Teaching Studio

Teaching is something many musicians do reluctantly, either because it can distract from professional activity, or due to mixed motives coming from professional frustrations. Fortunately, many also teach from a love for it, and I consider myself very lucky to be in that group.

 

Teaching for me has two main goals. The first goal is to help each individual student discover and grow into their personal mastery, to help them awaken that potential and locate the perfect key at each moment to further their musicianship. I am like a locksmith, providing the key of instructions, but it is the student who walks through the open door. The key is usually either something to do or something to let go of doing. This is sometimes extremely specific and at other times as broad as is imaginable.

 

The second goal is to preserve and transmit the important pedagogical lineages of Joe Allard and Thomas Nyfenger, both of whom I was so lucky to study with at length. A lineage needs to be kept alive by individuals who themselves dig deeply into the techniques and insights that are given them; I feel strongly that it's important to pass on these teachings in a clear, well preserved and complete way. Both these master teachers taught coherent, complete systems of playing. Interestingly, although Tom and Joe didn't know each other well, their systems fit together wonderfully and without conflict, which is great for those of us who are working to not only play, but to master the flute, saxophone and clarinet. These systems work well for so many students, who then can use the insights and tools in individual ways to suit their musical needs and desires.

 

All musicians have different goals, and many students have suffered from being forced into ways of playing which do not reflect their own way of loving music. Many times I have seen fine professional players who have lost their true spark for music, primarily from having developed in directions which are not honestly meaningful for them. For such musicians, as well as younger students, the goal is always to help them find their own sound, all within the necessary structure of honoring musical style, playing well in tune, projecting their sound, having full technical ability, etc.

 

Each person has a unique body and if each of us can learn to be open and vibrating in their physical body, with our ears in charge of how to use that resonant body, then music making will be easy, healthy, and compelling to listen to. From there, winning auditions or breaking into freelance circles will be much easier… and much more satisfying when achieved.

The main feature which separates my teaching from that of other good teachers is the emphasis on clearing old habits before training in new techniques. Usually students arrive seeking new things to do, but we often begin with the process of discovering and releasing tensions which are in the way, before addressing the ideal playing techniques. It's an individual process, sometimes long, sometimes short, but the principle is the same: we must clear excess tension before building true technique, or our abilities will be based on a problematic foundation, a situation which causes many musicians terrible problems later on, even if they are hard working enough to compensate successfully and manage to sound great for some time.

 

Contributing to this approach is the integration of knowledge from the healing arts of Asia, which I have studied for over fifteen years. Central in all healing and self-cultivation traditions are methods for opening the breath. The breath is not only what we use to make sound, it is the 'crossroad' between the physical body and the spirit. While some of these methods can be used in their traditional/classical form by musicians without formally entering a full practice, I have very gradually developed many translated breathing exercises, each designed to open a specific aspect of breath for wind players and singers, and any who are interested. I feel strongly that the best use of breath is also a healthy use, and that playing music with breath, hands and ears all completely integrated protects the player from any potential problems (such as muscle or tendon problems) and gives true and natural voice to the performer's musicality, which is what an audience member really wants.

 

Qi gong is Chinese for 'life-breath practice', and is a huge collection of ancient (and some new) exercises involving the breath, physical postures and movements as well as the mind. Integrating movement with breathing and awareness is the way to develop the basis for masterful and free music making, as well as the method to reverse the causes of problems musicians too often suffer from, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, TMJ or the problems called focal dystonia. In my teaching practice, I often am asked to help musicians with such problems, and while I always insist that the person continue with 

appropriate medical care, it is often possible for them to make great progress through careful identification of sources of tension and the practice of basic qigong exercises. In cases of debilitating dysfunction, it is possible to impeccably retrain playing methods, beginning with stance, breathing, neck and shoulder use, then arm, wrist, hand and finger use. In such cases, everything in a player's life may be involved, and if the desire to play is genuine and strong, it is possible to rebuild pain-free playing successfully.

 

For musicians free of such problems, it is a pleasure to train 'doublers' in the flute, 'straight' players in breath, hand use, repertoire or improvisation. In all of this work I am heavily indebted to my master teachers. Even so, a teacher's job is to empower the student, and I always have felt invited by my great teachers to use my own instinct and intelligence to research my own answers to the fundamental questions of music and music making, something which I am continually striving to do. My teaching, then, is a respectful combination of the systems of those I have learned from, the research I have done through obsessive listening to recordings of the great masters of many instruments and styles, including great historical flutists, such as Dufrene, Barrere, Gaubert, Lebon, Rampal, Kincaid, Baker, Moyse, and the insight traditions of tai ji, qigong and other formerly secret healing and meditation practices from Asia. I am always grateful to my students, many of whom are also colleagues in the music world of NYC, for the inspiration to constantly develop deeper and clearer ways of communicating the ways in which music and our instruments work. This work is ongoing and is equally important to me as my composition and recording work, and the major performing that I do in NYC and on tour. News about specific how-to articles will be posted on this site periodically.

 

My own teachers in saxophone and clarinet include Joe Allard, Eddie Daniels and Ray Ricker, along with Jack Cohen, my first good teacher. On the flute, I studied intensively with Keith Underwood, William Bennett, and above all, Tom Nyfenger, who taught me not only how to play the flute deeply and truly well, but how to be my own best teacher.

In tai ji and qigong, I have studied extensively with Sat Hon, Jung-Ping Yuan, Jeffrey Yuen and others. In dzogchen I am extremely fortunate to study with Namkhai Norbu and Lama Garchen Rinpoche. I consider all these studies, not available in the West until quite recently, to be both profoundly beautiful and incredibly useful in daily and musical life. 

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