I don’t teach cello privately much these days. Not at the moment. There are parts of it I don’t really like – and I was reminded of it a few days ago.

I’m a very good cello teacher, in particular for children in primary school. These children interest me – I like solving their learning problems as they learn to play the cello (which isn’t that easy to learn, if you are wondering). I like watching them learn to love the cello. I like watching their brains spark as they trust their creativity. I like getting to know them – hearing about what is important to them, what has made them happy or sad. Because that’s part of being a good one-on-one music teacher. (Actually, it’s part of being a good teacher in general…)

You see, if you are a good instrumental teacher you have a number of jobs to do. You are building your student’s skills on whatever instrument – but also their sense of self-belief, their creativity, their courage and their humour. You are part counsellor. You are part friend. You are part teacher. You have to instil a want to get better without being too strict. You have to allow your student to feel OK when they make a mistake  both in a lesson, and in a concert. You are teaching them resilience, and delayed gratification. You are teaching them to love something.

So my question is this…. If you ARE doing all these things, as a music teacher, why do parents think it’s OK to treat you like you are no better than say, a caterer for an event. (I’m sorry if there are any caterers out there reading this. I wasn’t sure what else to write. An un-trained car-washer?) Why do they think it’s OK to pay you late? Why do they think it’s OK to ask you to accompany your ex-student at the drop of a hat, (well, that part’s fine), but then get offended when you decline (that part’s not)? Why do they think it’s OK to demand, demand, demand?

I have friends who are one-on-one instrumental teachers, and they all have stories like this. It’s why I walked away and stopped teaching. Not because of the kids, but because of the parents. And you know what? I reckon these particular parents wouldn’t talk to their surgeons, or lawyers like they do to teachers – and yet we are the ones looking after their kids.

Or maybe they would.

I know you all know I have just been recording a heap of music. It all sounds very glamorous, doesn’t it? “I’ve been in the studio…”.

It’s not, you know. It’s hard work. And requires enormous amount of concentrating. And after all that sitting four four days, I got a really sore bum.

Some players I know really like it. But I am not one of those people. But I’ve written that before, in some blog post not-so-long-ago. But I am amazed at people who don’t really know what goes on. So, if you read this blog , and you do know what goes on then now is the time to walk away. See you next time I write. Hopefully then it’ll be something more engaging for you. Sorry ’bout that….

But if you don’t know what goes on, there’s a few ways. There are generally two ways….

WAY THE FIRST (probably didn’t get the ‘Messiah’ joke there. The music of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ is in three parts. They aren’t numbered ‘Part A’ or ‘First part’, but ‘Part the first’, ‘Part the second’… I always found it odd. Now that I’ve actually explained my not-so-funny joke, it’s now even less funny. Even more not-funny. Ah well…) OK. Back to ‘Way the First’. Musicians play through the whole piece. If someone makes a mistake, everyone pretends it didn’t happen (and is secretly pleased it wasn’t them.) The players try and ‘perform’ the particular piece as much as possible, as they would in a concert. This is hard, as there’s no-one in front of you – just a bunch of leads, and microphones, maybe a tea mug. You do this three or four times. Then the producer will tell you if there’s a consistent problem – like “Guys, we need a clean bar 27.” Then you play just around that little part, and it’s eventually patched in. This is a fairly pleasant way of doing things. You can calm down, and really enjoy playing. It’s quite close to performing.

WAY THE SECOND You choose the chunk of bars you are going to tackle. Maybe from the start to the end of bar 12. Then you play just that part over and over again. Maybe 7-8 times? Just those bars. Then hopefully you get the thumbs up from the producer, and you move onto the next chunk. Totally unreal. For me, totally frustrating. For me, not-so-pleasant.

So now you know. Others may do this differently, but this seems to be the way most people work. The magic happens in the editing studio, with the super-patient editor and their ears. I am not the editor. I do not have the patience (if you know me, you can stop laughing now. I know… I have no patience AT ALL.).



I hate recording. And in two weeks I’ll be doing it again. Some musicians really like it – but I am not one of them. You see, you need to walk a delicate line – you want things to be exciting, risky. You want to have a feeling of spontaneity and celebration – like a concert. But then you need to be able to play things accurately – and the more risks you take musically, the less accurate you become. Some things are fine in a concert – a slightly out-of-tune note here, and missed cue there – but these don’t cut it in a recording session.

