Why This Bio Is Different
My qualities as a teacher–attunement to different learning styles, creative problem solving, and, of course, the requisite technical skills–come out of a long journey away from and back into music. I’ll mention some credentials below, but it’s the story that’s the point.
Why I’m Different
I started playing the cello at the age of 12. By some standards that’s late! But I came from two generations of professional musicians, I had been playing the piano since the age of six, and I had a cello teacher who taught me to sing on the instrument–Yuan Tung of the St. Louis Symphony. I fell in love and worked hard.
Besides, it’s never too late.
At the age of seventeen, I entered the Oberlin Conservatory as a cello performance major, where I studied with Richard Kapuscinski, whose lessons in bowing technique still echo down the decades.
But here my path diverged. Tempted by the rich world outside the walls of my practice room, I transferred from the Oberlin Conservatory to Oberlin College. I had always loved literature and languages–every language not my own seemed to open onto a whole new world. I wanted to take courses in French, German, Latin, and Greek. I wanted to travel. The cello, I told myself, was an albatross.
There may also have been a touch of rebellion going on.
In the years that followed, I worked as an au pair in France. I spent a year in Germany as an English-language teaching assistant, on a Fulbright travel grant. I got a Ph.D. in English from Cornell University, and I stopped playing the cello–stopped altogether. Truly, I did not touch the instrument for twenty years.
Life Without Music
I finished my degree. I worked in a bookstore. I worked as a proofreader and a copyeditor; I edited everything from technical documentation to scholarly articles to books on medicine to advertising copy; I proofread everything from the small print in credit card marketing letters to lists of chemicals in Danish, thus using a musician’s sensitivity to detail for purposes that were far less rewarding, aesthetically speaking. It was an education in patience. During this time, I was also writing fiction. I had begun to feel the absence of music in my life as a deep sadness; my stories populated themselves with musicians.
Later, in Denver, I began teaching literature and creative writing to working adults. I still teach evening classes at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver and the University of Denver’s University College.
Why Being Different Makes Me a Good Teacher
In 2001, I picked up the cello again. I had to re-learn the basics. For several years, I took lessons with Judith Glyde of CU-Boulder. Some of my other early training and reflexes clicked back in, but the experience of starting almost from zero gave me a visceral understanding of the challenges people face when learning (or re-learning) as adults. Just as importantly, it showed me some of the strengths that adults bring to the process.
I also began to reflect on the ways that music is taught to children. Learning an instrument has traditionally been thought to enhance intelligence, sensitivity and diligence–habits of mind that are valuable regardless of whether a child ultimately decides to become a professional musician. At the same time, some aspects of the traditional teaching methods can also be confusing, disempowering, or disheartening. The world is full of young people who, like me, have wandered away from music and perhaps should not have.
Cello Teaching Experience
I have been giving private cello lessons since 2013. During that year, I took pedagogy-oriented private lessons with Kitty Knight of the University of Denver and participated in her Cello Teaching Circle. I obtained Suzuki teacher training from Ann Grabe at the Oregon Suzuki Institute, Pamela Devenport at the Ithaca College Suzuki Institute, and Annette Costanzi at the Pennsylvania Suzuki Institute, and I am a registered Suzuki instructor for books 1-3. I also continue to study and take lessons myself, honing both cello technique and general musicianship.