August 2006 Convention
Pittsburgh, PA

Jeanne Baxtresser—Lessons Learned

August 12, 2006

Jeannie Baxresser, who this year received the NFA Lifetime Achievement Award, began her two-hour session by promising to tell the truth. “What made me better,” she said, “was not the moments of triumph, but rather the things that made me look into myself.”

Jeanne Baxtresser

Jeanne Baxtresser

The most important part of practicing, she noted, are fundamentals and clarity of execution. “Try to bring the environment of performance into your practice room. Don’t look or bend down. Play with an up and out attitude. And practice one element at a time.” Regarding the importance of imitation, Baxtresser said, “Follow your own path, and find your own voice. Don’t only listen to people who represent the ideal. Be creative in practicing. Slow down. We never arrive.”

Regarding teaching, Baxtresser said, “I’ve always taught the person. The level of advancement doesn’t matter to me. For musicians, athletes, scientists, what matters is that their first teacher gives them passion and love. Their second teacher, maybe in their high school years, keeps the passion going but starts instilling discipline and increasing concern about the future. The third, and fourth, teachers are the ones to really refine the art.”

Baxtresser considers working with others in an orchestra as the greatest gift in her life. She reminisced about repertoire she had played and specific instances with orchestral colleagues. “Sharing made it more meaningful.”

“Not everyone is going to love you,” she told us. “Embrace the adventure. This is show business. There are no guarantees. Humor is critical.”

Baxtresser noted that everybody in the orchestra dealt with nerves. She told herself, “I’m not going to be the victim of my own thoughts. I'm going to be the hero of my own life…Resilience is one of the most important words in this business. I have received devastating reviews, conductors who spoke negatively to me … It’s not how far you fall, it’s how fast you pick yourself up. You have to take bounces. Discouragement is normal. You won’t sound great every day. Don’t look to others for validation. You must have your own power. Don’t give off dismay with your face.”

She said that humility helped her, because if you put yourself on a pedestal, you’ve got a far way to fall. “Accept yourself, and let go of expectations. Don’t fight to make it be what you think it should be. Sometimes it will just go somewhere wonderful. The revelation of the journey holds true joy.”

—Helen Spielman