It’s only natural that some of my thoughts have been in reflection of my long friendship with Tommy Johnson. Among those thoughts were the many students we shared, to us it was a natural thing and was never problematic. In the 25 years that we both played and taught in Los Angeles we have recommended to dozens of students that they take some lessons from the other teacher. Similarly, I also remember receiving many telephone calls from Harvey Phillips over the years asking if I would please give lessons to a student who would be passing through Los Angeles. Fortunately, most of our brass community agrees with this practice of a student studying with more than one teacher.
It’s hasn’t always been that way, however, and even today we occasionally encounter jealousies and insecurities from some of our colleague teachers. It’s been known that certain tubists giving concerts in major European cities have been made aware that local students were discouraged from attending the concert. “I don’t want my students exposed to those kind of things” was the explanation given by the nervous teachers. However, human behavior being as it is, the ban on the concerts resulted in the very students who were discouraged to attend being all the more motivated to go and listen. There have also been occasions of masterclasses that were canceled, especially in the old Soviet block Eastern Europe countries because, “It would influence the students in a unhealthy direction”. Happily this kind of thinking is rare and diminishing.
Of course, there have never been any rules about studying with more than one teacher but there are a few commonsense things that deserve our thought.
Both for teachers and students it’s very important to be honest about the lessons; if it’s necessary to be secretive, which is a very clear sign there is a problem, one simply has to question if it’s worth it.
For students, it is a wise idea to avoid studying the same repertoire with both teachers, especially, when one of the teachers has strong and singular ideas regarding that repertoire. And as a teacher, I have avoided working on repertoire that another teacher is helping to prepare for an exam or a recital unless I have a specific request from the permanent teacher to do so.
It is always a very good idea that both the permanent and temporary teachers communicate as much as possible. A phone call from the permanent to the temporary teacher requesting he accept his student for some lessons is a wonderful way to avoid any awkwardness and, of course, it is a great advantage to the student when the two teachers can discuss the student’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s also a wonderful thing when the initiative to study with another teacher comes from the permanent teacher, especially when the permanent teacher can guide the student to the visiting teacher’s specialties.
The principal duty of a great teacher is to provide the student with as much quality information as possible and recommending study with other teachers certainly is part of that teaching responsibility. We are very lucky that this practice is usually accepted in our unique community.
December 20, 2006, Kyoto, Japan
Reposted March 31, 2010, Tokyo