Something happened to me a while ago, and it’s taken me a while to process. And I thought I’d write about it, as part of me wondering about it still….

I have been teaching the cello for a long time. I like to think that I’m a good teacher. Because I still love the cello, and the process of playing, I can transmit this love to others. I spend a lot of time thinking about each student. I respect the one-on-one teaching process, and what being an instrumental teacher is. I have had some fabulous instrumental teachers, and I’m constantly wondering how they would have solved a particular problem. Because I am still engaged with the process of playing and teaching, I like to think that I’m doing a pretty good job with each student.

I also enjoy teaching adults. I respect that they are doing something new, and I try and push them enough, give them enough technical stuff to think about – but not too much, so that they can make music too, whatever the level that they are at. I like to think that I’m good at this part of my teaching as well…

Not long ago I ‘inherited’ a student. They had been taught not-very-carefully. There were big holes in their technique – things that should have been covered a long while back. They were clever, and also good at another instrument, so had worked out ways to work around the lack of solid foundations they had on the cello. When they came to me, they told me that they were a particular AMEB grade, which in my opinion, they were most certainly not. They could be, in a while – but they weren’t there yet.

So, very gently, I started the process of telling them what they needed to know. And correcting them. With adults, physical things need to take time – things need to be unlearned, and then relearned. In my opinion, things were going well. This student was progressing, and holes were being fixed.

And then I got an email offering me some ‘feedback’. They wanted to play more pieces – of the standard that they thought they were. When I said I didn’t think they were ready, they then wanted me to submit a syllabus of what I would do with them when (which is actually impossible to do). And when I said I wouldn’t do that, they said they didn’t like being controlled. (They didn’t actually say it like that. There was a lack of politeness.) So I said it was better for us to part ways, thank you very much.

But then I got thinking, and spoke to a few other adults I know who have lessons. Did they felt controlled? Were instrumental teachers just people who liked other people doing what they said? Was I just a cello-teaching-dictator?

A sensible friend of mine wondered this with me. And then we agreed that as an adult you need to trust your teacher. You submitted to their experience, and their care. You, as a student, trusted that they would walk you down a path of learning at the right speed for you, and give you the tools you needed at the right time.

I am thankful to my adult students that they trust me. I am thankful to the parents of my little cello students that they trust me too. So I’ve become more grateful to my students. It’s funny how things that knock you around often make you better, isn’t it?

A little while ago I wrote about stopping performing for a while to reset. Lots has happened since then.

I’ve sat in the studio with a dear friend (and instruments, of course, we weren’t just sitting there) – tracks are being edited – stay tuned. I know. It’s a long process….

I’ve been sick a bit. Actually, I’ve been pretty sick. First with the ‘flu. Then COVID.

I’ve done a lot of gardening.

And I have been practising. Learning things I’ve not played before. And I’ve started to smile again when I’ve been practising. I’ve been experimenting a fair bit – does this sonata sound better when I play it with my baroque bow, or my modern bow? How does this ornament sound? Is it silly? Is it silly enough? Is it too silly? I’ve been taking the time to learn things, to really wonder about phrases, or chunks of music. It’s been wonderful. To remember why I play the cello. This constant exploration of music that has been written that I am playing – some pieces many, many years ago, others just the other day.

I remarked to a friend not so long ago that I seem to have lost my joyfulness. It got buried under stuff. And little by little, the stuff is falling away. And it’s appearing again. It’s an excellent feeling, you know.

So I’m guessing that you can already deduce that I’m not a big supporter of NAPLAN. In fact, I think it’s a total waste of time. Teachers do teach to these tests. Children (I can only speak for primary-aged kids, since that’s where I work) do worry about them and get stressed by them. Children in regional and remote schools are disadvantaged by them. The tests disrupt the entire school community – lots of other lessons have to change around in the weekly timetable, there needs to be silence in the school, and it’s tiring for everyone. The list goes on….

