I have been really fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach at Silver Music over the years, mostly because the families that come in and out of those doors are incredible! Through my “Faculty Feature” I hope to share with you a little bit about my upbringing since it differs from the typical Suzuki one. Overall, I hope students will realize that your teachers were kids once too (and cool!) and can sympathize with just how hard it is to learn an instrument and grow up at the same time. For parents, I hope you realize that the challenges you may face through your child’s musical journey are normal, you are not alone, and to keep pushing through the fights and frustrations because it’s all part of a process in which the fruits of your labor will yield incredible, exciting, fun, and meaningful rewards! (Please keep in mind any advice I may offer is just my own personal opinion and experience – for whatever it’s worth!)
Enjoy! Reenat Pinchas
Why did you start music lessons?
Growing up we had we piano in the house that basically served as an old piece of furniture collecting dust. My mom tried to get my brother and sister to play but they were more into numbers and facts not music and art. In a way, I kind of felt like I grew up as an only child because my siblings were in college when I was a kid, so my home life consisted of me, my mom, my dad, some pets, and the piano….and what did I do??? BANG BANG BANG on the keys until one day my mom said “I can’t take it anymore!!! You need to start taking lessons so at least your banging will sound pretty!!!” And that’s how it all began……
How did you feel about taking lessons?…Plus a brief history of my instrumental journey!
I was 6 years old when I began playing the piano. I was soooo excited to start taking lessons! I had the nicest teacher whom I adored. Her name was Esther and she was young and pretty with super long blond hair which seemed like the coolest thing to me at the time. I progressed rather fast and had to move to a more advanced teacher after about 2 years. Her name was Ruby and I remember being scared at first because she was the total opposite of Esther! She was an older woman with white hair and lived in a creepy looking house with an old dog and lots of cats – but never judge a book by it’s cover! She was an amazing teacher and ended up being an incredible force of inspiration throughout my musical life. I never forgot about Esther though – when I was in 5th grade I played at her wedding as she walked down the aisle 🙂
Ruby also happened to be an opera singer and my mom thought that starting voice lessons could be the perfect cure to my love for singing! In fact I was somewhat of a rockstar (in my own mind!). I sang in the shower, into a hairbrush, wherever I could (like many of you I’m sure!). I’d even make these music videos pretending to be Michael Jackson, New Kids On The Block, Salt n’ Peppa (yes I’m thaaaat old!…) I began vocal training and learned the proper techniques of how to make music when your body is your instrument. I learned classical opera arias, as well as Broadway show tunes, popular songs, Disney songs, and as time went on I participated in leading roles in local musicals, shows, choruses, and rock bands. The reason I am including so much of this here is because my diverse musical upbringing helped shaped me into the type of musician I am today.
It wasn’t until I was 8 years old that I started playing the cello in my local elementary school with another devoted teacher named Cheryl who was a gift to the musical education system in our local community. I didn’t know much about it except for the fact that my mom had an old record of Jacqueline du Pre in the house. I thought the violin was really squeaky, the bass was just too darn big, I didn’t know what a viola was, so I said “OK I’ll try cello!” I remember the day we got our instruments, I was in 3rd grade, a really small kid (in fact most say I haven’t grown much since!) and was handed this giant cello that was waaaaaay too big for my size. It was an ugly dark brown color, all beaten up with scratches everywhere (not like the nice shiny ones you all get!) (See picture) but to me it was the greatest thing ever. My mom still laughs when she remembers me coming off the bus carrying this enormous thing on my back! I unpacked it as soon as I got home and grabbed the bow and started sawing away at this old out of tune instrument – it must have sounded terrible (come on, you guys did it too!) but it was so much fun! With time and practice, those scratches eventually blossomed into real notes….
Did I always like to practice? If not, what tricks made practicing easier?
NOOOO!!!!!!!! In fact, I HATED practicing! Don’t get me wrong, I loved playing all my instruments and making music and having fun but I hated the act of working in detail to fix things and repeating passages over and over. On the cello, I especially hated that I had to practice playing in tune which was a new concept for me since I was so used to the piano which was always in tune!
