Virus alert: Are you losing your students?

One of the side-effects of the lockdown is that a handful of international performers, grounded for the first time in their careers, are advertising instrumental tuition online.

Professional teachers tell us that some of their students are dropping out in favour of a ‘star’ tutor.

If the tutors were Heifetz or Milstein, that might be excusable, but they appear to be mostly middle-rank performers with time on their hands and no regard for whom they might be harming. It’s a small-scale thing so far. Let us know if you have been affected.

Meantime, spare a thought for the professional examiners who have lost their occupation overnight. Here’s what we hear from one of them:

As you will know ABRSM cancelled all exams from last Wednesday. I knew that by seeing it on Facebook- despite being am examiner. Notification came to us in a mid morning email the next day. The examining panel is freelance. Compensation? Not a penny. When many orchestras and arts organisations are stretching themselves to the limit to do right by their freelancers, is it too much to think that a flagship, international organisation like ABRSM should do the same?

 

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  • A lot of the greats have time on their hands. Perlman has cancelled everything for months. He could surely do some video links from the Hamptons

  • I have always encouraged my students to take lessons and learn what they can from other teachers. On the one hand it exposes them to fresh ideas they are then able to think about and process – to incorporate into their own playing or to reject – and on the other I am gratified that they usually come back to me either inspired or relieved, or often a bit of both. I don’t see the problem; if these spurious stars are not helpful (and online teaching is nowhere near as effective as old-fashioned IRL tuition) the students will not be seduced away for long. If they prove to be genuinely more helpful – and reasonably affordable – the other teachers will need to up their game!

  • The profession is (and always has been) competitive. There is nothing unethical about being better than others and winning custom that had previously gone to others by virtue thereof. Of course, ‘star’ status does not invariably equate to being a better teacher, but being an experienced performer at a high level almost always enhances one’s competence as a teacher — even when teaching beginners, the experience of performing at a much higher level helps inform priorities and approaches (my own teaching is very much informed by “ideas and approaches I wish someone had cultivated in me when I started, rather than having to figure-out the hard way a decade later”).

  • There hasn’t been much evidence of blitz spirit in all of this — there has been a rather nasty “every man for himself” aspect to too many responses.

    • But that has mostly been the case in public music life since its birth in the 18th century. And that is because it is run by humans.

  • It is true that some fine performers have the sensitivity and knowledge to communicate their ideas to players and singers of a lesser level of development and skill.
    However the very necessary drive which makes them focus on themselves and their performing to rise to the top of the profession is not always an advantage in a teaching context.
    What is more the possibility of a lesson with a well known performer may be hard to resist. Students don’t necessarily know or evaluate accurately whether such a lesson would be appropriate at this moment in relation to their abilities. Such a lesson could be obtained by exaggerating ones abilities to the master performer too.

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