Rachel Iwaasa: Teaching Philosophy

Rachel currently has lesson times available on Tuesdays and Thursdays in her East Vancouver studio at Charles and Victoria. To inquire, please email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. -- Martha Graham
I see teaching as a collaborative journey to find the way to the creative channel for each student, and to help them to open it wider while keeping it their own. It is a position of tremendous privilege and tremendous responsibility. As teachers we are entrusted with the care and tending of artistic voices that will appear only once in the history of the universe, voices that are all too easily blocked or deformed by fear, anxiety, tension, inertia, desire to please, or simply habit. We frequently meet students in their most vulnerable emotional places, and we owe it to them and to the world to take great care with their hearts and psyches.
My goal as a teacher is to create a positive, process oriented learning environment, in which short- and long-term goals are seen not as ends in themselves, but rather as motivational tools within a life-long learning curve. Experimentation and artistic risk-taking are encouraged, with mistakes and disappointments welcomed as opportunities to learn and grow. I try not to present students with answers, but teach them how to ask the questions that will guide them to explore different options and find their own solutions. They learn to recast the inner critic as the inner teacher – no longer a condemning judge, but the still, small voice of inspiration, the indication that somewhere deep down, they do indeed know how they want the music to sound. They are coaxed to persevere past their feeling of "That was terrible," and reframe that frustration as "I know that could be better – now how?"
The emphasis of my teaching is on the "how" and "why" of any interpretation. Technique and musicality are approached as a single, inseparable entity: discussions of musical considerations incorporate the concrete physical means by which to achieve them and the analytical basis for their selection, while work towards facility at the instrument is presented in service to tone, colour, dynamic control, balance, clarity, cantabile lines, and rhythm. That said, I am a strong advocate (and daily practitioner) of scales, arpeggios and other technical exercises to develop musical literacy and to prevent injury.
I recognize that there is no one way that will work for everybody, or every situation – so as artists, we each need to explore as many avenues as possible to find the tools that will serve us best. As both a teacher and a pianist, I strive to deploy the auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning processes; to engage the cognitive faculties through narrative, imagery, humour, analogy and analysis; to build context by forging links with historical events and other artistic disciplines; to employ research in cognitive psychology on how we hear, learn and remember to develop practice techniques and inform interpretive choices; and to keep my curiosity open and awake to new possibilities. Performers who spend their whole lives in the practice room can miss out: the broader our knowledge and life experience, the more we bring to the table as artists.
For me, teaching piano is an endlessly fascinating challenge, as with each teacher-student relationship, we puzzle out together the specificities of how their individual brain and body work, and together search out the keys that will unlock their potential. And I am continually grateful for the new perspectives and the new tools I gain in the process, which in turn enrich my own artistic work.
--Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa