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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Remedial Teaching for Conservatoire Graduates?

I was visiting the "Reflective Conservatoire"-conference in London last week. It had been a long time since I was in London, so that alone was a great joy. But the conference itself was fun to be, too. Basically, visitors to that conference are people working in conservatoires who try to look critically at what they are actually doing in order to make conservatoire tuition better.

If you have never been in a conservatoire: they are interesting places. They train, as their core business, young musicians to become professional musicians. And, as we always say, that training does not start when students enter the conservatoire. Before entering, they have mostly already spent an amazing amount of time studying their instrument, often from a very young age and with great determination. So within a conservatoire you find a club of very motivated and already very proficient musicians who want to become even better under the guidance of renowned teachers.

It is a great surrounding to be in. But it also has its backdrops, one of them being that conservatoire culture is one of extreme specialism, of entering into an often rigid tradition (be that classical, jazz, pop or world) guided by people who "know", and often of competition. That brings about not only joy & beauty, but also loads of stress and a lot of powerplay (thanks, Rosie!).

When students leave the conservatoire, they are often great specialists suffering under the constant stress of having to operate on what a very select group of connoisseurs considers to be the excellence level of music performing. So what you find in many places is that conservatoires have begun to worry about that, and have started to offer students activitiies next to their constant practising on their instruments in order to cope with that stress and to become more creative, more relaxed, more outgoing musicians.

On the conference some of these practices were demonstrated. I think it is a great thing that there are people in conservatoires who are concerned about the future life of their students and come up with those programmes. So there I was, looking at a great session where students were practising to look each other in the eye, touch each other, listen to each other, and improvise music in reaction to others.

And I couldn't help thinking: how come that we have to offer all those relatively straightforward things on conservatoire, and even post-graduate, level? How is it possible that we - western society as a whole, the music business in particular and conservatoires in the very particular - allow students for long years to neglect the looking, teaching, listening and improvising, then finally re-teaching them those aspects at a basically much-too-late point in their development?

Shame on us.

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