Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mary West

I received an e-mail notification earlier this week that Mary West died on June 3d. Mary was the great-grandmother of violin teaching in the Twin Cities music community, beginning her teaching career in the 1950's. I learned a lot about her when she came down to Kansas City to accept a lifetime community service award at the ASTA meeting. I was thrilled to see her, making the trip at... 94 years old? I think she was then. A tiny, elderly woman with exceptional presence.

I'm not a violinist, but it didn't take long to recognize that all of the advanced violin players I met in Minneapolis were students or former students of Mary West. I probably shouldn't say all, because there are so many other violin teachers in the area, but it certainly seemed that way. She taught a long time, with great dedication and skill.

One of the things I really loved about her career is that she didn't set out to be a music teacher. In KC I learned that when she was getting started a wise mentor advised her to just teach, and stop obsessing over whether she could.

Faith Farr is collecting teaching tips from Mary's former students to publish in the Fall issue of the local string teachers' publication. There were two in the e-mail, probably from a pedagogy session she presented in January. One was:

Start each lesson with technique. You know the students will practice the pieces. When they realize the lesson won’t get to the pieces until the technique is covered, then they will also prepare the technique well.

My first cello teacher (T1-) had just the opposite philosophy. I think we touched on a scale here and there, but other than that technique was all demonstration on his side. I think he must have been psychologically scarred by technical practice in his past. It took me too many years to realize that I was gaining nothing from that approach, and my own technical ceilings were firm. One of many reasons I love working with T- is that he obviously shares Mary's philosophy.

A lot of folks are going to miss Mary West.

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