Bringing Humanity into the Picture

 In Chamber Music, Empowerment

I just spent a weekend with my collaborator, Annie Fullard, who is the first violinist of the Cavani String Quartet (CSQ).

A weekend in the life of a teaching artist is very full.

20150207_104101From the time I landed at the Cleveland airport to the time returned to the airport to fly home, I attended two concerts and several coaching sessions, took a trip to the instrument shop, attended an early morning youth chamber orchestra rehearsal, and sat in on a string quartet master class. We carried five instruments and other assorted materials to and from the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM), I heard “conversations” between Annie and her son about getting his homework and practice completed, we had a dinner at a good restaurant where a friend’s birthday celebration took place, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at home cooked by Annie’s husband with a former wine critic who is married to a music critic. All of these events served as book-ends to seven hours of work on our book on Sunday.

Here’s what I observed: every activity, conversation, and action had the conscious purpose of serving humanity.

In particular, the message that Annie and her colleagues imparted to their students is that live music performance serves humanity in a multitude of ways.

Annie Fullard leading young chamber orchestra students

Annie Fullard leading young chamber orchestra students

CSQ, in partnership with Peter Salaff (former member of the Cleveland String Quartet and chair of the chamber music department at CIM), have created a set of chamber music programs that serves students from middle school through graduate levels. They coach over 40 student chamber groups each year. What is unique about their programs is that they coach as a team in addition to individual coaching sessions.

A stunning performance of the slow movement from Beethoven's Op. 127

A stunning performance of the slow movement from Beethoven’s Op. 127

The students in the Intensive Quartet Seminar master class cheered each other on as each group took the stage to perform a movement of their chosen Beethoven quartet. A member of each group stood in front of the audience to provide an explanation of the composer’s intention for that particular movement. Some students told the story of the composer’s life or the historical context at the time the composition was written. The faculty insists that each member of the group take a turn at connecting with the audience in this way.

Explaining the context in relation to the composer’s life teaches empathy for the composer as well as how to engage audiences.

Cavani Quartet members and Mr. Salaff team teach the IQS master classes. Annie told me that when she and the other Cavani members were students at Yale, members of the Tokyo String Quartet taught master classes as a team. CSQ decided to pass on the Tokyo Quartet’s legacy in this and several other ways.

How fortunate these students are to receive supportive appreciation and helpful guidance from 5 master teaching artists at the same time! 

Cavani Quartet & Peter Salaff Team Coaching at Cleveland Institute of Music

Cavani Quartet & Peter Salaff Team Coaching at Cleveland Institute of Music

Humanity is served through outreach as students get to experience the fulfillment of service.

All of the students in the IQS program are required to perform at outreach concerts. They make connections with people in the community and find ways to perform in schools and non-traditional spaces in order to bring live music to underserved parts of the community. Students told me that this requirement opened their eyes to the possibilities of how they could use music performance as a means to support social justice initiatives.

Students mentor each other in the art of working and performing together.

The younger students look up to the older, more experienced students who have been in the chamber music program at CIM for a while. CSQ teaches a set of rehearsal techniques that empowers their students to create a positive environment in which risk-taking and experimenting with ideas is supported. The Cavani often invites accomplished graduates of the program back to share their learning as professionals. Mentoring each other is expected, and the rewards are shared by everyone.

What lessons can we all learn from CIM’s chamber music program? When we bring humanity into the picture and combine it with our creative work, the possibilities to impact each other, communities, and the world multiply exponentially.

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