Environment and Atmosphere:
Coaching is chamber music. I listen to the group with my heart as well as my ears.
I take the emotional temperature of the group. Pre-formed? Nervous? Experienced? Getting along?
In how much detail does the group want to work? How can I increase the engagement and energy level of the room?
How do the individual members respond to criticism? Do they welcome or resist it?
How much time will they have to practice before the next session? What is a reasonable expectation for improvement?
Can I find the key to each person? What is the most helpful thing I can give him or her individually?
Attack is not conducive to learning. If a person becomes defensive, I back off. I watch for cues in the body language. I try to find another way to help.
If I sense people are getting tired or grouchy, losing concentration, etc. I will deliberately tell a story or joke to lighten the mood.
It is good for me to have background knowledge of the piece. Often players already know many details of the work’s birth and the composer’s life.
Where this information is particularly useful is imagining it into the music – telling a story that makes sense with what we know of the composer and the kind of stories he likes to tell. I can help by setting the piece within the pantheon of composers and chamber music repertoire, talking about the historical era, or finding parallels in art and literature.
We are all human and we can all find ways to sense what the composer might have been feeling.
All technical suggestions should follow from musical concepts. If I can communicate an understanding of the different characters and emotions of the work, and then make specific requests for articulations, dynamics, phrasing and body language to enhance these characters, it is easier for players to grasp the whole and to remember why they might make particular choices.
So much of chamber music is simply listening. Slow work (work on intonation, work for balance, harmonic work, matching strokes etc.) is essential for learning to hear.
Slow rehearsing is ideal for developing both listening and playing skills. By having people play in pairs, taking turns to listen, watch the score, and make suggestions, I can teach rehearsal technique for use at home.