I also didn’t grow up in a Suzuki world so I was always an independent practicer. Although my parents supported my musical education, they didn’t practice with me or help me through it. Their support lied mainly in exposing me to the arts – always taking me to concerts, museums, the philharmonic, broadway shows, art exhibitions, and listening to classical music. That meant I largely had to motivate myself. Even though practicing sometimes seemed worse than going to the dentist, I was so in love with being on stage. The trick that helped make practicing easier for me was when I had a goal. When I had something to practice for – a recital, a talent show – then practicing wasn’t a chore anymore, it became fun because I knew how good it felt to give a great performance and I always strived to recreate that feeling.
My funny practice story:
Here’s a funny story that I tell to some of my students when they get frustrated: I used to be quite a temperamental child and I would throw tantrums if I couldn’t play something correctly. I was young and working on my first piano piece that had a Left Hand cross over. Every time I tried to play it, I would land on the wrong note. I practiced over and over and every time wrong wrong wrong! I would scream, cry, yell, punch pillows, and one time I got so mad that in my fit of rage I bit the piano! Yes, you read that right, I literally took a bite out of it! To this day directly over middle C there are 2 little teethmarks! (See picture). Every time I tell this story kids find it so funny and suddenly all of their anger transforms into laughter. A lesson learned that a wrong note is not the end of the world! When you can’t get something right sometimes the best practice is to laugh it off and try again the next day.
Were there times you wanted to quit?
NEVER! Even in moments when I hated my instruments (or bit them) I never wanted to quit. It brought me too much joy, led me through too many awesome experiences to give up on it. It’s kind of like having a brother or sister that you can get really mad at but underneath you always love them no matter what 🙂
What was the most helpful thing your teacher ever told you?
I am lucky to have had incredible musical role models throughout my entire life. Here are two things that have stuck with me from teachers I worked with in my adult life – one personal, the other musical.
“You can not be the greatest musician if you are not your best self first” -Bonnie Hampton, our “cello mama”
“You must play every note with all your heart and all your soul otherwise it is a note wasted.” -Lynn Harrell, our “cello papa”
How did you know you wanted to become a musician?
My father was a paratrooper in the Israeli Defense Forces and when I was 17, I received a letter drafting me to serve in the army. My teacher at the time was a young Israeli woman named Chagit who despite being a sergeant in the military was able to maintain her musical abilities by playing in the Israeli Army Orchestra during her service. Everything was leading me in that direction. Music was something I always loved to do for fun but I never really considered making it my profession. I was in my senior year of high school and on a whim I decided to audition for Juilliard – I told myself that if I got in great and if not I would put on a uniform. I practiced really hard and I was accepted. If I hadn’t been, I’m sure I’d be telling a very different story.
How did music education affect your life?
Music has taken me on a journey around the world. I began performing internationally when I was 13 and over the years I have traveled to over 50 countries across 6 continents (someday I’d love to go to Antarctica and play for the penguins!) Whether I was visiting the birthplace of Bach and Beethoven or trekking barefoot through mountains visiting a village of indigenous tribes, as a kid growing up, this was my best education. Being immersed in cultures that were so different than mine, meeting people from such diverse backgrounds who speak a completely different language, yet sharing the common connection of music and being able to communicate and find commonalities through music was incredibly inspiring to me. I learned to be open and broad-minded, tolerant, understanding, communicative, empathetic, and I developed skills for effective ways to work together. I share this so your kids will know the power of music. I share this so your kids will know that the Minuet they have been struggling with for weeks can lead to so many possibilities and opportunities for their future which is nearly impossible to see in the moment. Whether or not you choose music to be your profession, these experiences exist and can have a impact on shaping not only the musician that you are, but the person that you are.
Was there a point when it became clear to you that it was all worth it?
