I just read this wonderful post from Christa Garvey - The Oboist - and it struck home to me this week especially. First, because like everyone else I was shocked and saddened by Bill Bennett’s tragedy. Second, because I adore my colleagues and should tell them so a lot more than I do. Third, because we have just finished our recital set and I learned something very valuable from lovely Martha which I’ll be putting into place immediately.
In her studio at Western Michigan University, Martha Councell-Vargas TEACHES backstage behavior. She makes a point of telling her students how to thank a guest artist, or any artist, and enforces not only their presence at events but their gracious responses. It had never occurred to me to do this.
When I was at Eastman, the culture of the oboe studio was such that 15 people would ALWAYS meet you as you stepped off stage and tell you what a nice job you did. Later, in lessons, Mr. Killmer would tell you what to work on and improve, but in the moment all you felt was support and acceptance. I don’t recall that he ever told us specifically to do this, but he led by example and we were never unclear on how we were supposed to behave.
My situation as a teacher is different from his. I live a long way from the schools I teach at, and teach very few oboe majors. Therefore, I am not at every performance they give - not even at any, some years - and don’t feel that I can require recital attendance, and don’t have a studio class in which to address the group as a whole.
But I was inspired by our performance at WMU, or at least by its aftermath. Student after student approached me, thanked me for coming, and referenced something specific in my program - the double-tonguing, the intonation, the lizard in the Three Desert Fables. It was meaningful to me to hear what they had heard and what they liked - and it just felt great to be noticed, recognized, and thanked.
In contrast, at Valparaiso, which was my own home turf, I spoke to members of the faculty afterwards and to a former student’s mom, but nearly all of my students fled the instant the last note sounded. MY students! They talked about the concert in our lessons the next day, but that is nothing like the same as hearing a simple thank you in the immediate aftermath of the performance. I love getting reactions from audience members as they are fresh, and hearing about what they enjoyed helps me to continue to improve the presentation for future audiences.
So my resolution is as follows. I will personally make the effort to speak to the guest artists who perform with my orchestras. My current tendency is to admire from within the group, and say nice things on my blog, but not actually talk to them. I can fix that. I will make sure my colleagues know how much I respect and enjoy their work. And I will talk to my students about this important skill. Of course it feels awkward to talk to a stranger, but there is no reason in the world not to share your enjoyment of the performance and pay your enthusiasm forward. The artist appreciates it, and the world benefits from it, and it's great karma for your own future endeavors.