Let the student be better than you

ego-spiritWhen I was a flute major, the university I attended required that all new flute students work on a syllabus of “basics” for a semester, whether they were first year, transfers, or graduate students. This consisted of playing mostly low and middle Gs, performing a systematic series of experiments. It was a classic example of “tear down and rebuild”. Some voice teachers do this too.

It is vital that we recognize when things are good, and not be jealous, mistrustful, or incredulous when a student can do things easily that are hard for you, the teacher. I’m reminded of a young soprano who I prepared for her college auditions. There was so much right with that voice, and she needed to be nurtured and cultivated like the beautiful strong flower she was. She could also muster an amazing belt. A capable, strong, flexible singer who had plenty of room for improvement, but so much skill already. She did not need to be pruned to ground level and “re-done”. I hope that the teacher at the huge music school she selected agrees.

I have had students come in the door with seamless register transitions, or an ability to sing loudly with great freedom, or fascinating rich colors, or the fearlessness of a seasoned performer. No perfect singers, but some who can do certain things better than I. At age 20, I would have been intimidated and secretly ashamed that this person was so much “better than me”. Now I celebrate! Let them celebrate and use what they have!

As a teacher “screw my damned ego” is probably the hardest skill of all, but one that is getting better all the time.

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