Rebecca is a Vandoren Regional Artist. The goal of the Vandoren Regional Artist program is to enhance the quality of the music experience in your school. This is made possible by Vandoren and a network of woodwind professionals around the country with a passion for music education and performance.
VandorenUSA: You are an avid proponent of chamber music – why do you feel it is necessary to play in chamber groups?
Rebecca Berinsky: Chamber music is an awesome, intimate experience that is deeply, personally satisfying and is an outlet from the normal teaching day! In a lifestyle that’s largely gigging and teaching based, chamber music provides an opportunity to consistently play with the same group of people, elevating the quality of performance and collaboration to a level that you just can’t achieve in the time a weekend gig provides. Playing with the same people every week allows you to really get to know their playing, as well as the opportunity to hear things in the music that you may not catch without the longer-term exposure and thought. Also, as a full-time private teacher, weekly chamber music holds me accountable for my own playing -I don’t want to let myself or others down! As musicians, we all know that playing chamber music grows listening and communication skills, and that it requires a different type of personal responsibility than larger ensembles. Without a conductor, everyone must put a little more effort into the interpretation and ownership of the music.
You are involved in the woodwind quartet Passeri, a chamber group dedicated to sharing music with audiences young and old. How do you prepare your program to meet a diverse audience?
RB: Passeri’s first official concert was this past December. In terms of preparing the program to meet a diverse audience, it’s important to remember that music is timeless. There is no reason whatsoever that an 80-year-old and an 8-year-old can’t enjoy the same music. A lot of the stigma that classical music faces is based on the fact that people think it’s stuffy, for old people, and/or they aren’t sure how to behave in a classical performance (such as afraid of clapping at the wrong moment, etc). It’s not so much the programming that makes the performance accessible to a large range of ages so much as it is the way in which the music is presented. My groups try to maintain a more laid-back performance atmosphere; we encourage people to clap or move around whenever they want, and we make a point to talk briefly about our pieces before we play so the audience has something to reference or listen for as they experience a new piece of music for the first time. More on the ensemble at passerichambermusic.com
Do you encourage your students to form chamber groups?
RB: Absolutely! They don’t do it as often as I’d like, but this is largely because their school music programs, coupled with academic requirements, are so excellent and demanding that there’s often not enough time left for it. In an ideal world, every student would be part of a chamber ensemble established to last the entire school year, and they’d meet weekly for rehearsals and coaching. Can you imagine how this could affect the larger ensemble over a few years? But the fact of the matter is that there are only so many resources and hours in the week. When my students do play chamber music, I offer to coach them, but often times, busy schedules prevent this from happening. This makes me realize that I need to renew my push with kids to explore more chamber music!
Have you discovered any unique strategies that have helped you organize your clarinet studio?
RB: Staying on top of communication and scheduling is a must. During the last week of each month, I send out a comprehensive scheduling email for the coming month that lists any and all conflicts, and the resultant reschedule date/time or cancelation notice. A great effect of doing this is parents remembering to give me notice of scheduling conflicts when they see the e-mail.
How do you maintain your performance and practice time with such a busy schedule of private teaching?
RB: This is a constant challenge and struggle to balance, but in the end, I make it happen because practice and playing with others is crucial for being a good teacher! How can you teach and inspire others to grow if your own growth is stagnant or receding? So much of our playing comes from what we listen for; great players lead with their ears, and thus, I try to listen to something beautiful at the end of the teaching day. It’s amazing what you can get done in 3-5 minutes of focused practice between students if you ignore the urge to play on your phone. I take lessons with great players every few months to give myself something to work toward, and to be inspired and gain an outside perspective that feeds both my teaching and playing. Chamber playing helps immensely because it keeps my ears on and tuned to other people. It keeps me exploring new musical possibilities, and it also motivates me to get my horn out some days I might not otherwise do so. I also try to take at least one audition a year, because there’s no motivation quite like preparing for a high-pressure audition situation. Maintaining the quality of my playing means that my job lasts from 7:30 in the morning until 10 or 11 at night if I’m preparing for something big, because the bulk of my own practice has to happen after I finish teaching and doing paperwork. Being a teacher has grown my own playing immensely not just because teaching others clarifies and deepens one’s own understanding, but because my busy schedule has taught me to work efficiently, and to recognize the value and usefulness of small bits of free time. It’s all a journey.