An inside look at my Indiana University studio and teaching style.
From an April 14, 2004 interview (Bloomington, Indiana) by Margaret I. Dees as part of her doctoral dissertation on an investigation of pedagogical style, content and philosophy. From Florida State University.
DEES: Discuss your early musical and non-musical experiences and how they have shaped your career.
KLUG: This topic is like a series of questions that I regularly put to my pedagogy class, "Why are you guys here? What is it that made all of you finally end up in this as a career...what is it about your early years?" In almost every case, it's because there was a special teacher. Someone who took us under their wing, gave us motivation, helped us along. Bernard H. Stiner in Waukegan, Illinois, where I grew up, did that for me. He was responsible for a large group of successful students in his long career. He was an instrumental specialist (clarinet was his major instrument) who traveled to several elementary schools and conducted the all-city Waukegan Grade School Band. I started clarinet in the fourth grade in a class of all clarinetists; I don't remember at what point I moved to private lessons. When I did, it was to study for many years with Bernard Stiner. My mother was a big motivator to both play the clarinet and to practice. She had played the instrument a bit as a teenager, so had a fondness for it. And I quite remember my first summer playing the clarinet when my mother made me practice two hours a day. That will do quite a bit for you [laughs]! Because of your success on the instrument, you get fired up with the recognition by peers, parents and teachers as to what you are capable of. Bernie Stiner and his wife Caryl made personal connections with their students. They had no children; we were their children. They would push us, encourage us, enjoy us, and yip at us when we needed it. When I think about what Bernie had to say to me musically about the instrument, I'm not sure it was greatly insightful, but perhaps it didn't need to be. He was just so enthusiastic about his students; I think that accounts for a lot. The way Bernie and Caryl made personal attachments to their students was the core of their success, I believe, and I try to incorporate this approach to working with my own students at Indiana.
DEES: Who influenced you and how is this reflected in your teaching and playing?
KLUG: My list of clarinet teachers would run from Bernard Stiner to Robert Marcellus to Donald McGinnis, Robert Titus, Joseph Lord, Anthony Gigliotti, Ignatius Gennusa, Norman Heim and Mitchell Lurie, a who's who of the clarinet world at different times in my life. I can still remember important things I learned from each of them. The biggest early influence would have been Robert Marcellus during my senior year of high school on the west side of Cleveland. His teaching was all about passing on the Daniel Bonade pedagogy, which Marcellus had been taken through himself. I remember a great deal of those years of lessons with Bob, and I suppose that this was my first experience with such a highly thought out, organized and repetitive way of working on the instrument.
My other clarinet teachers were probably less structured in their teaching. I remember Lurie's easy professionalism, sort of laid back, non-threatening and a fun person to play for. His approach to teaching might have seemed more casual than other teachers, but he had a way of passing on so much information, and life's experiences, in a very subtle way.
My master's degree is in flute, and I also had quite a few flute teachers along the way, too. Perhaps my most influential flute teacher was Bill Montgomery from the University of Maryland. He was the most highly structured teacher I ever experienced. From detailed markings in the music to motivation and career advice, Bill had his pedagogy clearly thought out. He was Mr. High Energy who was always "up" for your lessons, enthusiastic about your successes, capable of holding out the carrot a little further than you could reach, and highly detailed in the ways in which he explained the instrument. Bill was a complete musician who took great delight in providing you with all of the significant historical, stylistic and acoustic information about a piece of music and the instruments of the time. I must say that his manner of dedication and organization had a very strong impact on my burgeoning teaching career.
As a busy woodwind doubler in my twenties, I also worked with a couple of oboe teachers and saxophone teachers, too. Both the different acoustic properties and repertoire of these other instruments have had tremendous influences on my clarinet playing.
DEES: Is doubling something you recommend to your students?
KLUG: Yes. Once the basic approach to clarinet is relatively stable, I encourage them to work on the other instruments (bass and E-flat) in the family. By the time the students get to graduate school, if they have dreams of being a university teacher, I encourage the DM students to choose career-enhancing subjects for their minors. Since most entry-level college teaching positions require us to do a multiplicity of things (not just teach the clarinet), some of these other valuable skills are things like saxophone, music theory, basic musicianship, woodwind methods, and perhaps a little conducting. These are the kinds of activities I encourage my doctoral students to pursue to improve their employment possibilities. None of my current students, however, are doing any of the wacky doublings (flute, oboe) that I used to do.
DEES: You had mentioned briefly your lessons with Marcellus and Montgomery, their structure and method. Is that something you do in your own teaching?
