Elena Smith – Cello Teachers

Cello Instructor
Cello Performance
Temple University

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I teach cello. I am currently a senior Cello Performance major at Temple University where I study with Jeffrey Solow. I am an active performer on the modern cello, baroque cello, and viola da gamba (a string instrument played throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods). At Temple, I am a member of conTemplum New Music Orchestra and have performed solo works on the SoundPrints concert series. I have performed in Chamber Music Society of Philadelphia masterclasses.

I have performed with the Elysium String Quartet, Fairmount Chamber Ensemble, Chiaroscuro Consort of Viols, Venice Baroque Orchestra, other orchestras in the Philadelphia area, and I have attended various music festivals around the country.

I teach at Philadelphia String Project and Community Music Scholars Program (Temple Music Preparatory Division), and S&S Dream Global Music Studio in Ambler, PA. I teach all ages and tailor my approach to the individual student’s learning style, aptitude, and skill level.

When did you begin playing cello, and why?
I began playing cello when I was nine years old. I was born into a musical family, so it was natural for me to pursue a life in music! As to why I picked the cello: I believe when I was very young I wanted to play the violin. When I told my older sister this, she said “That’s silly. Why would you pick violin when there are so many violins in a orchestra?! You should play cello instead.” While this sage advice from my teenage sister did not immediately convince me, I eventually picked the cello because of its beautiful, rich, dark tone. I have never regretted this choice!
What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
I also play the baroque cello (gut strings, no endpin, baroque bow) and the viola da gamba, which is another early instrument with six strings and frets. It is held between the legs without an endpin, and the bow is held underhand (as opposed to the overhand cello technique).
What are your personal goals as a musician?
Music is a powerful tool that has the power to heal and change lives. I believe that artists have the ability, and responsibility, to share their gifts and bring positive change and inspiration to their communities. This is my goal as a musician. As a teacher, my mission is to give my students the skills to create a positive, satisfying life, to inspire them to appreciate and share beauty, and thereby improve the world around them.
Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked?  Something you’ll remember forever?
I had a difficult time learning how to shift to high positions accurately. When I started with my current teacher several years ago, he taught me how to launch my shifts in my arm in a relaxed motion as if I was going to pitch a ball, instead of tensing up and praying that I make the note! This seemingly simple technique revolutionized the way I approach shifting.
What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
My favorite piece of advice comes from my current teacher. He advised me to separate problems into  manageable pieces, and to practice them slowly and methodically until I could put them back together accurately (e.g. separate the left and right hands and practice each on their own).
What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
My most challenging moment learning the cello was when I started with my current teacher. I came to him with many technical problems, and I was having some pain due to years of the bad habit of playing with extreme tension. He took me back to square one, and I spent months re-learning how to play the instrument in a healthy, relaxed fashion. This was an incredibly slow process, and while it was very frustrating, it taught me patience and perseverance. I know that this period has made me a better teacher as well as a player, because I strive to give my students the same grounding in healthy technique that my teacher gave me.
What is your biggest musical achievement?
My biggest musical achievement was being hired to play treble viola da gamba with the Venice Baroque Orchestra. They are coming to the U.S. in February of 2017, and we will be performing at the Krannert Center in Urbana, IL, and at Carnegie Hall in NYC. I am very excited to play with these amazing musicians!
Favorite thing about teaching?
My favorite thing about teaching is discovering how each student learns best and what makes them succeed. Teaching is such a personal, psychological journey, and it gives me great joy and satisfaction when I discover what techniques make an individual student grasp the concepts I am trying to convey.
What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
Always approach learning music with love: love for the instrument, love for the composer, love for the legacy of past musicians, love for your teacher(!),love for your audience, and love for the world! Art is one of the few things that holds this world together, and it must be created with selflessness and love, otherwise it is artificial.