Relaxation in the Studio

By Maggie Wheeler Ross

We have all heard of the teacher who read magazines, wrote letters, prepared programs, or otherwise occupied himself while actually giving a lesson. This, of course, is unjust to the pupil, for he has paid for this time and the physical and mental efforts of the teacher belongs to him, just as much as does any other purchased article. In my opinion, however, it is equally as unfair to the well started pupil to sit beside him through an entire lesson. Where this is the habit, and the class is large, the pupils following in rapid succession, it is nothing short of “musical murder” to the pupils who come late in the day.

How can anyone sit all day beside a piano, going through a routine of exercises, pieces and studies, and not become mentally and physically exhausted? They must grow nervous, cross, and fretful, or dull and lethargic, according to temperamental tendencies, and neither condition is conductive to first-class teaching, or satisfactory learning. Of course the phlegmatic, unemotional. mechanical, wooden-headed teacher can stand this sort of thing unharmed, but such a temperament is never found in the successful teacher–the one who makes artistic, brilliant, or heart-stirring players.

I always arrange my lessons in three divisions–technic or finger exercise, studies, and pieces, allotting the time about equally upon each division, unless the individual case requires special arrangement. I take the technic first, for it limbers the fingers, and makes ready for the studies. I put the pieces last, because usually they interest the pupil more than the other work, and he is anxious to play them after the fatigue of a lesson on the dryer stages.

I find a pupil will seldom do good technical work if he is already worn with piece and study playing. I like to have them go at the technic with a fresh active mind. I never leave the pupils’ side during the practice of technical exercises or studies–watching them most carefully for hand position, or errors of fingering, etc., but I have learned that it is a great advantage to both the pupils and myself to cross the room and listen to the performance of the pieces at a distance, rather than at their side. The advantage to the pupil is two-fold, it gives him more freedom and greater confidence. The advantage to yourself is enormous. You change your position, which rests you physically, and enables you to be more alert mentally, thereby making you a better and more patient critic.

Again, this rest comes at the end of a lesson, and you are therefore in a better condition to begin the next lesson; and thus do a more noble part towards the pupil who follows. Do not let any other work occupy your mind because you have left his side. Teach yourself to recline in a relaxed position in an easy chair, or, stand, or even walk noiselessly back and forth at the other end of the room, while you watch your pupil for the proper use of wrists, arms and shoulders, and grace and ease of position while playing, and listen for mistakes in harmony or phrasing, accuracy of tone, and delicate management of the pedal. Keep a mental note of the corrections you wish to make, or suggestions you have to offer, but under no circumstances interrupt the performance until the piece is finished. The stumbling, halting manner, in which many pupils deliver their pieces is caused by the unwise interruptions of unthinking teachers during the practice at lesson time. If you are sitting right beside the pupil the temptation to make the interruption is far greater than it is from across the room, where you assume the part of an interested listener. Undoubtedly the pupil’s main object is to play pieces, the parents and other relatives of the children demand and expect it. the more mature student longs for it, therefore let it be a large part of the study, and aim to make it as artistic and profitable as possible.

I once received instruction from an enthusiastic teacher who had two small teaching rooms opening into a large reception hall. As his pupils arrived they were ushered into alternate rooms by his attendant. The master thus changed his room and surroundings with each pupil. Few of us can afford two teaching rooms, two pianos and an attendant, but we can arrange our own affairs to fit the case, and rest our mind and body by a change of position, to the great benefit of all concerned. Annie Payson Call has proved that there is power through repose. Repose does not mean lethargy or in animation. You must enthuse if you awaken the best in your pupil. You cannot enthuse if you sit all day in the same chair, by the same instrument, and teach the same things over to a lot of pupils who show many of the same characteristics and inclinations.

Move about your studio as much as you can consistently, and relax frequently. Your pupils will gain thereby, and you will be less of a wreck at the end of a hard day’s work.