ASTA 75th Anniversary
Member Stories

This Month: Sharing ideas in a collaborative community

Joan Ellersick
Watertown, Massachusetts

I thought I didn’t want to be a teacher … just out of college, with my freshly minted performance degree, I was thrilled to join the ranks of “real” musicians earning my living in a professional orchestra. But teaching snuck up on me, with the pleasures of learning from my colleagues as addictive as learning with and from my students.

It turns out to be possible (though perhaps not always advisable) to confer with your stand partner about teaching challenges during quiet moments in the viola part. Joining ASTA offered opportunities for more in-depth investigation and gave us even more to talk about!

A move from the Midwest to Massachusetts led me to the vibrant MA-ASTA chapter, home of world-class “teaching geeks.” Conferring with colleagues gradually took on a life of its own, moving from stolen moments in orchestra rehearsals to weekday mornings around the kitchen table, then a friendly local coffee shop, growing into monthly MA-ASTA Studio Teacher forums. So many first-rate teachers giving so generously of their time and wisdom, with special thoughts of Janet Packer opening her home for incredibly thoughtful discussions on applying Dounis principles and incredibly gracious refreshments in actual china cups.

Serving on the MA-ASTA board fostered cross-pollination between studio and classroom teachers, a tricky logistical feat. Kudos to MA-ASTA for keeping those lines of communication open. It’s all too easy to forget how much we depend on each other on both sides of those school walls.

Congratulations to ASTA on turning 75!

Benjamin Whitcomb
Whitewater, Wisconsin

Happy 75th birthday, ASTA! What an important organization for the field of string playing and teaching. There are so many things to love about ASTA, but I think my favorite has to be the very spirit of sharing ideas to the betterment of the profession. This is an attitude that is not shared worldwide, but we in America do benefit considerably from it.

Many of my mentors were very active in ASTA, the most significant of these being Phyllis Young. I remember how challenging my first semester in the University of Texas String Project was, although it was not my first time teaching. One of my assigned students was an eight-year-old boy who had the attention span of a puppy—everything was a distraction! In addition, in my music theory class I had a young man who was bound and determined to challenge my authority. I brought up both situations with Mrs. Young privately and in pedagogy class, and she offered some useful suggestions. For the youngster, this consisted of reducing everything to small bite-sizes combined with repackaging most every activity as a game. For the troublemaker in the theory class, it required having a talk with his parents.

That December, when we reflected on the semester’s events and progress, I remember Mrs. Young saying to me “Well, it looks like you’re figuring it out!” That was all the pep talk I needed to stick with this challenging field of string teaching, and I am very glad I did!