As I recorded my own pre-screening audition last semester, I also found myself making recordings of my students’ playing for the annual String Project Honors Recital tape submission.
Though I was playing Mendelssohn, Bach and Paganini while they were playing Lightly Row, the Ant Song, and Witches Dance, there were similarities in the way we all responded the camera lens.
By focusing a camera on the live performance of a piece, suddenly mistakes and inconsistencies were glaringly obvious. It seemed as if the expectations of our own playing increased tenfold as soon as we went from listening to ourselves while playing to watching a video after playing. My students and I found reserves of energy to make a piece just that tiny bit better to capture on video that we didn’t know we had.
Encouraged by the changes in my own playing and in that of my students, I began taping other students who weren’t attempting to audition for the honors recital. With the tool of the camera, we were able improve their playing as well.
When violinist Martin Beaver was visiting UT I asked him about this phenomenon. He mentioned the countless takes he has done in recording albums that have frustrated him, but also inspired him to improve his performance. He told me that he took heart in knowing that the recording is an honest snapshot, but just a snapshot, of how we perform. This snapshot has a lot to reveal to us about how we are and aren’t performing effectively, but it has the limitation of showing us the present and doesn’t give any indication of the past or the future.
I’ve almost become addicted to this honest snapshot. I record my teaching for regular review to see just how ineffective I can be. I record my practice sessions to watch myself waste time and do things incorrectly over and over again. I record myself performing to identify the gestures I’ve worked so hard on that aren’t coming through. The honest feedback, divorced from the internal dialogue and warped perceptions of our own mind, can direct me far more effectively than I can direct myself.
So I wonder if there isn’t more opportunity for us to document, review, and correct the work of our studios at all levels. Can we record our parent education classes? Can we record our group classes, master classes, and group performances? Can we record our teaching? Can we ask parents and students to send us recordings of their practice?
And maybe there is room to “record” even without a camera. Is there a way to receive feedback from a fresh set of eyes reviewing your online material and public facing profiles for the first time? Can you perform an objective review of the past five years of your studios growth? What do the numbers say? Can you invite a professional to audit your finances, your books, and the systems in place to maintain them?
Honesty is uncomfortable. Honesty is not what we are used to, but one cannot deny its effectiveness. Use honesty — via recording, auditing, or seeking expert feedback — as a tool to take your students, your teaching, and your studio to a new level.