KLUG: Yes, I try to give them all a clear, detailed structure of what and how I'm going to teach them. For the last three years I have been teaching all my students (freshmen through doctoral level) with a combination of private and class lessons. Each student receives a thirty-minute private lesson, which is devoted exclusively to the interpretation of whatever they're working on--solos, chamber music, orchestra excerpts. Each student is also in a three- or four-member group lesson for two hours a week. The students in each group are of similar abilities, rather than class level in school. In the group lessons (which I sometimes dub "clarinet boot camp") we do long tones, intervals, scales, arpeggios, ear-training materials, rhythm work, etudes and transposition. These control and technique building materials are done in a sequential approach, going down the row of students one to the other. While one student is playing, the others are fingering along. I seldom have to say anything about their preparation as the fear of being under-prepared in front of their colleagues is usually sufficient motivation. These musical drills generally go on for an hour, followed by an hour of "mini performances" in which each class member stands up to play a movement of something they're currently working on. At this point the other members of the class are asked to comment on the performance, which develops critical ears, communication skills and diplomacy. I must say that both the students and I love the environment of the group lessons. Somehow the two-hour class goes very quickly for everyone (students and teacher), we have fun doing our various group activities, AND the students seem to progress at a faster rate than with the traditional one-hour private lesson format.
DEES: Do you use standard clarinet etudes in their lessons?
KLUG: Mostly I have them do new materials. Since most of the students have done Rose etudes with some other teacher before coming to me, I try to plow new ground with them. As an overall approach for all my students, I use the structure of my own required text, The Clarinet Doctor, which provides a flexible undergraduate curriculum, practicing strategies and pedagogical insights. This book came about back in the mid ‘90s when I revised and repackaged the thirty-plus articles I had written for The Clarinet during the decade that I served as its pedagogy editor. The book has served me well for both lessons and my clarinet pedagogy class. But my goal is to always choose materials for my students that are unknown to them, no one else in the studio is playing them (hence no student-to-student comparisons), and they are challenging. I must also say that this is a time when I refocus my students to better address the issues of refinement and quality in their playing. High school students frequently get by with quantity; I work on developing their ears to appreciate quality.
DEES: How would you describe the atmosphere of your studio and what do you do to achieve it?
KLUG: I hope that the environment in my studio is always challenging and fun. While I teach a subject (the clarinet) for sure, I always teach it through the individual. If I'm doing my job correctly, each one of my students receives their own, slightly different, approach from me. I suppose that is always the biggest challenge to any teacher, to impart information to each student in a varied and slightly different manner, as though it were freshly minted that day. In general, the dynamics of the group lesson require a teacher to be more enthusiastic, and interesting/theatrical than they might normally be in a private lesson. For me (perhaps the ham in me coming out!), this extra energy is easy to produce and maintain.
In terms of student motivation in a group lesson, the subtle peer expectations to play at a high level seem to almost eliminate any need from me to say anything in this area. Whether a student is prepared or unprepared is rather self-evident to everyone in the room, and self-correcting. Both my achievers and under achievers are leveled out by the group dynamics, which helps calm everyone down and not to get so anxious about playing for each other. Group lessons can also reduce or eliminate the mental baggage that we have about each other. The teacher might say to themselves as they open the door, "here comes that not very talented student," while a student might come through the door thinking, "my teacher hates me." In a group lesson, all that stuff is omitted, never gotten to, there's no time, or appropriateness, for it.
In my teaching, and in my life, humor is an important life force that puts things into perspective and helps me deal with the fact that we're fallible human beings. As I constantly remind my (over-achieving) students, "this isn't life and death it's just the clarinet." I try to get them to relax to achieve growth and I attempt to be a bit of a cheerleader to their efforts. I also like to have students in my studio who are, in every sense of the word, "good people." I want to enjoy them as individuals, not just clarinetists. The personality of the students who audition for my studio is almost as important to me as their clarinet abilities in deciding whether I accept them. I must say that I would rather not deal with the difficult or destructive personalities that occasionally come along. It makes the lessons arduous and can cancel out the value of my teaching, it literally can nullify me. I've noticed, however, that any overly large egos are usually kept in check by the group lesson atmosphere.
