Internet Cello Society Interview with Irene Sharp

Internet cello society screen shot
Cellist Irene Sharp has been acclaimed internationally for her teaching. She has given master classes for the American String Teachers Association (ASTA), the European String Teachers Association, the Australian String Teachers Association, and the Suzuki Association of America. Although based in Northern California, Ms. Sharp has worked with students in cities such as New York, London, Salzburg, Hamburg, Sydney, Tokyo, and Taipei. Currently on the faculty of the Mannes College of Music, she has also served on the faculty of the Meadowmount School for Strings, the Bowdoin (Maine) Summer Music Festival, and Indiana University's String Academy. Ms. Sharp is Artistic Director of California Summer Music, a festival for young string players, pianists, and composers ages 12 to 23 held at Pebble Beach, California. She has been an invited speaker at the national meetings of the Music Teachers' National Association and the Music Educators' National Conference, and has given numerous teacher workshops worldwide. In l992, Ms. Sharp received an award for her teaching from ASTA. She collaborated with the late Margaret Rowell, and performed in Pablo Casals' master class in Berkeley, California.

TJ: Do you think that it's crucial that a teacher be a good cellist in order to be good at teaching the cello?

IS: That depends on how you define "good." The most effective teaching is done by someone who is herself actively playing, because that's the way one learns. Technique isn't something that one can just learn and finish. It keeps growing as you use it over the years. I do think it's crucial that a teacher continues to practice and perform.

TJ: Does one need to be a virtuoso in order to be a great teacher?

IS: No, but teachers need to know the technical and musical principles that create a virtuoso. You don't develop this understanding unless you're both an active musician and teacher of all levels of students.

TJ: Do you think that there is such thing as a student with no talent for an instrument?

IS: No. If a student is able to speak and also has a desire to make music with a cello, that's all he or she needs. The ability to speak a language proves that students can already use their ear in a certain way.

TJ: Do you think that there's such thing as a person with no sense of pulse?

IS: No. Pulse is a core part of our being. We all have a heartbeat, which we can sense going faster when we need more oxygen and going slower when we need less. We all live rhythmically, so I just build on that idea. I think that rhythm is more a matter of raising the student's awareness, rather than having talent. Everybody has an innate sense of pulse, whether they know it or not. Playing a musically independent part with another instrument from the earliest stages develops this skill.

TJ: Let's say somebody comes to you who seems to struggle rhythmically. What do you do to help them? Are there exercises for this?

IS: There are many ways to go about it. I often discuss the mathematics of the rhythm so that they get an intellectual grasp of the note patterns, and I encourage students to listen to a recording of the piece so that they get a feel for the music. I also accompany students at the piano, which raises their awareness of the beat and helps them to control their rhythmic impulses. Music is the best teacher available. The best exercise isn't going to give you the variety of rhythms that real pieces of music do. I think it's a matter of turning the student's ear on and ascertaining whether the student knows about note values. A sense of rhythm is a skill that can definitely be taught.

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