So I’ve been wondering today, and thinking about what I think children should be tested on. Actually, it was quite fun. (Maybe you’d like to add to the list…) Here’s the start of my list – in no particular order:

  • How many songs can a child sing, and can they adjust the words to at least one of them to make someone laugh?
  • How many pieces of art can they create in a day?
  • How can they be kind to someone who looks like they are having a hard time? How many ways can they come up with to make that person feel better?
  • Can they create a garden, and care for it?
  • Can they devise a game outside, and get someone to play the game with them that isn’t in their friendship group?
  • Can they cook a meal using fresh ingredients?
  • Can they negotiate a situation that is going a way that they don’t like without using names, or force?
  • Can they control their emotions when they lose in a game?

Wouldn’t these skills be better than what are tested at the moment? Maybe?


It’s the start of a new time for me, I think. The last two years have been a challenge, in so many ways. Like for so many of us – I know I’m not alone in that regard.

Actually, the last three months have been possibly mentally the hardest. I am tired. Bone tired. Teaching is hard at the moment – ask any teacher, and they’ll agree. Kids are challenging – many young ones have lost their social skills. Sharing is hard for them. Tantrums are numerous. Tears are frequent. Older ones have missed out on certain learning things. Teachers are getting sick, and relief teachers are hard to source, so there’s often a lot of weird behaviours in classes I see as kids try and rule the roost for a day with a relief teacher that doesn’t really know them. Teachers are tired. And often wary as they do their job – is this child a close contact of someone with COVID? Am I going to get sick from them? In one school I’m in, the school community is dealing with grief – a member of the school family died suddenly. It’s shocking, and tragic, and it’s left us all feeling very raw. And through all this, I have taught. I have watched the power of music make children smile, and laugh, and forget a bit of what’s going on. It’s made me more sure of what I do, but also drained me.

And I’ve kept playing the cello – but concert management at the moment is also draining me. There’s a huge amount of work that goes into not just working out a program, and practising for a concert -but the huge amount of admin that needs to happen. Setting up ticketing links. Publicity. Dealing with emails. Taking a deep breath before you reply to an email that isn’t particularly kind (do people wonder about the tone of what they write, I wonder?). I don’t want this to take over the feeling I have when I play. I still want to love playing, and love creating – so it’s time to step back for a bit, I think.

BUT I am interested in recording some things. Pieces I’ve played that have been written for me. Pieces that audiences have really loved. Pieces that I’ve loved. My playing is in really great shape, so it seems like the thing to do at this point. There’s new repertoire I’d like to learn. And hard repertoire – things that take time. And I can’t do that when I’m gearing up for performing. I need to get excited by pieces again. Get excited by unpeeling music I’ve not yet met.

And I need some time to cook up some new projects. Some head space to think. To wonder about things. To explore new ideas, and new musical friendships.

I also need some time to get back to the yoga studio more often. To swim. To sit and share meals with friends. I’m hugely grateful to be able to have kept performing – massively grateful. But now, instead of being a cellist and a teacher, I need to get back to being Rachel. Rachel the person, who also happens to be a musician.

You know that thinking problem about the tree falling in the forest? If no-one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

Well, here’s something I’ve been wondering over the last few days…. If a performer doesn’t play to anyone, are they still a performer? It’s something that many performers of all sorts of disciplines are thinking at the moment – and have been over the last two years. I guess I’ve been too busy to actually sit and wonder about it. But now, at the end of the summer break with no days taken up teaching in schools – so I have a bit of time and head-space, I find myself thinking the same question.

I know that I have been lucky having the opportunity to keep playing – hugely lucky. But live-streaming isn’t the same as playing live. And I had really hoped to be back playing live. Yet it seems that Sydneysiders aren’t ready to come and watch a Bach in the Dark concert live, because tickets aren’t selling. It’s making me a bit glum.

Is it too soon to stage a live concert, even with distancing? Or is it time to stop Bach in the Dark concerts for a while? I don’t want to just live-stream things for much longer – it’s not the same, and I am longing to play to a real-live audience again. Perhaps it’s time for me to stop and step back from all this performing for a while. Am I ready to do that?

It’s something to think about, I think. Something to talk to a few trusted friends about. Because if I stop playing, the sun will still rise. Life will keep going on. The trees will keep falling in the forest, even if no-one is there to hear them…..