As part of my studio atmosphere, I also try to avoid picking apart everything that my students do. Let's be honest here, EVERYONE'S playing has tons of things that need improving, but if you limit the number and kinds of faults that you focus on, lots of other things will improve on their own, as time passes. I want my students to achieve the skill of continuity....to keep going despite note or control issues along the way. Too many students stop playing because something goes wrong, or they think something is about to go wrong. Students are quite often apologetic about mistakes, sometimes verbally so, to which I generally don't say anything at all. I don't want them to get visually or vocally diverted from their most important task--keep going! As such, I treat mistakes as natural and inevitable, to eliminate the rather common approach of playing NOT to make a mistake.
To help eliminate excessive stopping, everyone must keep the ball going in group lessons, and I preach recovering from mistakes rather than ruminating over them. I think that students these days spend too much time on too little materials. Polish, polish, polish. That's not how the world works, which is gobble, gobble, gobble. These days you have to be able to learn quickly and get on with it in a professional setting. Therefore, I focus the bulk of my teaching on giving my students an essential musical vocabulary: tone, tuning, technique, sight-reading and transposition skills. The better we are at the basics the easier it is to play the monuments of our literature. AND you cannot learn to play the clarinet while working on Mozart, Weber and Poulenc. Most students want to tackle these pieces without already having their "clarinet ducks" in a row. It really cuts to the fact that too many students want to avoid foundation drills that give them the essential command of the instrument. Why? Because it often isn't fun. It's my job to make it fun.
DEES: What are the most important things for your students to learn and how do you facilitate that learning?
KLUG: I really like them to have good tones. I emphasize that a lot, and while you may not always see picture perfect embouchures from my students, I believe that all their tones are quite matched and uniform. I'm less concerned with how the embouchure looks than how it sounds, so I do a great deal of aural teaching. The group lesson provides an interesting exercise in tone matching in that the students' tones at the end of a two-hour lesson vs. at the beginning show a dramatic improvement. They unconsciously listen to each other, and me, and make subtle improvements quite without me saying anything.
Another important item to work on is reducing the tension that so often affects hands/arms, embouchure and tongue. Often this comes about because students are trying to make themselves play accurately, rather than just allowing it to happen. I try to get them to chill out and relax. Often things go together: students play forte, grab the clarinet tighter and squeeze the mouthpiece too hard. If you can get one part of the system to lighten up, say the hands, very often everything else will slack off a bit, too. Students commonly work too hard to play loud or fast. I have a hunch that the traditional method of "working things up the metronome" can be partially responsible for the incremental tension that creeps in as one plays faster. To avoid that, I've found some success with playing a passage very slow, over and over. In such an ultra-slow environment the hands relax completely, and one plays the notes easily. Once this feeling becomes comfortable, then double or triple the speed, but keep the same feeling in the hands from the slow version. Most students will then be able to glide through the thorny passage with ease. One should apply the slow hand feeling to the fast passage in order to ALLOW yourself to play fast, never MAKE yourself play fast.
The last element about facilitating learning is to think of lessons as progress checks, not performances. We are all works in progress, and learning is incremental, often invisibly so. Keep undue pressure off the students; they supply enough of their own in most cases. Cut them some slack on nit-picking, a lesson shouldn't be turned into being nibbled to death by ducks.
DEES: Has your teaching changed over the years? If so, how?
KLUG: I think of myself as a student of the instrument, too, and I'm continually working on my own clarinet playing; experimenting with embouchure, hand and posture revisions, in order to understand my own playing better and improve it if I can. This information, when successful (and some of it isn't, to be sure!), is then passed on to my students. Sometimes I'll have a former student of mine (from only four or five years ago) come back to IU to sit in on a class. Afterwards they'll say, "how come you never told me that!?" I must admit that I didn't know it then, that I've learned some things since they were my student.
I believe there is a solid connection between a teacher's skill on the instrument and what they're able to have their students achieve. I don't believe you can teach a thing or place that you haven't visited yourself. Students are prone to copy what you sound like and how you play. As I often tell my IU Pedagogy Class students, "if you don't like how your students sound, then YOU should go practice more!"
I find teaching so incredibly challenging. It is an attractive learning process to me, and I've always been inquisitive about the cause and effect of various problems. While I've had a thirty- five-year career of having lots of helpful "guinea pigs" to help me hone my craft, I'm always looking for other ways of expressing my thoughts and quicker ways of solving problems.
Perhaps as a result of students being more needy for a sympathetic and emotionally connected teacher, and partly because I'm getting older, I guess (!), I am making a much deeper and more personal connection with my students these days. As I indicated before, I'm teaching the instrument more through the student than I ever did, and I believe I make it clear how important they are to me as "people with problems." I make myself open and available to them as a mentor of life issues as well as the clarinet. This approach seems to have borne fruit. I do care a lot about all of them and I think they give that back to me as well, it's a two-way street. I trust them to do the work and they trust me to lead them in the right direction.