Sometimes playing an instrument can feel a bit lonely. We practice by ourselves, have lessons by ourselves, perform in recitals by ourselves. Sometimes we play in an orchestra or a chamber group and the bond of playing together feels amazing. But in general, it’s not a team sport, you don’t have a whole defensive line backing you up at all times. In a way, there is a greater sense of satisfaction accomplishing something all on your own. I love what I do because it makes people “feel.” Feel anything! Happy, sad, transformative, hopeful…People turn to music in good times and bad times – to enjoy and also to heal. That to me is powerful. That is more rewarding than playing a perfect concerto. Whether it’s putting a smile on someone’s face for a fleeting moment, or making someone reminisce of their loved ones through a melody, or giving someone the educational tools to create a better life for themselves by opening the doors to their future, the most rewarding feeling in the world is knowing you made an impact on someone’s life and I know it’s worth when I can measure the effect I have on others.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
At a certain point in my upbringing, more opportunities presented themselves for me as a cellist like playing in orchestras and chamber groups and by the time I was in high school, the cello took over my life. When I entered college, everything became strictly cello all the time. I attended a conservatory that was very intense and I felt pressured to conform and become like everyone else by focusing all my efforts into one craft. I stopped playing piano, I stopped singing, and I stopped playing/listening to music that I felt was so uniquely me. I worked with the most incredible artists in the classical industry but no matter how much success came my way, I always felt like something was missing. In retrospect, I would have preferred to go to Juilliard for my Master’s Degree instead of my Bachelor’s Degree at a more mature phase on my life where I could have been better prepared for the challenge of balancing school and life in such an intense environment. After many years, I eventually realized how much giving up on those creative sides of me negatively impacted my happiness and my career. Classical training led me to be technically proficient and so well versed in the ability and freedom to play all styles of music effortlessly. When I did find the courage to open that side of me back up so many new and super cool opportunities came my way like performing with world famous pop stars, being featured on a multitude of tv shows and recordings, and being on stage for audiences over 90,000 people! My life now is more similar to when I was a kid in terms of musical diversity and I feel very fulfilled because I am able to express myself in different ways. *Never feel pressured to put yourself into a box if you don’t belong there. Always be creative and be unique!*
What advice would you give to students who are just starting their musical journey?
- Don’t compare yourself to others.
- Whether you believe it or not, your parents want the best for you and are there to help you succeed.
- Even though you may think nobody understands you, we really do! We’ve been in your shoes and know how hard growing up is!
- Slow Practice = Fast Learning.
- TRUST your teachers! We’ve been doing this a loooong time….
- Listen to the pieces you are playing. You will learn them faster.
- Expose yourself to all kinds of music, not just the ones your teacher assigns.
- Be creative! Try new things!
- Experiment on your instrument – even if it sounds weird!
- Perform a concert in your living room for family, friends, relatives, pets, or stuffed animals.
- Play in a nursing home or homeless shelter – it will mean so much to the people there and you will feel really good.
- Be honest! You are not fooling us when you say you practiced but really didn’t. (Secret: we always know the truth anyway!)
- It doesn’t matter what song you are on, or what book you are on, it matters how well you play whatever piece you are working on.
- Impressive to me is playing a Book 1 piece with great form and great tone – not a Book 4 piece sloppy and messy.
- Don’t be shy to tell your teachers if you have thoughts of quitting – we won’t be offended and can help you through it or explore other options – if we know!
- Practice Charts aren’t for babies – they are useful and helpful!
- If I still begin my warm ups playing open strings, so can you!
- Sometimes the boring stuff leads to the really cool stuff.
What advice would you give to parents who are just starting their musical journey?
- Everyone is different. Every child, even every sibling are so uniquely themselves which means that everyone’s needs are different.
- Give space for your child to be independent.
- Don’t play the same instrument as your siblings – sometimes it works, most often it doesn’t!
- If you are a musician, don’t try to teach your child!
- When searching for a teacher, older doesn’t necessarily mean better. Some of my greatest have been young spring chickens!
- Not every teacher is the perfect fit for every child. Not every child is the perfect fit for every teacher.
- Be adaptable. What works one day may not work the next.
- Books and studies are there to help in parenting but the right way to do things is ultimately whatever works for you.
- Be patient! Everyone learns at their own pace and that is the right pace!
- Find the perfect balance of being strict and relaxed.
- Treat your munchkins as little people not little kids.
- Play practice games when your kids are young, but as they mature, limit the “incentive” practicing. Let them want it.
- The beginning of your child’s musical journey is so important. In my opinion, it’s the time that’s most important. You want it to be fun, positive, inspiring, exciting, and educational. How many friends do you know that quit their instruments growing up because they had a mean, wicked teacher and now regret it in their adult life? If you add it all up, your teachers spend so much time with your kids, it’s amazing how much of an impact they have on them. It’s wonderful to find a person who is a great teacher but it’s even better to find a teacher that is also a role model and friend.
1 – My old ugly big brown cello!
2 – The infamous piano BITE!