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Thoughts on Masterclasses

As someone who is always trying to gather as much information as I can, I have had the privilege to take lessons and masterclasses with various harpists around the world - Jana Boušková, Milda Agazarian, Isabelle Moretti to name a few. I strongly believe that it is important to learn from other teachers aside from your own as it provides you with new views and ideas about music.


Coming out of these classes, I have been so inspired to practice but also totally upset and wondering why I play the harp. I even had one teacher tell me that I should change my harp teacher as I was not being taught “the right things.”


A "bad" masterclass can affect one pretty negatively. It becomes stressful emotionally and mentally which might in turn affect our confidence in our music. I have struggled with this in the past, but over recent years I chose to approach masterclasses with a different mindset. And I daresay it has benefitted me much more positively, so I would like to share these tools to hopefully benefit others.



Approach with an Open Mind

I was not always so open to new ideas. From young, I had strong opinions and believed that there is right and wrong in music. Well I still have my strong opinions but some of my perspectives have changed. I always thought that world famous musicians would always be "correct" - that's why they became so good and famous right..?


Totally wrong! If there was a correct way to play a piece, then there would only be 1 way which would be absolutely boring as everyone ends up playing the piece the same way. (Of course there are correct ways to play a piece in the style, but I'm talking in terms of interpretation..and I'd like to think that that is pretty much free for all)


Every teacher teaches differently and has their own opinions. You never know what you are going to learn from this experience. Don’t go with a mindset which you want the teacher to keep praising you. or to give you the secret to good technique (which by the way, is practice and time). Instead, go in with an open mind and be willing to learn! If you listen carefully, sometimes you come up with better musical ideas or get inspired to create new ones. Absorb as much you can in this mere 20-40 minutes with this teacher and you will emerge much better - I promise!



Take the Good :) and Consider Carefully the Bad :(

After absorbing everything that you can, take some time after the class to reflect about what information you just got. What was good? What was not so good? If you change will it benefit you?


Whatever good new things that you learn during the class, take it and internalise it fully. Use it for your own benefit and change if it helps.


But what about the bad? I say consider carefully for two reasons. I had an experience of being made to change to one school during the class and it was not entirely pleasant. I understand that this method was what the teacher has learnt and taught her entire life and it fully works for her hands, but it absolutely did not work for me. Sure, I did change and seem interested to change during the class. But after the class, I knew it was bad for me as it made me so tense. So I never bothered about it again.


On the other hand, I was scolded so terribly in another class because I had "poor technique". I was so angry after because I thought the teacher was simply rude. Although I wanted to completely reject what she said (it was denial, really), I mulled over it for a few days and realised that I INDEED HAD BAD TECHNIQUE (see, denial is easier). So I decided to work really slowly and carefully to strengthen my fingers as I needed and I improved! Sure, I don't have as fantastic a technique as a wonder kid plays Moldau in her sleep but I definitely am tons better than before that rubbishy masterclass. Yes it was not a pleasant experience and the teacher could totally have said things in a nicer way but I don't blame her for anything. Instead I thank her because if I didn't have that, I might very well still have had a disgusting technique.


While both experiences were bad for me, I learnt what did not work for my hands and what I needed to do to become better. Both are extremely good things in my opinion. Instead of rejecting or embracing fully, think instead that what you can learn from the class. Be it an idea or a technique, some things may or may not work for you. A teacher might hear a passage in a completely opposite way then yours but both might make sense. Neither is there a perfect school nor an incorrect method. Everyone has different hands and fingers and what suits one might be entirely uncomfortable to another. Take what is useful and utilise it to its full potential for your own self. I cannot emphasise this enough.



Discuss with a Trusted Teacher

As a young musician who is learning, you think the masterclass teacher is always right and when she gives you a negative comment your world collapses and you fall into a pit of depression. Please don't but seriously as a child, sometimes you have no idea what is good or bad for you.


Thankfully, I've had such amazing teachers who have always been open and available for me to ask questions (nonsensical and not). I give them the feedback I get from the masterclass and have a open and honest discussion with them. Sometimes they congratulate me but other times, they tell me that yes we have to work on that. If I didn't discuss my "poor technique" masterclass with my teacher, I would never have bothered to change. Discussing with someone who has more knowledge and experience helps you identify what actually works for you. From there, you move on and change things as you need to become a better musician. After all, that's why we're attending masterclasses for am I right?


So I highly recommend approaching masterclasses with an open mind. Be so ready and willing to absorb everything. Take what is good and works for yourself, and consider carefully what is bad. After the class, always discuss with a trusted teacher if these are things you should keep or work on.


While I cannot guarantee that these steps will help you emerge 10000% better, these tools have helped me approach a masterclass with a healthier mindset. Don't lose sight of what a masterclass should be - a lesson for you to gain new ideas and perspectives. It should never be a showing off of skills or a ego trip. Neither should it make you so upset with yourself that you want to give up music. We all have good and bad masterclasses. But only from them do we actually learn and become better.


xx, lishan

©2019 by lishantheharpist

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