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There were many wonderful experiences at the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival last week, but one of the highlights was the opportunity for our string quartet to be coached by Arnold Steinhardt, former violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet. We played Beethoven String Quartet Opus 18 No. 4. He had great advice for all of us, and was so kind. We were all thrilled for the opportunity. There is a moment in the last movement of that quartet where the viola shares the melody with the first violin for about one measure before dipping back down to a more accompanying role. Mr. Steinhardt told us that he would love to speak with Beethoven about that measure and ask him why he wrote it that way. It is amusing how quickly the shining viola moment comes and then goes. (That measure exemplifies the life and role of a violist!)
I was also very aware of how we changed as a quartet by playing for him. Personally, it made me more aware of my playing. The experience got me thinking about awareness of my sound, intonation, musicality, everything. It was as if all my senses were heightened because I was playing for someone who I've admired and listened to since I was ten years old. Last summer my teacher encouraged our studio to come to our lessons as if we were coming to perform for her. She very gently let her students know that for the second half of the music festival that she wanted more from our lessons. Her encouragement really challenged me to spend my weekly practice time more efficiently and treat my lesson as a performance and as a coaching, not as a check up or a platform to be under prepared.
Playing for Mr. Steinhardt reminded me of the wise words my former teacher spoke to our viola studio last summer. The coaching with Mr. Steinhardt made me think that we should all practice as if he would hear us. So many times we practice for our lessons and we hope the best. We don't always bring our best to our teachers. We come in slightly under prepared knowing that our teacher will still listen to us and offer us some encouragement. We hope that what we have worked for will come out in our lesson, but know that our teachers will keep coaching us even if we make mistakes. I'm not saying don't make mistakes, we will make mistakes! We are human. I'm saying that we get comfortable and sometimes don't practice or perform at our best or with intention. We get used to our sound, our intonation, our musical interpretations and don't always listen critically to our own playing. The thought of practicing with more intention as if I might at any time be playing for a famous musician has certainly changed the way I am practicing, and will change the way I encourage my students to practice as well. You never know who is listening or who might be listening in the very near future.