speaks to what makes us human. Therefore, I believe that teaching is not only about the details of oboe performance, but also about cultivating the whole person. Topics we cover in my studio include professionalism, organization, self-motivation, presentation skills, and arts advocacy. I firmly believe that an interdisciplinary approach to outreach and concerts help reach the widest audience, so I encourage my students to be well-rounded and pursue inspiration and motivation from outside the oboe as well. Ultimately, I work to create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere in which students understand that individual successes contribute to the success of the whole studio.

 

I want students to see my enthusiasm for both teaching and performing. I consciously model this dual commitment, which I believe helps motivate students to reach their own artistic goals. Albert Einstein stated that “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” I attempt to awaken this joy in everything I do.

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Dr. Kathleen Carter Bell