The violin teacher who influenced me the most was very old when I started studying with him. He had been a soloist before World War I – yes, you read that right, before the First World War, the Great War, whatever you would want to call that catastrophe and waste of human life at the beginning of the last century. He had studied with Sevcik in his youth. He used to tell me all kinds of stories and vignettes that illuminated the world of music for me, helping me to understand its beauty, the life of a musician, the life of a student of Sevcik (want to talk about really “old school?”), how times had changed, all things that have proved invaluable to me in later years, especially as a teacher. It was as if he wanted to give me those experiences that had had meaning for him. He died a few years after I started studying with him. How I wish I had paid more attention and asked a lot more questions. Now I was just a kid and can’t say that I really appreciated the significance of what he was telling me at the time, although it certainly was interesting. But it all took on ever more meaning as time went on and they are things I now pass on to my students.
Imagine my shock when an eminent violinist and university professor who has taught in famous conservatories and has among his alumni many well-known violinists, with as many decades of experience as I have (and that’s a lot of decades), told me about his recent experiences with his students. It seems now that he is forced to undergo “student evaluations.” That’s really bad enough. How can callow youths possibly understand what their teacher is really giving them, much less be put in a position of judging that teacher’s work – especially one with a long and distinguished career as my friend’s? Well, it seems they can – or are encouraged to, anyway. As I said, that’s bad enough – but what they criticized is what I found shocking. Continue reading