August 2014 Convention
Chicago, IL

What to Teach: A Helpful Guide by Patricia George

Patricia George

The space for this lecture was standing room only, proof of the enormous respect master pedagogue Patricia George commands. She began with an overview, asserting that college students challenged by intermediate repertoire should consider a specialization outside music that they love and in which they could make careers. To this end, her personal definition of success lies in cultivating students who will play the flute for the rest of their lives, whether or not they do so professionally.

George’s definition of “playing” includes doing it intelligently, providing another challenge. The website of the National Association of Schools of Music states that a musical education creates students with a comprehensive knowledge of music, including theory and history alongside performance. How can a private teacher help an undergraduate develop this in only 84 lessons maximum? George recommends starting with what a student does not know. Every student can do something well and build upon that foundation, as George says, like “connecting links in a chain.”

This brought us to assessment, starting with physical setup. Anyone familiar with George’s books knows the importance of setup. Unfortunately, there was so much to cover that she could not speak about it at length, but it is telling that setup was the first item on the handout for the lecture, covering flute alignment, balance in the hands, and compensation for physical asymmetry while playing.

After setup George emphasized assessing every element of musicianship, as detailed on her handout. For this purpose, she has a preferred minuet by Kuhlau, which tests not only a student’s playing ability but also his or her sense of style and rhythmic awareness. Once assessed, a student can move into her prescribed curriculum, which organizes etudes and repertoire in order of difficulty and by style period, so that students becoming acquainted with a style for the first time can do so within a range of difficulty. Note that George is adamant about the importance of etudes in a student’s education, stressing that at no point should students cover fewer than two etudes per week and at times should learn as many as six.

Over the course of George’s talk, it became clear that knowing and structuring what to teach and how to teach are two sides of the same coin. As a teacher myself, it was refreshing to be reminded that while general approach is valuable, having a long-range plan is essential.

Patricia George

—Timothy Hagen

photos by Brian Covington