My cello teaching emphasizes several fundamental goals: the natural use of the body in cello playing, the desire for better listening and analytical skills, and development of clear musical values and instrumental aspirations. Development of a strong kinesthetic awareness of the body and how it functions is a prerequisite for acquiring an excellent technical command of the cello. With such knowledge one can proceed to studying the instrument with paradigms of technique that involve less physical struggle and discomfort and, hence, better results. My students learn to play with ease and comfort.
When playing effortlessly and naturally one starts (with encouragement) to hear the sounds one is producing more accurately. With better listening comes clearer and self-generated awareness of technical weaknesses and strengths in one's playing, and—quite significantly—a keener desire to work out flaws in one's playing. With excellent listening and analytical skills students are more receptive to useful advice in lessons and coachings. This helps them to learn more quickly. Even more significantly, as a student develops a strong technical foundation, great listening skills, honest self-appraisals, and an array of powerful practicing strategies, the student grows to become an excellent teacher for him- or herself (and, eventually, for others). As this happens the aspiring cellist's progress takes off.
Even as my students and I work on the craft of cello playing, we spend a large part of our energy on the art of music making. My students are led to grow in compass not merely as cellists but, more importantly, as musicians.
Understanding the syntax of music and communicating through music coherently, intelligently, and uniquely are essential for a life with cello to have any long-term substantive value.
Weekly studio performance and technique classes are critical to a vibrant class of student cellists. Albert Einstein's comment about knowledge coming from experience shows itself to be true every time a student performs for his or her peers. All of my cello students must perform regularly.
The growth that performing solo cello literature encourages is paralleled by the regular study and performance of orchestral excerpts, another requirement of all my cello students. My students must study excerpts only in part to know the likely required repertoire for most orchestral auditions. The standard orchestral excerpts are in the audition canon because they encapsulate and exemplify so many of the instrumental and musical skills required of a professional cellist. Thus, the study of excerpts serves as both preparation for orchestral auditions and as a forum for exploring musical styles and technical mastery of the instrument.
I am honest about where my students are in relationship to their goals, but do not use shame or fear to motivate my students. I teach with great energy and enthusiasm, appealing to idealistic musical goals whenever possible. While my teaching continues to grow, the approach I outline here suits me and has been serving my students well. It will, I imagine, continue to be representative of my approach to teaching.
Dr. Wesley Baldwin
Professor of Cello and Chamber Music
University of Tennessee