Master Class – Letting go of the Teacher Ego


(Me and Rena goofing around.  But we worked hard this weekend.  And my students got the best of it.)


So, I’m taking a sick day but had still hoped to get some writing done.  As I was sitting here at my desk, feeling a little woozy, scrolling my Facebook feed, and wondering how to put into words the benefits of this weekend’s visit to my studio by Rena Urso-Trapani, I came across this quote from Michel Debost, posted by Flute Talk editor Patricia George:

Tip of the Day: “Tradition is what some teachers inflict on students, much like parental authority; and one difficulty in being a teacher (or parent) is letting go of the younger generation. Creating bonds is important, but it is just as crucial to break them. It is important for students to learn everything possible from professors, mastering an assignment for its own merit, not just to please a teacher. As students move on they should create a personal magic from lessons learned well. Teachers should nurture, not possess young souls. Claims on a talented adolescent as ‘mine’ or ‘yours’ can only hinder a student’s search for self-expression. Try to resist feeling betrayed at a student’s decision to study with a new teacher, encouraging him instead to study with someone whose teaching style is virtually opposite. A good professor is always remembered, notwithstanding later teachers.” Michel Debost, Flute Tradition or Labor Camp, Flute Talk, February 1992. (Click Like on the Flute Talk facebook page.)

I’ve written before about letting go of the ego as a performer and teacher, and this weekend’s experiences allowed me to put that into practice.  Debost’s words sum it up beautifully.  I am a member of the “It takes a village” teaching philosophy.  For young students, it’s important to have one primary teacher to guide the learning experience, but no one teacher has ALL the answers.  For instance, I think I’m a pretty good teacher, but I have struggled with teaching certain concepts which came easily to me.  (Dear Chris Potter, thank you for The Vibrato Workbook.)  So, I encourage my students to go to master classes, which is a great way to observe other teachers and students in action, and to even put yourself under another teacher’s observation microscope.

We live a good 60 minutes from the closest metropolitan area, and so my students, while ready for the master class experience, don’t always understand the value of the master class.  I’ve made it my goal to bring the master class experience to them.

Rena Urso-Trapani is a good flutist friend from my west coast days.  She’s now an L.A. freelancer and Andover (Body Mapping) Educator, but when she lived “up north” near me, we spent a lot of time discussing and helping each other’s students.  We’d send students back and forth, arrange mock auditions for them, and collaborate on guest artists.  It was wonderful to have a colleague who felt the same as I did about the “takes a village” method.  Because Rena is fully aware of my teaching philosophy, she dug right in with my students, both in the master class and in lessons, and the results were fantastic.  Sooo many light bulb moments this weekend.

And the great thing about light bulb moments is that I can build on them with my own students.  And what if Rena said something that directly contradicted something I say?  SO. WHAT.  My grandmother was fond of the phrase, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  I repeat this to my (sometimes horrified) students.  Because surely if there is more than one way to skin a cat (which I imagine to be fraught with complications), there is more than one “right” way to play the flute. 

And what if the master teacher says THE EXACT SAME THING YOU’VE BEEN TELLING YOUR STUDENT AT EVERY LESSON FOR A YEAR and all of a sudden they’re like, “Oh, that’s the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard!” (Teacher face palm.)  Every parent can relate.  But, you know, that kid now gets that concept you’ve been hammering in their head so loud and often that it’s become white noise.  Someone else said it, in maybe a slightly different way or a different tone of voice.  And then they got it.  Does it matter who said it?  It doesn’t.  You’ve led the student to this moment.  If you need to take pride in something, take pride in that.

I’ve known teachers who isolate their students, and who actually feel that allowing the student to have a moment with another teacher will be detrimental.  Baloney.  This is the teacher’s ego talking – I’ve never seen it come to anything else.  Recently, a student of mine joined a local flute choir, whose members include everyone from adult amateurs, band directors who like to play, and retired professional flutists.  I made it clear to the group that I’d appreciate all the help they could give her.  Certain members of this group have practically adopted this kid as their “flute niece”, and every Sunday evening, she is treated to honest and gently delivered criticism and praise.   Her playing is opening up and soaring as a result.  How could a teacher possibly mind?


About fluteromano

An active freelancer, private teacher, and university professor settles down to raise a few kids in a small town. For my professional bio, please see my studio website:

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