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David Russell

Generation 'Y' asks 'Why?'

May 31, 2007 at 10:49 AM


Recently, I gave a violin masterclass at a wonderful school of music where the violin students are quite talented and highly intelligent people. I thoroughly enjoyed the 20 minutes or so I was given to spend with each student. I heard an Ysaye Sonata, Strauss Sonata and Tchaikovsky Concerto. Wonderful repertoire, all very well played. During the class, I offered my suggestions on how to make certain passages work better. For the 20 minutes we had together,the students worked with the suggestions and I concluded the class with the feeling that there had been a nice encounter between us.

Then, after the class...

A student who had been in the audience approached me with the following observation and question:

"I noticed that in your class, you basically told the students what to do and how to play. Is that how you normally teach?"

During the befuddled stare I initially gave the student in reaction to his question, my mind quickly went over possible responses. I thought of telling him how the greatest violin teacher of the 20th century, Ivan Galamian, would have answered his question. He would have said: "I am the teacher, you are the student. As long as you are my student, you will do it my way". BAM! End of discussion.

I thought of reminding him that the student pays the teacher to find out what the teacher knows, not to show the teacher what the student already knows.

However... after a moment of reflection...

I quickly reminded myself that we live in a very different time today. Generation "Y" no longer looks to the treasured Russian teaching tradition which says: "Shut up and learn from me!"  for their growth and enrichment. Instead, they first look for a reward for their efforts (after all, they did practice and they even showed up on time to play). Then, the generation "Y" student expects to enter a discussion of why their individual approach is a unique and totally valid  extension of their personality and therefore unimpeachable (the implication being their personal motto is "Don't Tread On Me- and Woe to Those Who Do"). Ultimately, the students of  generation "Y" seem to suggest that since their efforts are unique, they are just as valid as the next guy's-- even if the "next guy" happens to have been playing and teaching the repertoire longer than the student has been living!

Additionally, it seems "correct" style as a primary concern of the artist has been replaced with "individual" style as the primary goal. The unfortunate result of this thinking is that the important priority of saying something meaningful with the music is being replaced with looking good on the CD cover.

After all, lets get our priorities straight! Isn't it more important to show the audience how much you appreciate Brahms by looking good while playing Brahms? ;-) Isn't it more important for the audience to see how deeply the performer feels about the music, rather than experiencing their own emotions during the performance? 

Scary, isn't it?

 So, after my befuddled stare came a half grin and my verbal response: "Well,  I've learned to quickly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of a performer and to suggest to them the best course of action based upon my evaluation. The process of evaluation is largely invisible to the student, so it may appear that I am simply telling them what to do, but it is actually an intricate process which takes their unique charicteristics into account".

Blank stare in return...

Generation "Y" is here...and with them comes the question: "Why?"

A very good question indeed.


From Sarah Montoro
Posted on May 31, 2007 at 4:34 PM
lol...loved it!!! blank stare.....most of what we "Generation Y" do..(well,not me)lol : )
From Terez Mertes
Posted on May 31, 2007 at 4:26 PM
>I thought of telling him how the greatest violin teacher of the 20th century, Ivan Galamian, would have answered his question. He would have said: "I am the teacher, you are the student. As long as you are my student, you will do it my way". BAM! End of discussion.

Ah yes, but this isn't the 20th century anymore, is it? As you yourself noted. I hope I don't come across as tiresome/pedantic/disrespectful when I say that in many conflicting situations in life - classroom or otherwise - the student does indeed have something to teach the teacher, and it is the wise teacher who listens and really tries to understand and assimilate.

You've eloquently pointed out what is wrong with this generation. Do you know what's good about these kids?

Another question to ponder.

Regardless, thank you for sharing your experience here. While I taught teenagers for two years, it wasn't in the music field, so your observations and comments are interesting to read.

From Barbara S
Posted on June 1, 2007 at 12:45 AM
Yeah...I teach Medical Students (now gen-Y'ers) and they do the same thing...!
Like you I try to be diplomatic. Very well stated.
From Bilbo Prattle
Posted on June 1, 2007 at 1:29 AM
"Isn't it more important for the audience to see how deeply the performer feels about the music, rather than experiencing their own emotions during the performance? "

I believe quite the opposite is best. Does a blind man miss out at a recital? What is the purpose of having an audience? Why bother playing Brahms any more, if you want to show off the performer's deep feelings?

From Emily Liz
Posted on June 1, 2007 at 1:43 AM
If you are advancing the premise that musicians from Generation Y value themselves more than their elders and music, then - based on my own personal experience at least - I must respectfully disagree with you. The most devoted musicians I know are aged thirty or younger. All of them value the opportunity to learn from experienced teachers; all of them speak reverently about the players who have come before them; all of them take very seriously the responsibilities they have as artists working in such a profound and meaningful art form as classical music. However, your experience may have been different from mine, and by no means do I mean to disparage your experience as a teacher and adjudicator by saying this. I just want to put in a good word for the talented and sincere young musicians I know who deserve it. If we were to remove the members of Generation Y from the classical music scene, the art form would be just as devastated as if we had removed Generation X-ers, or the baby boomers, or any other generation. There are fantastic players with artistic integrity to be found in every generation.
From Maura Gerety
Posted on June 1, 2007 at 2:29 AM
Bilbo, methinks he was being sarcastic. ;-)
From Terez Mertes
Posted on June 1, 2007 at 2:36 AM
Well put, Emily.
From David Russell
Posted on June 1, 2007 at 10:28 AM

Yes, it was sarcasm.

Liz, I actually do not intend to disparage the entire lot of generation "Y" violinists. This was intended to be a humorous plea for SOME members of this present generation to become aware of their self-limiting behavior. I do this in the hope that generation "Y" will further the art they love based on a more solid foundation and outlook. So far as I can discern, narcissicm is unfortunatly gaining ground over humility in the artistic efforts of many students today. Of course, not all students! But it is a dangerous trend for our art. My writing was intended to focus on what I see as this insidious trend, in order to hopefully guide those of this generation who are guilty of this behavior into a more productive outlook. I do this because I care that they have a long and happy and meaningful career which allows them to enjoy the art they love for all the RIGHT reasons.
In the end, I am hoping that a light scolding in a humorous essay will create enough discussion for self-reflection. It is done because I do admire the students of this generation who devote themselves to tireless hours with the violin. Bless them for it! I just hope this self-limiting outlook I have been lately encountering does not spread too far. Then many really great players and great people will have a very empty experience with the violin---and that would be a tragedy.

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