There are 220 iconoclasts at Putney!
Our students are very individual. Each one has different musical needs. Each brings a different vocabulary, a different intellectual language. My challenge is getting them to cohere, getting them to coexist. They help each other out. They are consistently bouncing ideas and reactions off each other.
As music teachers and conductors, mostly we are interpreting, filling in the gaps in theoretical knowledge and helping students to find their authentic musical voices. Music requires so much conceptual knowledge before you jump in; it is like learning another language. In order for a piece to live on, to provide inspiration, that language must be shared. Music is an act of interpretation. We are in dialogue with the composer when we work on a piece. What we do as performing artists is: get outside ourselves.
Teaching music involves mentorship. You must have a real personal connection with each student. This connection is a raw ingredient of progressive education. We help our students articulate who they are and where they want to go. I’ve never said ‘do as I do.’ I just don’t teach that way. I say ‘figure out who you are.’ There are many talented people here. Putney does a good job of throwing everyone into the pot and stirring it.
The school has a long, intense musical tradition. The emphasis is on effort—you are allowed to fail in the attempt. Talent is a process to be cultivated. You help them set goals and meet those goals. Sometimes they have to realize how much they have to learn ‘Wait a minute, I thought I was the best….’ Crying is good. As a professional musician, I also bring a reality check. But I don’t lay that burden on them. ‘You might not choose to pursue a professional career in music,’ I tell them. ‘But that doesn’t mean you are not a musician.’