I feel privileged to have studied with some outstanding cellists and cello instructors from an early age, and equally honored to share their legacies and teachings with my own students. Each of my mentors has helped shape and define the basic structure of my philosophy.
My first cello teacher, Iñaki Etxepare, showed me the importance of portraying passion in my musical interpretation. He would always encourage me to express myself to the fullest, and to not be afraid of large and intimidating repertoire. From an early age, Iñaki would assign very difficult repertoire. He always made me envision myself playing in large concert halls and emphasized the importance of always having good stage presence.
I remember having lessons where I just learned how to walk on stage, how to bow, and to communicate with the pianist or other members of the group I was performing with. He really enhanced my ability to play confidently during a concert.
My second teacher, Roman Jablonski, was a father figure to me. He guided me throughout my teenage years, and I was able to excel due to his great level of patience, and embedded within me the tools to develop structure and discipline.
My playing changed completely with professor Jablonsky. He was very determined and helped me practice sometimes during the weekends so I could understand the process it takes to learn a piece. He was dedicated and committed to my development as a cellist.
While studying with Mr. Jablonski, I was exposed to a vast amount of repertoire, and under his guidance, he taught me to appreciate and listen to all the voices that converse in different music styles.
My third teacher, Aldo Parisot, was transformative for my playing with his strict attention to detail in terms of technical facility. It was with him that I polished my technique so I could sing directly from my soul without having any technical obstacles to detract from the music. I finally melded both the musical and technical aspects of my playing.
Lastly, I finished my musical studies with my beloved professor, Rhonda Rider. Studying with Rhonda was the pinnacle of my studies because she helped solidify all I had learned previously and guided me to find my artistic identity as a cellist and musician. She was able
to figure out a way to empower my strengths while continuing to work on my weaknesses. By doing so, Rhonda’s approach allowed for me to develop both technically and musically, whereas my previous teachers made it seem I had to choose one or the other. If something was not working, she would offer me different approaches to solve passages until we found an approach that was precise and worked for me. She was relentless in this way, and I really appreciated it. Sometimes what works for one student may not necessarily work for another.
Ms. Rider can find the perfect balance when suggesting a musical idea. I have known other teachers tell students their ideas are completely wrong where if the student did not phrase exactly the way the professor wanted. This approach frustrated me when having no choice but to “sing a song” that is not mine. Not having room to grow or find your own voice is limiting. However, this approach to teaching was not Ms. Rider’s teaching style.
She had the unbelievable intuition to understand what I was trying to sound like and knew how to articulate her thoughts perfectly in order to help bring my idea to life. It was inspiring and transformative to listen and work to her. I would not be the cellist I am today without the dedication of my four teachers, and I owe them so much gratitude.
“Practice makes perfection”
Although perfection does not really exist, I use this phrase with my students because it sets up the principles and expectations of how and why we practice. For example, I ask my students questions like: “How are those long hours in the practice room going to create a good outcome? Do we focus on quantity or quality? When dealing with difficult passages, should one do multiple repetitions of passages or become aware and understand one’s bodily movements and the effects our bodies have in overcoming technical challenges?” It is crucial as a teacher to bestow the necessary tools and guidance to each student no matter where they are in their level of studies.
As a student myself, I used to practice eight hour a day when I was in College, and found myself repeating a shift over forty or fifty times before I was able to land the shift consistently. However, this method does not really deal with the problem behind why I was having difficulty shifting.
The more I was repeating the shift incorrectly, and the more I was practicing improperly, the more I was leading to “perfecting” my shifting error. Slowly, I started to understand that the right path to achieving accurate results was by changing my methodology of how I practice. First, I needed to understand what the key was to play the shift in tune. While repeating the shift, I was completely focused on executing the shift visually, however, what I needed was to stop using my eyes, and rather, use my ears to carefully hear the pitch I was shifting to before I shifted. Once I developed my ear, I then focused on what my body felt like during the shift. I was able to realize where I was holding tension, and when practicing on a microscopic level, I was able to understand how my arms, back, and fingers worked together as one unit. I needed to become one with my instrument and learn how to practice a shift correctly in order for myself to develop muscle memory. Once my muscles and body understood that movement, I was able to land all shifts across the cello with complete ease and accuracy.
In the end, what is the most crucial component of practicing? Learning the notes? No. What we need is to develop and enlarge our understanding of muscle memory. That is what is going to make us succeed in the long term. My approach with my students is to guide them in their own discovery and understanding of how their bodies work, and to make them aware of when they do it right, and to be able to teach them to identify when they are making a mistake. They are the ones that are going to make it happen so if I tell them the solution right away, they will not have that experience in their body, and will not be able to overcome it by themselves. I want to help them think critically, and to guide and accompany them in this journey. When a student comes to their lesson, the first thing I do when they begin playing is to “take an X-ray” of their playing.