I stumbled across these today on the web. I think, after 170 years they are still hugely relevant. Thank you, Mr Schumann!

from Robert Schumann’s Maxims and House Rules for Young Musicians:

– A lot can be learned from singers, but do not believe everything they tell you.

– You should play scales and other finger exercises diligently. There are, however, many who think they can achieve everything by spending many hours a day practicing mechanically right into old age. That is just like trying to say the ABC as quickly as possible, getting quicker and quicker, every day. Make better use of your time.

– Play in time! Some virtuosos’ playing sounds like a drunk walking. Do not use this as your example.

– Do not be afraid of words like: theory, thoroughbass, counterpoint etc. They will treat you kindly if you do likewise.

– Try to learn to play easy pieces well and beautifully; it is better than a mediocre performance of a difficult piece.

– You should always play on a tuned instrument.

– Even if you have a weak voice, try to sing at sight without the help of the instrument; by doing this, the sharpness of your hearing will improve continually. If you have a melodious voice, waste no opportunity to have it trained, and treat it as the finest gift heaven can bestow on you!

– When you are playing, do not concern yourself with whoever may be listening.

– When you are older, do not play fashionable pieces. Time is precious. You would need a hundred lifetimes just to get to know all the good pieces there are.

– You must not promote bad compositions; on the contrary, you should expend every effort to help suppress them.

– Do not search just for technique and so-called bravura. In a composition seek to bring out the expression that the composer had in mind, and no more. Anything beyond that is a caricature.

– Waste no opportunity to make music with other musicians, in duos, trios etc. This makes you play fluently and with animation. Also, accompany singers often.

– If everybody insisted on playing first violin, there would be no orchestras. Respect every musician in his own field.

– When you get older, occupy yourself more with scores than with virtuosos.

– Among your friends, seek out those who know more than you.

– As a respite from your musical studies, read a lot of poetry. Take lots of walks in the fresh air.

– And how does one become musical? Dear child, the most important things – a good ear and quick perception – like all such things, are sent from above. But your given abilities can be developed and enhanced. You will not do this by shutting yourself up like a hermit and working for days on end on mechanical studies; rather you will do so by taking part in a variety of live musical activities, especially those involving choirs and orchestras.

– Never miss an opportunity to hear good opera!

– Hold the old in high esteem, yet also warmly embrace the new. Hold no prejudice against names unknown to you.

– Do not judge a composition on a single hearing; the things that first catch your attention are not always the best. The great masters must be studied. Many things will only become clear to you in later life.

– When judging compositions, distinguish between those which are true works of art and those written to please dabblers. Stand up for the former, but do not be angered by the latter!

– The road to improve is always through hard work and perseverance.

– The purpose of Art is not to acquire wealth. Just strive always to be a better and better artist; everything else will follow of its own accord.

– There is no end to learning.

I’ve just spent the first week for 2013 back in schools. A few things have popped into my mind this week as I’ve been dealing with the setting up of programmes and stuff…..

The children are genuinely excited to see their music teacher. They are keen to get back into it. The kids I see are not the sort that are polite and do things because they think they should. They want what I can give them. So why isn’t this stuff in every school? Why doesn’t every school have a qualified music teacher? I know that there would be far less behavioural problems in schools if there were more creative arts taught in an engaging way. If kids had a twice-weekly music lesson, and twice-weekly art lesson, and maybe also some drama classes, how good would that be? We’d come up with a nation of creative thinkers. Kids with low self-esteem would blossom. Kids would want to come to school. I know this first-hand. I’ve seen these things happen, just with the little bit of music teaching I do.

I also keep reading reports about ‘equality in education’. This is total and utter rubbish. Equality in education will never, never be achieved until every fee-paying school is closed. This won’t kill society. It’s worked in Finland. Equality in schools will never be achieved until teachers are trained better, paid more, and respected more. No government can fix this in the short term, and certainly not by some report. Have these government people seen some of these schools? Classrooms without heaters, or fans? With awful desks? And then gone to other schools with indoor swimming pools, shooting ranges and grand pianos all over the place? I mean, really……

I’m now climbing off my soapbox and going to eat some dinner…..

I have just spent three days teaching adults, at a music camp for amateurs down in Wollongong. I am typing this yawning, and with eyes that feel like someone has thrown sand in them, because not a lot of rest was had by yours truly. There was a fair amount of chatting over wine to be had – and I didn’t count on the kookaburras waking me up at dawn, after a few late night conversations. So if there are a few typos, or rambling sentences, you will know the reason.

The weather was hot, and steamy. There was no air-conditioning to be enjoyed. But the music-making atmosphere was quite incredible! All these people, playing music, simply for the joy of it.

I play a lot of chamber music. It is the music I love the most, if truth be told. But I very rarely get the chance to sit and play something, just because I can. I am always preparing things for concerts. I get to play with some incredible musicians, and the rehearsing process if very exciting and inspiring – but I can’t remember when I last sat down to play a sextet by Brahms just because I was with five other string players who were all in the same place as myself, with instruments, music stands, and the correct parts.

I am humbled by being there, with all these devoted players. One of their number described them as ‘chamber music tragics’ – but I think us pros could learn something from these guys. I think that I forget the joy of music-making sometimes as I am struggling to learn some really tricky passage in some duo sonata. I forget how magical Mozart can be, when I’m in the thick of it.

And this weekend has reminded me of all those things. Thank you to the Amateur Chamber Music Society. May you live long and prosper.

I go into two Sydney schools where the kids do it tough. Many of these kids wouldn’t be taken to much – possibly, apart from footy games.
Four years ago, I asked the band from the Royal Australian Navy to come and visit to play a concert for the kids. I also arranged for a group of children to drum water bottles with the band – which was very loud – but the RAN band were hugely good sports about it. The concert was a HUGE success. Kids whooping, kids dancing, teachers grooving – and me grinning at the back of the hall.
Now the band has come to all the schools I’m in – including a school 800 kms west of Sydney.
The impact these concerts have had are enormous.
Children have had a FABULOUS time, listening to really good music, played by really good musicians.
Teachers (the unsung heroes of our society, in my opinion) have had a really good time.
Children have learnt about various instruments – the piccolo, the oboe, the bassoon – they’ve heard them, and seen them played.
And it seems the band have had a really good time too.
Here’s a video of some of the kids I teach playing ‘Watzing Matilda’.
RAN band and 30 big water bottles
The kids had such a great time! Kids walking off saying ‘That was the best fun! I was so nervous, and then it was so fun! It’s been the best day!’
The band have just agreed to come back to  both my Sydney schools.

It’s such a great day. The musicians are so incredibly professional. And yet, when the Navy want to cut back funding, it’s things like the band that gets the chop. Doesn’t make any sense in my head at all.