Spotlight on Music and Education Student: Rosa Lee

by Keisha Hutchins Hirlinger

Master’s in Education in Music student, Rosa Lee, uses both her spiritual practice and educational experiences to inform her performance practice. You can hear her inspired performance at her Master’s Piano Recital on Friday, December 16th at 7:30 in Milbank Chapel.

You studied at Julliard and earned both your bachelor’s and Master’s degrees there in performance. What made you decide to pursue a degree in education?

The standard route with a background like mine, is to take the performance route and it is a big part of what I do now, but I wanted to take a more academic route outside of performance. I felt like I need and wanted to widen my scope because I had been so specialized in piano performance and the conservatory world. I wanted my vision to include education and I would like ultimately become a college professor.

Where do you see performing and teaching intersecting in your life? Performance often informs our practice as teachers and vice versa, how do you feel that this is realized in your own teaching and performance practice?

The classes here at TC are helping me to better verbalize what I am doing and what my students are doing as performers and this informs my own practice. Both understanding how to verbalize what I want my students to do in their lessons and understanding it for myself is making me a stronger performer and freeing me up, which I find really fascinating.

Performing and verbalizing and teaching are related. Where I was for 6 years, I was just performing. Here, I actually explore things more creatively. Many times when I am teaching and I am working on things with my students, the issues we are addressing in their lessons are usually the same things that I need to work on myself. When I go back to my practice room, the things we discussed in our lessons come up in my own practice. Essentially, I am a part of my own learning and teaching, learning from my own teaching practice and from my students.

I really enjoy performing, but I actually really like teaching. There is an ultimate free, flowing experience that I want to achieve during my performances and it does not always happen, but it is something that I experience all the time during the lessons that I teach.  I love that connection with the student, I love that feeling when you watch your students figure something out and make progress. I have that same “carried away” feeling that I have in that “ultimate” performance when I am teaching. I just feel really connected to the entire experience.

How is your experience at TC informing your performance practice?

It is so different here at TC from my previous experience. It’s a completely different world. My personality and my mind are slowly evolving and changing and I feel like I am opening myself to new things. In my classes, creativity and critical thinking are highly valued. I feel like all of the issues I have had around performing and being so specialized and the things that surround those issues, are becoming more clear and into focus for me. The experiences I am having in my classes are helping me to understand and address these performance issues, even when they are not directly related to my performance practice.

Studying at TC, I am exposed to performance topics that are definitely related to my own performance experience, but ironically, I never gave them any thought consciously. Things like performance anxiety/stage fright, motivation in practicing and other pedagogical questions related to performance. So looking at these things has opened my eyes not only as an educator, but also as a performer and this is really interesting to me.  I spent most of my time being narrowly focused on performance practice and the study or composers and the conservatory courses, but I have never been in a field where I can learn about these topics.

For me, with my own challenges round performance anxiety, I feel like studying this from a pedagogical standpoint and learning about ways to help my students address this issue is definitely helping me to address this issue for myself.

I know that performing is very important to you, and that you want to continue to perform while you are teaching. What is it that continues to draw you back to the performance part of your life?

Performing for me is very spiritual. It makes me feel me more connected to people, my audience and to just the world around me. Right before my performances. I feel like I am becoming closer to my own spirituality, to the audience, that there is an interconnectedness that I am about to experience through my playing for people.

Piano does not have words so it lends itself to being a means through which one can communicate in and of itself. I see playing piano as a way to communicate and spread something positive spiritually and emotionally. This concept is something that I want to ultimately communicate and it is what made music different from anything else in my life. But this does not always happen and that is something I want to make more consistent. When I am spiritually in tune, when I am physically and technically focused, the performance is what I am looking for, and it is as perfect as it could be. I want all of these parts to fall into place. For me, this is what I am ultimately striving for.

That said, while I feel like the spiritual element of my performance practice is important, ultimately I need to also continue to be committed to my technical development. I feel like the spiritual practice makes the technical, note practice more effective and perhaps, makes the process go faster. I think this element of my playing distinguishes my playing and my approach from others who might be note-perfect, but have not made any connection with the audience. For me, if I feel spiritually and emotionally connected and I have given my all during a performance, then, I feel satisfied, even if it is not note-perfect.

Why did you ultimately decide on TC?

I wanted to focus on education, and TC has an incredibly strong reputation. I learned about TC while I was attending Julliard and I was interested in the school because of the relationship it had with Julliard. It always felt like something I should investigate and take part in.

There is also a joint program with Julliard and so that transition from Julliard here did not feel like as big of a leap for me. I am still able to study with my teacher and there is a connection and familiarity with the school because of that affiliation. I also know several people who went here that had good experiences and I also talked with people who went in a non-traditional direction after a performance degree and they also recommended TC.

How has your experience been with your colleagues?

My colleagues here are wonderful and very different from where I came from before. Everyone participates, which I did not experience before, usually everyone is very open and creative and they are thinking and I learn a lot from them. Being surrounded by people who are so creative and open has influenced me and my way of thinking and I think that  is part and parcel to my being more open to new and different things that I may not have experienced or understood before. Many of them have had a lot of teaching experience, too, so as a new teacher, this is really helpful for me and I learn a lot from them in that sense, as well.

Learn more about the Music and Education program at Teachers College, here.