Exceptional Teachers – Exceptional Students

Two events last weekend by organizations that I’ve been involved with for a very long time reminded me of the importance of dedicated teachers in the arts. The Duke University Pre-Collegiate String School (or DUSS), founded by Dorothy Kitchen, celebrated it’s 40th anniversary Saturday. I’ve had the privilege of working with Dorothy for almost 25 years now and have witnessed her transform/mold/empower/encourage the lives of so many young people. Through an era of schools cutting back on music ensembles she kept string playing alive and well in the Triangle. In a world that rewards cheating and cutting corners she gives her students the permission to work toward perfection and helps them find the rewards and joys of putting your heart and soul and sweat and tears into making beautiful music happen. That she has done this for so many years, and continues to do it with a grueling teaching schedule in addition to being a wife, mother, grandmother and a person with many, many other interests in the world is a tribute to her dedication to making real, quality music-making a possibility for every young person who wants it.

Another wonderful person making the arts a reality for young people is Gene Medler, founder and director of the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble. I played (in a jazz trio) for NCYTE’s Spring Concert last weekend. First off, this is NOT your average children’s tap group. NCYTE is THE standard for youth tap across the country. The NCYTE approach reminds me of the Suzuki teaching approach. The company performs many of the same pieces year to year along with some newly choreographed works and reworked older ones. The older kids teach the dances to the younger kids. There is a lot of one-on-one between the students with very little intervention on the part of the teacher. Guest artists/teachers from the professional world of tap as well as former students drop in to round out the mix. There is a real sense of community there as well as some friendly competition. But all are working together for the good of the company.

The DUSS approach is much more top-down which is understandable given that the process involves private lessons with a teacher and orchestras with a conductor. But as I said – both methods yield excellent results. Gene Medler and Dorothy Kitchen’s approaches to teaching are probably miles apart but the result is the same – young people with a very high degree of artistic excellence and enthusiasm.

Seeing/hearing the young people in performance is the reward for the rest of us. I highly recommend you keep an eye out for upcoming performances by these groups.