In the midst of 21st century life in the United States, where is the room for art? It is inside us, ready to be brought forth and manifested in time and space in a busy society. Our culture will pass it by unless we all as individuals steadfastly create the space for it as adults, and advocate for it in the lives of children.
My art is inextricably interwoven with helping to create that space in our society, which pushes back against the artist’s effort to give it room to flourish. In my own life, that of a cellist, the role of teacher and defender of the place of the arts in our lives goes hand in hand with my performing life. Though they complement each other, they also compete painfully for my time and attention, with one or the other claiming the greater part of my energy at any given time. This is all in the context of that art that engages and sometimes consumes most of us, the art of parenting. Certainly that art is the most common, and our legacy in that field of art will most certainly have a powerful effect through the ages though our names will probably not be associated with our contributions.
As a teacher, I take it as a privilege to have had the training and inclination to work with very young children and their parents to train up young artists and to help cultivate in the family an environment that nourishes the creative being. Likewise, I also work with adults who are seeking the fulfillment that a daily discipline in the arts provides. In the middle of that range are the teens, emerging from the protective nest of childhood, discovering for themselves the nature of their needs and the role of art in their sense of self-identity and growing independence.
Working with this age group is of particular interest to me as it is during this period that the emerging adults can most use the refuge and comfort and direction that come from discovering their interior worlds and relationship to the larger world through artistic pursuit. At this same time, this is the point at which children are most likely to say they wish to quit an artistic discipline begun in young childhood; if they believe that they do it only for their parents, they are likely to seek to reject it at this time. The task of handing teenagers a sense of their own agency and completion as they pursue their artistic discipline is one of the most crucial for adults involved in mentoring. The wellbeing of developing individuals depends upon it, as does the health of our society in coming generations.
For me as a mentor, working with this age group in transition from child to adult is one of great fulfillment, as I see young adults taking their work with music into their lives and thus into our future. It is also a place of artistic fulfillment for me, as these students are likely to be past their foundational technical training on their instruments, and able to begin to interact with the music and the craft of practice as creative agents.
My own training with some of the great musicians and teachers of our time, as well as my life as a solo and chamber musician have equipped me to work on the great music in the Western classical tradition. In addition, I have had the opportunity to work with musicians from North India, my first exposure to improvisation; with folk musicians; with contemporary composers; and with free improvisation. The pleasure of getting past the basic technique of our instruments and learning to work with a musical line in any of these genres is the heart of the art. In my teaching I feel a fulfillment unparalleled in working with emerging young musicians on this level, especially when I have had the privilege of being their teacher from their beginnings as four to six-year-old children. In the words of one of my mentors, Anthony Martin of the New Esterhazy Quartet, my goal is “to turn my students into colleagues as quickly as possible.” Similarly, it is a great pleasure to help adults discover their artistic voice on this beautiful instrument. Lifelong learning is potently rewarding in an artistic pursuit.