Engagement and Passion for Music, and Young People

mahniUpon the invitation of Prof. Ab Koster, it is with great joy that I respond and write this contribution for the International Horn Society!

(In the interest of simplicity, I will use the masculine form for pronouns hereafter, but of course I am referring to female and male students, teachers, etc.)

When I first meet a new student, I pay attention to several things. Of course it is important to me how far the student has developed in his own instrumental technique. It is naturally best for both parties (student and teacher) if a good and solid technical foundation already exists: by this I mean breathing, embouchure, and other technical requirements such as double-tonguing, lip trills etc. etc. etc., all necessary to master the instrument. BUT: more important to me are two points:

  • Does the chemistry work between the student and myself? Do I have the feeling that mutual trust is possible between us? Does he understand my language? By this I don’t mean the spoken language, rather a deep understanding between two people. The student places himself in the hands of the teacher, and the collaboration can only be successful, the student can only thrive, when he can trust: on the one hand trust himself, on the other hand, the teacher! You can almost say that both enter into a relationship! This also explains why even the most successful and “best” teachers may not be right for every student. It is therefore extremely important for me, when possible already before the entrance exam where I must decide if the collaboration will take place or not, to have the opportunity to get to know the student: for myself, as much as for him.
  • Is a true desire present as well as the ability for musical expression? In order to be a professional musician over the long haul, it is vital to have a passion for music. By this I mean understanding music, loving it, and also having the need to communicate musically. It is close to my heart not just to train horn players that can make music, rather to train musicians that can play the horn. This sentence holds much meaning for me. Musicians who play brass instruments shouldn’t reinforce the negative stereotypes that seem to accompany being a part of this guild, but should have the same high musical standards as the best musicians on any instrument. 

I also wish here to mention the importance of working together with other musicians! Sometimes it takes the conscious decision to WANT to work and play TOGETHER with colleagues in an ensemble or also in a large orchestra. Without this willingness, the preparation on one’s own instrument isn’t very useful…. Social competence therefore is also essential to our career.

THEREFORE: You can easily learn technique! Passion for music and human qualities, not so much!

Here I would like to elaborate on the relationship between teacher and student: I see myself as a teacher in many different functions. Thus I am naturally asked initially to transmit the fundamentals of playing technique alongside as deep and a detailed musical knowledge as possible. At the same time, I am a coach, reference person and sometimes practically a therapist…so I find it crucial to give the student a good preparation for the daily life of an orchestral musician. On the one hand, I can give him advice and tips about how I stay in shape, how I can develop a healthy routine to keep my playing level high over a period of many years. I am also in a position to help explain some of the other things that crop up besides the musical concerns – here we are back with social skills and the importance of team spirit! We have to interact with all kinds of different people in the orchestra. This can be a challenge under certain circumstances, but also enriching and interesting! A certain curiosity and openness towards other people can be a huge help in this area.

In no other course of study do you encounter this one-to-one nurturing the way we find it in private instrument lessons. During the course of studies, I am a very important person in the life of the students - at the beginning especially, less as the student advances; the best-case scenario is that a student wins a position in an orchestra before receiving his diploma and of course continues to mature and develop more exact ideas about what he wants and does. It is comparable to the relationship a child has with his parents: at the beginning the child needs his parents very much and is oriented towards them. As he grows and becomes older, he broadens his horizons and sphere of influence; he forms more and more his own opinions in order to achieve independence and stand on his own two feet. It’s a bit like this between teacher and student as well. Therefore it is important that the interpersonal aspect works – we don’t bind ourselves together forever, but for a period of several years nonetheless! ;-)

While writing these lines, it once again becomes clear to me how exciting the job of being a teacher is – I am always engaged with inquisitive people, over time with many different but equally wonderful human beings! And it is this that I love so much about being a teacher!


Sibylle is solo-hornist with the Frankfurter Museumsorchester at the Opera Frankfurt and professor for horn at the State Academy of Music Saarbrucken (Hochschule für Musik Saar).

Translation: KMT