2019 ASTA National Conference Recap

In line with one of our core values that ‘students need an experienced teacher who is committed to ongoing education’, I consider it a necessity to stay up to date with new advances in music education and technology so that we can keep our teaching relevant and engaging.  I was proud to be one of only two San Diego teachers who attended this year’s American String Teachers National Conference in New Mexico, and it was phenomenal! 

Over the course of four days, I attended 28 hours of seminars and workshops led by leading researchers, professors, and clinicians from Europe, South America, Canada and the US.  Topics ranged from acoustical physics and dyslexia research (and how it pertains to music), to applications of music therapy techniques, remediation, and body mapping.  I got to meet two of my heroes, Pedro de Alcantara, who spurred my journey with the Alexander Technique in my early 20’s with his book, “Indirect Procedures”, and Claire Stefani, an ergonomist who works with the Juilliard School and possibly *the* authority on chinrest and shoulder rest setup in violin and viola!

On Day 1, I took a five-hour “Deep Dive Workshop” on ‘Body Mapping: The Full Course’ with Andover Educators, Dr. Judy Palac & Jennifer Johnson.  Body mapping is an extension of Alexander Technique and seeks to educate on how the body optimally moves, which will then inform the brain on how to change our movements so that we can play more easily and expressively, while avoiding discomfort and injury.  Our hour-long segment on breathing helped me re-map my body, and it was the first time in my entire life that I actually felt I had taken a real breath!  The entire course was transformative!

On Day 2, I started my morning with Dr. Wendy Case and her talk on ‘Acoustical Physics and Advanced Violin Technique’.  While I’ll admit that some of the more advanced math went a bit over my head, I was surprised to learn of the seven different ways we can engage a string, and how doublestops, harmonics and articulation actually work on a physics level!  Next was ‘Teaching Musicality’ with Ross Harbaugh who went over the “Two Pillars of Interpretation”, secrets of “Sound Flexing & Sound Sculpting”, and the “Rule of Four” - all ways to turn a bland performance into an expressive one!  Dr. Stephen Benham and industry giant Bob Phillips taught ‘Teaching Rhythm’ which mapped the various intricacies of note reading to different hemispheres of the brain, explaining why many students have so much trouble learning to read music and perform rhythms.  Author of my favored beginning method book, “Essential Elements for Strings”, Bob Gillespie led a riveting talk on ‘Motivating the Adolescent: Research-Based Strategies for Getting Adolescents to Give Their Best’.  This was probably one of the most impactful sessions of the entire conference and really brought me closer to understanding what adolescent students need using the latest psychological and developmental research.  Last of the day was ‘Utilizing Music Therapy Techniques in Teaching Strings’ by Raquel Ravaglioli.  Music therapy has always been something I’ve been deeply passionate about, and it was helpful to see another educator’s take on using music therapy to assist our students!

On Day 3, Dr. Daniel Levitov from John Hopkins University lectured on ‘Building Musicians Through Bow Technique From the Ground Up’ -  a smorgasbord of all known bowing techniques!  A panel of professors from Oklahoma State University presented on ‘Inspiring Intrinsic Motivation in String Students Using Mindfulness Techniques’.  This was my favorite session of the entire conference and really drove home the idea that it’s our job as educators to reduce the epidemic of disconnectedness and loneliness in this new generation of young people.  Brothers Dr. Kevin Nordstrom & Dr. Stephen Nordstrom reviewed ‘Reciprocal Exercises for Switching Between the Violin and Viola’ which gave me a great prerequisite idea for how to teach shifting!  Dr. Melissa Knecht spoke on ‘Developing a Studio Class Toolbox of Ideas for Advanced String Students’ citing several groundbreaking strategies that shake up the traditional top-down routine.  Another favorite of the conference was ‘Dysmusia 2.0: Informing Music Notation Reading Through Dyslexic Research and Therapeutic Techniques’ by Dr. Elizabeth Morrow.  It was immensely interesting to see how the dyslexic brain functions and how traditional ways of teaching music reading actually exacerbate dyslexic tendencies even in  non-dyslexic learners!  The extremely polished Winifred Crock gave a masterful talk on ‘Lift Offs and Landings: Teaching “Off-String” Bowing Techniques’.  Never before have I seen such a consummate delivery of such a specific technique!  I’m definitely inspired to “up my game” as a teacher!  I ended the day with Dr. Minna Rose Chung & Hans Jorgen Jensen and their groundbreaking work on ‘Revealing the Mystery Behind Great Intonation’.  These researchers have broken the code on intonation utilizing math and physics to finally end the debate of Pytahgorean, Just & Equal Temperament systems of tuning!

On Day 4, I woke up with ‘Feldenkrais for Musicians’ with Colin Pip Dixon.  Feldenkrais is a sister system to the Alexander Technique which supports motions being delegated to the entire body instead of being focused in one singular area.  The results are dramatic!  Dr. Joanne Erwin & Joanne May presented on ‘Top 12 Actions in Paul Rolland Pedagogy’.  Rolland was the first to use science-based research in founding a movement-centered approach to stringed instrument technique.  Aerospace engineer Jeff Van Fossen and Violinist Scott Laird lectured on ‘The Art and Science of the Bow’ where they discussed four different attributes of a bow and how certain attributes are geared towards the various levels of players.  Pedro De Alcantara led a workshop on ‘Expressive Gesticulation: Breath, Space, Freedom’ wherein an unorthodox set of method acting exercises led to real changes in musical expression!  Drs. Colleen Ferguson & Stephanie Meyers did a hilarious skit in ‘Dive into Practicing: 20 Tried and True Strategies’.  Now only were their suggestions extremely helpful, but their reenactment of the teacher-student relationship was spot on!  Finally, the conference ended with the legendary Dr. Brenda Brenner detailing the remediation process used by the Indiana Jacobs School of Music’s String Academy for the past 35 years in ‘“But I Want to Play Tchaikovsky, Not Kreutzer!”: A guide to the Remedial Process’.  I’ve been using many of her ideas in the studio since I’ve returned form the conference with stellar results!

Overall, the experience of getting to learn from and network with the very best in the industry and the world is priceless, and I thank my students and parents for affording me the opportunity to keep my own skills up to date.  I’ve always aimed to be one of the best string teachers in San Diego, but one day, I hope to present at the ASTA National Conference and pass on all of the knowledge that I have been graced with to the next generation of string teachers!