Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ben Shaffer, MMME

I just got back from a recital by my trumpet teacher, Ben Shaffer, a graduate student in music education here at Ohio University. It was his graduate recital, which he performed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Music in Music Education. I mentioned in an earlier post that he has been an inspiring teacher for me, giving me a chance to experience the student-teacher relationship from the other side for the first time in over a dozen years. Tonight I was reminded of how that relationship can cut in different directions: I was terrified every second that he was going to make a mistake. I was like some kind of worried parent, or a fanatical fan at a sporting event. What I failed to realize is that real musicians, unlike aged hacks like me, actually know what they're doing when they go out on stage. If he made any egregious mistakes I didn't notice them--quite the contrary, I was blown away (non-intentional trumpet metaphor) by the quality of his playing. It gives me something to aspire to.

His program was very good, including baroque, late classical, and modern compositions. The final piece was a quintet that included my son's trombone teacher, which was kind of a rush since my son spends most of his time trying to avoid the guy. I almost felt like I should hide.

After the recital I went backstage to congratulate everyone, but I wish that there were some way to convey to them--especially the music education students--just how valuable their efforts are to folks like me. Good teachers are a treasure, and they are an inspiration because they are artists who love what they do enough to excel at it.

I mentioned that Ben's playing tonight gives me something to aspire to. That, too, is a gift of the student-teacher relationship. A good teacher gives his student something to aim for. Perhaps the best way to pay them back (other than literally paying them, which I'm sure they also appreciate) is to take our lessons seriously enough to excel at it ourselves, at least to the best of our ability. I doubt that I'll ever play as well as my teacher, Ben Shaffer, but because of his inspiring work as a teacher I will try my hardest to get better and better, and my motivation to get better will not be just so that I can entertain others or so that I can please myself by performing well--a substantial element of my motivation will be so that if someday I perform in a recital myself, and someone comes back stage to tell me how much they enjoyed my performance, I can say with great satisfaction, "Don't thank me, thank Ben Shaffer: he got me here."

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