DEES: It's interesting you mention you think teaching has changed. I feel I was the end of a generation of teaching styles. You just went to your lessons and learned to play clarinet. You tried to drain the teacher of their knowledge. It was, perhaps, a more formal environment, too.
KLUG: Yes, but you were also required to produce more!
DEES: You are one of the many people I've talked to who has said they think the students have changed. It's very interesting to me.
KLUG: You need to be cautious about saying that in general, as people our age generally believe that the younger generation is going to hell in a hand basket anyway! I must say, however, regardless of how you would characterize students' personalities and learning approaches these days, I believe that they are now more narrowly prepared on clarinet than they used to be. Perhaps as a part of the "polish, polish, polish" approach I spoke about earlier, it seems that so many student applicants to IU these days have spent too much time on too little material leading up to their auditions. Very few (an amazingly low number, actually) know all their major and minor scales (and we never ask for the most difficult ones). So many of their solos seem to have been learned by rote, thereby making future changes or alterations impossible. To assess a student's true musical skills, we have incorporated rhythm charts for them to clap and pitch sets on the piano to match with their clarinets. We pay more attention to the GPAs and the standardized test scores from the SAT and ACT than we did in the past; the higher these things are, the greater the potential for growth. We also ask them a couple of questions to respond to, to get a sense of their personalities and the commitment to their art. And all of this must be done in seven to eight minutes! Mostly we get the evaluation right, I suppose, with the only unanswered question being about their level of motivation and work ethic once they get to school.
DEES: Speaking of motivation, how do you motivate your students?
KLUG: Firstly, I get them to buy into the concept that change is necessary and that they will have to embrace it. Change will take them out of their comfort zone for sure, but without that there will be little progress. This is usually less of a sell to the undergraduates who are generally the human sponges of the clarinet world. Often the graduate students are less willing to go down the garden path with me, and it finally must occur to them (rather than me imposing it on them) as a good thing to do. This quite often happens when the grads get beaten out by the undergraduates for chair positions in our orchestras after blind auditions behind a screen! I think it also helps that our clarinet student body is generally of a high level, which provides its own kind of subtle, peer pressure. All the students learn from each other in this way.
I periodically remind my students that I'm the "bad news bear." I tell them what's wrong with their playing. I try to also make sure, obviously, that I supply a fair number of kudos, too. I try to use language that is inclusive, such as, "we need to do this," or "let's make sure we keep the tempos steady," etc. I think that the change of pronoun can be helpful from the usual "you."
Sorry to keep hitting on this whole group lesson thing, but when I'm trying to effect change in some aspect of a student's playing, the rest of the students in the group are incredibly helpful to me as I try to take someone comfort zone. If I suggest an embouchure change to a student in a private lesson, it is just my word against the students, and all they know is that the new embouchure feels weird. But when the rest of the students in the group begin to chime in with words of encouragement about how much better it sounds, the student is convinced! I've seen this work so well, so many times, that I have come to rely on these unscripted responses from the group members to help me sell all kinds of changes. The group members also supply their own motivation to "keep up" with each other. While I assign students to these groups based on similar skill sets, there are still things at which each excels (and those individuals then serve as examples to emulate) and the others strive to keep up. The group is sort of innately self-motivating, a very cool thing!
DEES: Is there anything else that you would care to add about your teaching?
KLUG: I like to take my students to places they haven't gone before; new literature, new ways of thinking about playing the instrument, improving their ears and sense of rhythm, developing an ability to play music in a swing style, giving them tools they need to learn new music quickly. And I try to do this in a fast-paced environment of collegiality and humor, with lots of challenging games to whet their appetite and keep them mentally alert, and where I'm the big kid on the playground pushing the merry-go-round at a slightly faster speed than is comfortable.
As you look around my studio, you can hardly help noticing that it is cluttered! The walls are covered with pictures of present and past students, and those of guest artists and master class teachers. I consider my students to be a kind of extended family, and I insist that they be generous and supportive of one another's activities. When one of them does a recital, ALL the others are expected to attend. AND they will go backstage afterwards to pass on congratulations. My students are young professionals in the making and they need to support their pals. Yes, they are competitors of a type, but I expect them to be genuinely friendly and supportive of each other. They must be good "clarinet citizens."