Show me and I’ll remember forever

Imagine yourself as an undergraduate student, doing your work, studying hard, dealing with friends, cooking, laundry, love, and everything that daily life brings. Now imagine that you somehow think to yourself, I know, 20 years after graduation, I’ll come back and bring my students to share the same experiences that I had. Yeah, that will be awesome.

Who thinks that? ever??

That’s exactly what happened.

I have had fantastic teachers in my life. More than I could ever have hoped for, and there have been times when I have recounted stories to my university students of ‘when this happened…’ and I am aware that the combination of people and places and the resulting experiences at that time was so influential for me, and naturally I would like to share that.

This week I did.

20 years ago I finished my undergraduate studies at Northwestern University, outside of Chicago, and it was remarkable. So much has happened in my life since then- for a start I have lived on another continent, and culturally there are differences in everything from how you make the pizza to how you play the pianissimo pizzicato. I remember being told by my cello teacher that it would be different in Europe. That wasn’t a warning, but there are differences and whenever any factors change in our lives, even if we are learning the same topics, the experience is different. The change of a place, a rehearsal space, a conductor, a stand partner. As a student I was caught up in life, in my own personal progress and practicing – and with hindsight I could see that I had experienced learning a certain way, realised that it was different to what my students knew, and naturally I wanted to share it with them. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t harking back to some dream where things are all roses, nor was I trying to change how we do things in Chichester. I value understanding and experiencing things through different lenses, and I think that if guided, a variety of approaches can truly enrich a learner’s outlook.

10670242_10153360397392805_4059011592984813854_n19 traveled from the UK to the US and there was a joint concert with the Bienen Strings in Pick Staiger Concert Hall. I’m not sure I would have fared so well as the students did if I had to walk off a plane and rehearse. Perhaps adrenaline feuled them? Our conductor Sir Crispin Ward was his usual passionate self and the Northwestern University Maestro Victor Yampolsky was excellent. The students had the best of both worlds and magically someone ordered beautiful weather. Crispin conducted the first piece, by Vaugn Williams, and he told the audience the story of the work and how the different groups of string players represented pilgrims, a church organ, or the countryside – the work is filled with the picturesque English countryside, but also with the volcanic passion that lies within the people there. He’s right, you know. Victor took the rest of the concert and he has a wisdom like none other. The second piece was a Shostakovich piano work, arranged by Crispin for string orchestra. In rehearsals Victor shared personal insight into interpretation of the work, as his father and Shostakovich were in the same class in Moscow. The concert ended with Professor Ribeiro as violin soloist in the Bernstein’s Serenade, and it was electric. The concert was a mix of English, Russian, and American and it was a truly wonderful collaboration on many levels.

I was proud. Proud of the students, proud to represent both universities really – proud to be a part of making a cross-continental connection. I sat in the audience with my cello teacher Professor Jensen and with the former Dean of Northwestern Dr Green, and I could never have guessed that was where I’d be. After all my former flatmate reminded me that 20 years ago I had called her on the payphone from Regenstein (the practice room building) to ask her to come rescue me from an earwig.

Sometimes it’s the little things in the moment that we pay attention to, but it is important to keep the vision and the focus and to dream. I hope my students will look back on this as something of a landmark, a beginning, a catalyst – for who know what is to come.

 

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