By Robert Frazier, Middle and Upper School Instrumental Music
As a music teacher it is important to have a ‘working knowledge’ of all the instruments. When I came to Westtown and taught orchestra for the first time (ever!) it became apparent to me that I was in need of assistance in string pedagogy. Last year I began by observing area orchestra directors for rehearsal techniques and to see what repertoire they had chosen. This year I needed to go to a deeper level and learn how to play the violin by taking lessons. After all, it had been thirteen years since my undergraduate strings class; something that was painfully obvious to me in my first lesson.
This fall I began taking a series of ten one-hour violin lessons with Carol Briselli, mother of Matt Briselli ’10, every other week. Carol teaches the undergraduate String Methods course at West Chester University, teaches private lessons to all ages, and is also a professional violist; she had the perfect combination of experience I felt would fulfill my needs as an educator.
My lessons with her focused on bowing techniques, shifting, string specific ‘unwritten practices,’ technical exercises, and work on several major pieces for violin. The bulk of the work, however, did not occur in the lessons. For each lesson I spent about 10 hours practicing and applying what I had learned. All in all, I estimate I spent well over 100 hours in practice and lessons for my professional development this year.
Throughout the year my lessons and practicing have helped me to be a better orchestra director: I have a better understanding of the nuances in string music; I am better able to speak ‘string language’ which helps me to communicate more effectively with my students; I have a better ‘working knowledge’ and understanding of the stringed instruments; and I choose repertoire differently and identify problem areas more accurately now. This has been a great experience I hope to continue with lessons in future years!