Thoughts On Giving A Public Lesson 

By Frøydis Ree Wekre 

It may happen, during a horn player’s life, that one needs to audition for a teaching position. Usually the Universities/Conservatories want to hear a small recital from each of the chosen applicants, maybe within the frame of 30 minutes or so. In addition, they like to get a feel for how the teaching seems to be. At the school where I taught most of my life, this teaching audition was an important part. The applicant was asked to teach, publicly, one bachelor and one master student, working on a specific and carefully chosen repertoire. 

I have chosen to call this a “public lesson”. In one way it is a «private lesson”, that is, NOT really a «master class», where one is expected to also involve the audience somewhat. In this situation there will be an audience there observing, but not expecting to get involved. Hence it could be called a «public lesson». Many of the suggestions to follow are relevant for giving a master class as well. 

What the commission normally wants to observe is the communication between the teacher and the student, what kind of information and suggestions the teacher puts forward, and in what way. Also, will the suggestions make an immediate and positive impact on the playing of the student? 

So, here is a list from me: 

1. Do shake hands with the student and ask for the name, the age or which year of study, maybe nationality, and then agree upon how much the student will be performing at first, without being stopped. For a movement of Mozart, for ex. a good length could be to play all the way to the reprise, or just the first part. For other pieces it could be ok to play the whole piece, or the whole first movement, for ex Strauss 1. This of course also depends on the total length of the session with this particular student. In any case, it is good for the psychology of the student to know that he/she will not be stopped suddenly. And the teacher gets a better understanding of where the student’s level is, and what could be improved, maybe on the spot. 

2. Let your first words after the playing be something positive and specific, f. ex. «thank you», or, «that was good», and «I (really) like your sound/intonation, phrasing/ dynamics, chamber music (if there is a pianist), whatever». There must be something that you like. Or «good high range» (if it is ok). Then, or even before you tell him/her your positive comment, you could ask the student what he/she thinks, or even better, first, what he/she thinks was good! (Some students are highly self critical and cannot really think of anything positive in their own playing…) Then, ask what elements of the music the student thinks could need to improve. Sometimes these kinds of questions can reveal surprising things about what goes on in the heads of the students. And after all, teaching is about helping them to learn, and learning – in the end – happens inside the person who needs to learn… 

3. Another starting point could be: «Please tell me something about this piece, or about the composer, or what does this title mean etc.» (of course for standard works like Mozart or Strauss not so much of this, but for ex for Villanelle and such pieces, or orchestral excerpts.) This would be an attempt to start with an overview, instead of jumping into details, like for example «I think this is too fast».  

4. Then the «regular» teaching can start. The choices are many. To give the student a long list of elements needing improvement? Or focus on one or two issues? Focus on the music? Or on the technique? Or on the mental side? Having check lists for each of those areas might be a good idea. 

5. For the music, here is a list: SOUND, INTONATION, RHYTHM, ARTICULATIONS, DYNAMICS. A list for the technique: BREATHING, POSTURE (including hand in bell), EMBOUCHURE (don’t go too far on this one, just mention it if necessary), possibly obvious TENSIONS. On the mental side: Was the student obviously nervous? Or maybe better not speak about this, but just make an effort to calm the person down and move the focus from the student’s personal inside feelings over to the musical goals, and possibly to some technical consequences. Having a couple of breathing toys at hand is always useful. 

6. Body language can be useful also, a little conducting (not too much) or showing phrases visually during the playing. 

7. Sitting or standing? Being close, or making a distance?  I would say to these questions that it is nice if the teacher sits down sometimes, especially when the student performs, like in the beginning. 

8. Demonstrating? Yes, but not too much. A few notes to show something can be very effective. Of course it is an art to pick up the horn cold and play well, but I still  remember that my old teacher was an expert on this…  a truly useful skill. 

I think I stop here for now. I just want you to reflect more on the role of the teacher and all the choices, etc. etc. 

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