André J. Roy
Department of Performance (String Area), Schulich School of Music
What are some of the strategies that you use in your courses to engage students?
Teaching one-on-one as I do, one needs to get to know the students in order to adapt the message from student to student and week to week. One has to take into account the personality of each student, their imagination, intellectual ability, general physical disposition, level of technical development, temperament, and musical and emotional maturity. In sum, the strategy is to be à l’écoute, as we say, to really listen and know where they are at that moment. I always begin lessons by asking questions to gauge how they are doing, physically and emotionally, because this affects everything: how they play, how they learn, how physically they can absorb information. In sum, how we will work in that hour.
I also have a weekly performance class where students play for one another. During that class, I try as much as possible not to be the one doing all the talking. Instead, I have the students comment on each other’s performances: learning to verbalize what they are seeing and hearing is a very important process. They then become more aware of the technical problems they may have with their own instruments and are able to go back to the practice room with a defined goal on what needs to be corrected.
How do you evaluate your students’ learning? What kind of assessment strategies do you use?
Evaluating a student who is developing his or her talent is a very delicate matter. The teaching of music performance focuses on two distinct and sometimes competing goals: One, to facilitate a student’s ability to perform on an instrument through a well-defined, well-organized, and methodical technical regime and two, to emphasize the emotional nature of music making and to promote creativity through a complete abandonment to the moment in pursuit of artistic excellence. I evaluate students on how they have physically developed according to their talent, and how they’ve worked towards this development. Talent only carries them so far, and after that, it’s all work. I let them know where they are physically, if they’re on track, and also, that they can’t fool me if they haven’t practiced! I discuss their musical goals and if these are realistic given their physical development. I help them assess themselves because the apprentissage of an instrument is a knowledge acquired by the body, and the more they develop technically, the less able they are to witness their own progress.
Now that’s for their physical or technical development. Musical development on the other hand is much more complex and does require that one develops on so many levels: all courses in their programs will greatly contribute to this end. Music, or the expression of it, is this thing inside of us that’s not tangible. Suddenly something will move you and will then open doors for you to express yourself in new ways, but this is sometimes very difficult for 17-year-olds. It is a big leap for a student to acquire the musical sensitivity to all the emotions that need to be engaged in order to successfully communicate an artistic intention. I can only make sure students know when things go well, when they do develop their musical abilities and are able to convey the written text with great emotion.
What is the most important thing students in your discipline learn when taking a course with you? How about students from outside your discipline?
Students tell me that they come to me mainly because they have heard that I will be able to develop their talent, that I will see very quickly what their physical limitations are and how to overcome them. So, yes, I do my best to develop their skills but I see my role on a larger scale; I try to be a mentor who helps them become who they need to become as people. I tell them that, while they are studying music, it is not only a question of what they will do with (or in) music, but where they will be as people, how they will relate with others and the world. Being a musician is being able to convey their love for the arts, and being able to make people listen. They are actually developing their soul and their heart.
How do you help your students understand what research and/or scholarship is in your discipline (including findings, methodologies, etc.)?
Musicians are faced with a very difficult time. Music is being re-evaluated, devalued even, so we have to re-evaluate what we do and how we do it. Students have to not only be proficient on their instruments, but understand new media, how to promote themselves, redefine and create their own paths. The School has a tremendous research-intensive humanities side, and research in music technology at CIRMMT; I am very keen that students develop thoroughly in areas of study beyond technical proficiency. They should know how to play their instrument, but also why Mozart is played this way and Handel that way—historically, theoretically, emotionally. It is important to me that they have the tools to become really good and knowledgeable musicians, using their own talent and hard work to successfully define their own career.
What are your recommendations to new faculty members to help them develop in their teaching role?
I think you become a good professor when you are faced with adversity—like with anything, you acquire knowledge by asking yourself questions. In my teaching, I tell students that they are their own best teachers because they spend so much of the day practicing, and that practicing is them teaching themselves. I also get my most advanced students, who are interested in teaching, to sit in on lessons, and I ask them to contribute to the lesson: what they would do, how they would proceed. I believe the most important tool for young professors is to get a good sense of their students and their emotional readiness for new knowledge. If you’re à l’écoute in this way, you can know right away what you can or can’t do during that hour of teaching.
What advice do you have for undergraduate students about how to get the most out of your courses?
I teach one-on-one lessons so I advise students to come to lessons rested, ready to learn, to listen, if they want, to bring a recording device to the lesson if they have trouble concentrating, even to switch time slots with another student if they’re too tired. They need to remember that as instrumentalists, they’re athletes. And athletes need to keep to a routine, to eat well, to make sure they sleep at the right time and for the right amount of time. I want them to treat the lesson as if it were a performance, and to be physically and mentally prepared for that hour.
Why do you teach?
I see it as a calling, as my role in life. This is where I need to be, and this is what I need to do. As human beings, we all look for why we’re here, for the things that we do to have a meaning, and a meaningful role to play in society. I think I found mine years ago, and that’s why I’m teaching.