Watersheds

This post discusses the author's watershed moment in musical education under Julius Levine, and how it influenced their teaching philosophy, which emphasizes approach, inspiration/motivation, and exposure.

With David Allen Moore · Los Angeles, CA

Our objectives in instrumental practice should ideally be as focused as possible either on goal-based objectives (e.g. concert/audition prep) or process-based objectives (e.g. releasing tension from the bow arm). Even the most organized and efficient among us will still experience growth in a variety of ways including fits and starts, minor regressions, and unsustained epiphanies, leading to a steady (if not consistent) grind up a relatively shallow slope (at least at the advanced level). Occasionally we will experience prolonged plateaus that culminate in breakthroughs as a reward for our patience, persistence, and dedication.

And then there are the Watershed moments.

These moments are times when you can feel IN THE MOMENT that you have reached a critical turning point where everything changes, and there is no going back (although I’m still not entirely clear on what this has to do with drainage…). We can all point to performances or recordings that changed what we thought was possible on our instrument, moved us in ways that we still experience on a daily basis, or defined for us what would become a lifelong pursuit. Sometimes these moments fade into the fabric of our conception of self, but other times the impact of these experiences can resonate for DECADES. In the summer of 1993, at Tanglewood, I had one of these moments.

Teaching Philosophy

At this point I think it is important to take a step back and look at certain aspects of the way I look at teaching as an Art and a profession. These ideas are presented as context for MY views and are not meant to be definitional by any stretch.

There are 3 main pillars that anchor my teaching:

Approach: Teaching is defined as “showing or explaining to someone how to do something” (I know, not terribly inspiring). This may seem obvious, but I don’t think it is actually possible. We clothe our ideas in language in order to communicate, but we interpret language based on our own references and internal models. What we think someone is saying may be very different than their meaning, and our understanding will change over time as our references and models evolve. I would offer a different idea: Teaching is the process of giving someone a set of credible references so that when they eventually figure it out for themselves, they will have affirmation of their approach and confidence to continue.

Inspiration/Motivation: This is a tricky one to define and can take many forms. I would like to focus on one particular aspect: naive enthusiasm. I feel it is the responsibility of the teacher to nurture, foster, and to a certain extent, protect the naive enthusiasm of their students. This could loosely be defined as “love of music”, or intellectual curiosity. Anyone who has achieved a professional level at a skill knows that the REAL path is exceedingly and unimaginably more challenging than the IMAGINED path. Knowing this, we can help students manage overwhelm, stave off burnout, and fortify their resolve for when the inevitable challenges arise. This element is delicately balanced with the next pillar.

Exposure: This can of course mean listening to performances or sharing technical concepts, but I am referring more to exposing a student to aspects of their own playing that need to be addressed in a way that supports the second pillar (inspiration/motivation) and helps them chart a course for consistent progress. If too much is revealed at once it can easily lead to paralysis rather than inspiration. There is more than a semantic difference between having your “mind blown” and having your “head explode”.

Enter Julius Levine

I feel exceedingly privileged to have been able to attend Tanglewood during the era of the “old guard” of faculty at TMC. This included Louis Krasner, Maurice Abravanel, Leon Fleischer, and one Julius Levine. Mr. Levine was a New York-based musician who was uniquely known in the bass world for his contributions to chamber music as opposed to solo or orchestral work. His activities at Tanglewood involved coaching and preparing ensembles, but “bass” duties were the purview of Ed Barker. In the summer of 1993, I was fortunate to be in a master class with Mr. Levine that was truly a “Watershed Moment” and changed the course of my interior musical life. His approach was not as nuanced in some ways as other teachers with whom I had worked. He was the first teacher I had ever experienced that had no sense of “relativity”. There was no sliding scale of quality based on a student’s level or work: there was the way that Julius wanted to hear it, and then there was the way that YOU were doing it. The part of the class that absolutely floored me was an in depth, no-holds-barred, musical beatdown of a SINGLE NOTE where he described every last nuance, inflection, color, and detail. Artistically, I had the metaphorical wind knocked out of me. This was all firmly in the realm of things I didn’t know that I didn’t know (say it back to yourself again, slowly). Rather than being devastated, I took it as a sign ultimately of his respect for us that he felt comfortable exposing us to so much in such an intense environment. Or he could have just been waiting to see how many heads would explode.

Check out more Fractal Friday writings here.


About the Author

David Allen Moore, 4th Chair Bass of the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2000, was previously a member of the Houston Symphony. He is an internationally sought-after Guest Principal and has performed with the Helsinki and Israel Philharmonic.

Moore is the author of Fractal Fingering, a required text at notable universities. He joined the USC Thornton School of Music’s full-time faculty in 2010 while maintaining his position in the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He also teaches at Domaine Forget in Canada and DiscoverDoubleBass.com. His students hold positions in orchestras globally.

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