Rehearsals beforehand can become a bit fraught. Everyone’s nerves get a bit frayed. You start to doubt yourself – your ability to play, to be creative. For me, there’s one movement that I am not looking forward to. It’s really fast. It’s very hard. And I hear voices of teachers from music college say things like “You really shouldn’t play fast pieces like that, Rachel. You’re just not good enough.” (And yes, that did happen. And yes, I know where that teacher is now.)

I have also made things harder for myself by deciding to control the whole process. I book the studio. I keep all the accounts checked. I write the CD notes. I am funding the whole process. It’s a huge mountain to walk up. A big financial gamble. If I think about it too much, it makes me hugely uncomfortable. Actually, it makes me very uncomfortable.

I do know that it’s my choice to do this. No-one is forcing me. And I choose to control the lot. That way, I know it’ll be done the way I want it. I have help. I trust my producer and editor with my life – both literally and musically. I have someone who has paid the  recording studio fee for me – which is a HUGE weight off my shoulders, and so wonderful.

But I do feel like I’m starting to walk up a very big mountain. The path is now sloping upwards.

Last week I was lucky enough to play in a tunnel. Well, not exactly a tunnel. I was in a chamber off the tunnel. I was sitting on a sandy floor, facing a bare rock face. The ceiling was a about 12 metres above my head, and you had to bend your head to get through the ‘door’ to come into the chamber.

I was playing as part of the ‘opening’ of the tunnel – an ex-coal-loading facility on Sydney harbour. A HUGE hooray to North Sydney council who are releasing this land back to the public, rather than selling it to developers. It’s full of veggie patches, battery-recycling places, a cafe – I like it a lot. (It’s here on Facebook if you want to have a look around….)

There were all sorts of people wandering around at the opening – and a lot of them perched on bits of rocks to have a listen as I played a Bach suite. Some people played for a long time. Others for a movement or two. The acoustics were EXCELLENT. I had a great time playing down there – and I get to play for one night in the actual tunnel in September. Made me look forward to that a lot….

Coming home, I got to thinking about how great it was to be able to play in these sorts of spaces. I play in crypts, and caves, and tunnels… I’d play in other less-than-normal places, if I could find them. And it’s fabulous. It makes the concert really special – it’s not just about the performers and the audience – but also the space itself. It becomes an entity in the mix, if that makes sense.

It’s often said that people don’t go to classical music concerts. I wonder how many more people would if they were in interesting spaces and places. I have to say, it’s sometimes a pain to set up these places. They are dirty, sometimes drippy. I understand there’s not great disabled access. Often the toilets are a way away. There’s never a proper place for me to warm-up. But there’s a real charm to it.

It does make my shoes dirty though…

I have been doing a fair bit of performing at the moment. Or if not actual performing, I’ve been visiting venues, setting up concerts – all the stuff that goes with performing. I love it – the actual moment of performing. Of sharing with the people in the room with me. Of giving the audience a piece that I have prepared for them in as true as way as I can play. This piece mightn’t always be ‘beautiful’ – it might have strange sounds in it, or be exciting, or disturbing – but I will try and play it as accurately and as truthfully as I can. This tight-rope walking in a concert, this risk-taking – I love it.

And then after the concert there’s times when people want to come and talk to me. I have been their centre of attention, and continue to be, just for a moment more. They want to share stories with me, or give me a hug, or just say something about the night. I like this part too – it still feels like a celebration to me.

I am still the centre of attention, as the performer. Then I often go out to dinner, and everyone is still buoyed up by the performance (usually). There’s laughing and eating and drinking – and people are still often talking about the concert. Again, there’s attention directed towards me, and what I have achieved.

And this might happen three nights in a row for me. It’s easy to get swept up in the hype… (For other performers it happens more.) I usually perform over a weekend, as I have another part of my life.

Then, for me, it all changes. I go into a school and teach kids who have no idea what I’ve just done over the last few days. They don’t care how well (or not-so-well) I’ve played. They don’t give a damn.

I love this. The attention goes totally away from me, and what I have done. My feet come back to earth. I am just the music teacher. I am still doing the same thing – sharing music – but in a totally different way. It reminds me that it’s not me that is important. It’s the music.

I like this about my life. Very much. Keeps everything in perspective for me….