Teaching is a passion for me. As an in-demand guest clinician, adjunct professor at NYU, and a founder of the Northland Timpani Summit, teaching is a cornerstone of my commitment to being a well-rounded and continually improving musician. I’m eager to educate and pass on what I have learned.
“What I’ve learned” has been somewhat unique, given my unorthodox path to the MET Orchestra. I was appointed principal timpanist in 2013; prior to that, I worked for 10 years as a senior scientist at a nanotechnology company in Chicago. I double-majored in physics and music as an undergraduate, and earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering. I did not attend a conservatory, nor do I hold a graduate degree in music. But for me, that’s actually been an asset — I feel that I’ve gained unique insight into the mutually-reinforcing realms of science and music, particularly in terms of how to engineer an audition process and what it really means to practice.
So, while I did not attend a conservatory, I crafted my own experience that closely simulated it. I did so by investigating and implementing “deliberate practice” — a term derived from research documented in the highly-influential book Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin. I personally subscribe to its founding assumption: if there even is such a thing as “natural talent,” it becomes essentially irrelevant over the time frame it takes to “get really good.” The far more dominant factors are both how much you practice, but more importantly the quality of that practice. Therefore, the question I want students to ask themselves is not “am I good enough right now?” but rather “am I willing to do the work?” The focus and intensity of that work determines your trajectory, and that is by far the most important thing.
Decades’ worth of scientific literature have illuminated the “deliberate practice” concept of efficient and effective practicing, and I encourage students to employ its most essential attributes; these include continuous “feedback loops” achieved through self-recording, extensive analysis, and playing for others who don’t play your instrument (mock auditions). I emphasize that mistakes are natural, and that “failure” should be embraced and reframed as “ongoing constructive growth.”
Our collective dedication comes from a passion for music-making. Music-making is expression, and expression requires inspiration. Puccini said, “Inspiration is an awakening, a quickening of all human faculties, and it is manifested in all high artistic achievements.” But as Brahms said, “without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.” It’s not enough to just feel the music well; I want to provide students the best means for refining its craft.
Finally, I believe it is essential to adopt a healthy philosophy of auditioning; even the best players have lost far more auditions than they’ve won. It is far more productive to focus on the process rather than the product. A good process will ultimately yield good results. As part of that process, I want to help students discover their own artistic voice. I prefer polishing the metals of musicianship rather than attempting full scale alchemy. I want to help students develop their own methodology for making thoughtful and convincing musical decisions, ultimately becoming their own best teacher. Because as Yoda says, “we are what they grow beyond.”