David Berman had taught at Ithaca College for only three years when I met him as a 12-year-old flute student. In the three decades that followed he made immense contributions to the Ithaca College School of Music and also to the greater Ithaca community through his annual solo recitals and numerous faculty chamber music concerts each year. He played in the Ithaca Chamber Orchestra and the Ithaca Woodwind Quintet, and was both a conductor and member of the Ithaca Opera Orchestra. At Ithaca College he built a vital flute studio and while teaching flute, music theory, and music history mentored untold numbers of students who now serve our profession as performers and teachers. As a faculty leader he developed and headed the chamber music program and chaired the committee that instigated such major changes in the music curriculum as making chamber music a requirement, requiring diction classes for all singers, and offering a 4.5-year program that combines music education and performance. In addition, during the three years that Berman served as Assistant Dean he instituted many improvements to the physical plant of the music school. He justifiably takes pride in those accomplishments, but above all, he is most proud of all his students, saying, “Students are your teachers.” How true!
How exactly did Dave Berman’s teaching make such a difference to me and the many students whom he mentored during the course of his professional life? In re-reading notebooks that contain his comments from lessons more than four decades ago, I’m continually struck by the life wisdom that was shared in those hours—lessons that always included a balanced diet of scales, etudes, solos, and assigned duets. As an example, here’s my entry for July 24, 1962:
Start competing with unseen competitors.
Aim for Carnegie Hall.
The USA is only one country in a huge world…
Plan to practice 3-4 hours daily.
Budget your time.
Immediately following those motivational words comes the practical, technical advice that I clearly must have needed:
While playing Taffanel Gaubert exercises, stop on a note and listen to your tone.Try to maintain brilliance in the upper middle register when going down.Don’t make the embouchure hole too wide for your lowest notes because too much air will escape.Try to get a good low tone before vibrating; vibrato is a camouflage.
Here are just a few other sample comments from other lesson entries:
Practice without stopping before hard passages in an etude.
Don’t think about your teacher’s possible reaction—Just play!
View criticisms in proportion.
Point the tongue for a clear staccato.
Practicing whistle tones requires a relaxed embouchure and good support. This will help develop tonal placement and embouchure strength.
In exploring tone and articulation there are never-ending complexities, deeper and deeper shades and details.
These quotes offer only a small glimpse of the spirit that made David Berman’s pedagogy so meaningful. He was demanding and he was honest; he was able to get to the heart of a technical or musical problem and help a student improve. How often he tried to help me achieve a sense of musical freedom, especially in music that had an ethnic quality, such as Bartok. At those times he would often ask me to sing, which I dreaded. (Not any more—I now sing all the time while teaching!) Most important, he possessed a well-honed sense of how and when to push or encourage, and he understood how each student’s background might affect his or her ability to approach and solve an issue. He was intuitive, kind, and effective—a winning combination of attributes for anyone in the teaching profession.
*The full text of Ms. Buyse's post, titled "Honoring David Berman," may be found on her website at http://www.leonebuyse.com/advice-inspiration/.
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