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“Inspiration through Connection”

By Beth Turco 

During your lessons with students, do you feel the pressure to pack in all the information they need to know about technique, music theory and fundamental skills at the instrument? Isn't is difficult to remember to nurture the student's love of music? And how exactly can we accomplish that? On Friday, October 9, Richard Tostenson answered these questions and many more in his engaging workshop, "Inspiration through Connection."

In his charismatic and humorous style, Richard offered a winning formula about how to ignite a student’s love of music, through an approach that emphasizes developing an artistic sense along with practical tips for practicing. Richard believes that students need to deepen their knowledge about composers and the time period in which they lived to fully understand how to interpret their music. He assigns readings to his students about composers and discusses the visual art popular at the time to give students a sense of what inspired a particular composer’s music. 

Richard has developed a guided listening system to help students develop their musical imaginations. For example, we listened to Bach’s Goldberg Variations on a variety of instruments; piano, harpsichord, organ, reed quintet, string trio, etc and discussed the different sounds produced by each. If students don’t listen to a wide variety of instruments, they can’t even image the wide possibility of sounds to emulate. Richard also recommends many recordings of singers so students can carefully listen to the shaping of phrases.  

Can your students name one of the great performers on their instrument; the great artists of the present and past? Most cannot, but how powerful is it to have them listen to a piece they are working on performed by 4 or 5 different artists? Each has a unique style, and comparing them can really help a student make their own interpretive decisions. Richard takes the time to do this in his lessons. 

Richard also offered some practical advice about helping students learn to practice. He distributed Olga Samaroff’s “Work Habits at the Piano,” which he uses widely with his students. Of special note is #5 on the list:

“Every time you stumble, examine whether it was caused by a special technical difficulty or whether you slipped a cog in concentration.”

Students who can evaluate their mistakes early on develop effective practice techniques. Richard asks his students to be prepared for lessons and helps them to take ownership of their progress and to have respect for what they do. 

Richard has carefully chosen books, YouTube videos and recordings that he uses throughout his lessons to deepen musical understanding in his students. Most importantly, he encouraged us to contemplate what inspires us as musicians and to come up with our own creative ways that will help students grow in their love and devotion to art.

Sigmund Freud once said, “When INSPIRATION does not come, I go halfway to meet it.” Richard shared a wealth of ideas about how to “meet” inspiration, maybe even more than halfway, and how to spread the inspiration to our students. I know my teaching will be greatly enriched as a result of this workshop. Thank you, Richard!

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