Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Teacher


“The primary job of a teacher is to create opportunities for success.”

“The most important student of any teacher is the one they see in the mirror.”

“A great teacher has an opportunity to influence other lives in a profound way.”

“There are many who can play instruments very well. However, a great teacher is very rare.”


“I hope to be remembered for my teaching more than my playing.”

As a young musician, I first learned of the great power of teachers to influence lives when they influenced mine. I was fortunate to have wonderful teachers in my early in my career. Jake was the most influential but there were many others. Some, like Adolph Herseth and Ed Kleinhammer, taught me by example. I never had a formal lesson, but I had profound opportunities to learn from them whenever I was in their presence.


A student at Vandercook College of Music once asked, “Mr. Rocco, Why are you such a great teacher?” I responded, “Because I was lucky to have great teachers myself.” I have always considered my work training teachers to be the most important of my career.

I once attend a lecture given by a teacher who was the recipient of “The Golden Apple Award” for his excellence in education. He spoke of the advice his mother, also a teacher, gave him when he was considering entering the education profession. She advised, “If you love history, become a college professor. If you love children, become a teacher.”


“There is a profound difference between the subject we teach and to whom we teach it.”

“A great teacher must love their students more than what they are teaching.”

We have all experienced learned scholars, who have extensive knowledge of their subject, but are poor teachers. Most often, that’s because they love their field of study more than their students.

It is understood that someone who teaches music must love music. The challenges of trying to make a living in the music profession are a test of that love. However, it is a fact that some teach music because it’s not possible for them to perform professionally. They may be highly accomplished musicians but the professional performance opportunities do not exist.

Sometimes, these unhappy performers become unhappy teachers as well. Unfortunately, they also end up with unhappy students.


“Always remember that the students in your studio, classroom, or rehearsal room are not there for your benefit. They are in your care to receive the experience of music. When you provide that experience for your students, you will also receive a great benefit.”

“As a teacher, you must continue to develop your personal performance skills. If you stop playing your instrument, you will forget why you have a career in music.”

“Let the music be your most powerful guide in teaching. If you listen carefully, it will tell you everything you need to know.”

“Sound motivates function.”

“The question heard most often by any music teacher is, “How does this go?”

H.E. Nutt

“To teach is to learn twice.”

In November 2005, The Instrumentalist magazine featured me in an article about a brass player who has success teaching string and woodwind instruments. I mention that, “My students know much more about their instruments than I do. However, I know much more about the music. That’s all I need.”

Everything I do as a teacher in a classroom, rehearsal room, or lesson studio is about helping my students develop a higher awareness of the music they are attempting to play. I consider my lack of technical knowledge to be an advantage because I’m not distracted from the music. Most importantly, I’m not distracting my students either.

Recently, one of the violinists in the Mother McAuley High School Orchestra asked, “Mr. Rocco, why don’t you ever say anything about the violin? You only talk about the music.”

I replied, “Be thankful because you already know a lot about the violin. It’s the music that you need to know more.”


“If your heart is not pounding in your chest from the thrill of what you just played, you must see your doctor. There’s something wrong.”

“Take what you learned and experienced with you. Don’t leave a single crumb on the floor.”

“I know what it is like to be a suffering brass player. Fortunately, I also know the joy of playing well. Suffering is not a requirement in order to experience the joy, but it’s an inevitable outcome for someone who does not know how to create success.”


Since his death in 1998, I have heard this remark on many occasions.

“I’m experiencing problems in my playing. I wish that Jake was still around.”

Yes, we have lost Jake's personality and the twinkle in his eyes. However, his spirit and knowledge are still with us because it lives within the many devoted students he left behind.

If you need help, ask for it anytime! (rogrocco@aol.com)

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