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terwilligerPerhaps the greatest challenge a teacher faces is finding a way to motivate their students. Sometimes even the most talented young players are not able to find a way to develop their talent to the level of mastering our wonderful instrument, while a student with average talent does.

The flame of motivation that students may have during a lesson when they strive to play their very best for their teacher, or during a concert while under the spell of an audience, may fizzle out during the long hours of practice time that are necessary to first develop their talent and then maintain the performance edge during a lifetime of happy horn playing.

I have always used mental images to motivate me. I was very fortunate to have access to an extensive collection of recordings of symphonic music when I was a child. The heroic sound of Roland Berger soaring above the Vienna Philharmonic in a Strauss tone poem became a part of my horn concept as well as the noble phrasing and velvet sound of Philip Farkas playing the first phrase of the the Brahms second piano concerto. Indeed when I was sixteen I would listen to a phrase and then run down to the basement and attempt to duplicate it.

To this day I never play a single note without filling my mind and soul with the sound of the note vibrating in the acoustic of one of my favorite halls. Before I was fortunate enough to play in these halls, I thrilled myself by imagining that I was. The mental images help me to focus my mind, eliminate distractions and keep me in the flow of the moment.

The countless hours of personal practice that every budding musician needs to put on the clock can be drudgery if done in a mechanical manner. I encourage my students to listen to examples of great musicians transcending their instruments and flying with music, no matter what instrument or voice so that they also can learn to enthrall themselves with our glorious art form. They learn not only to imitate a specific horn sound but to become thrilled with the energy that any great artist manages to float on sound waves.

Instilling positive practice habits is a part of my teaching concept. I always emphasize the importance of eliminating distractions during practicing. In our modern world, digital distractions are a constant temptation. Smart phones, tablet computers etc. should only be used as metronomes, tuning machines, recording devices or sheet music substitutes!

The importance of mental preparation before playing became obvious to me after my first mistakes before an audience. If I want to be totally focused in concert, this is what I strive for during practicing, which is indeed preparation for performance. If I make a mistake while practicing, I stop, analyze the mistake, think of how to correct it, relax - focus, hear the first note of the phrase resounding in the venue where I will be playing the concert, and then play again. A repetition without this is often just a useless repetition of the same mistake. We are not playing tennis! There is no referee calling, “Net!” when the first entrance cracks. There is no second chance to start Bruckner 4th. We have to learn how to get it right the first time.

One last word of advice for teaching: most students have a built in “bulls**t detector”. Make sure that the advice you give comes from personal experience and is not something that you may have heard. Practice what you preach. Preach what you practice.

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