Hi! My name is Robyn (they/them) and I’m thrilled to be PML’s newest cello teacher. I attended Carnegie Mellon University for cello performance in 2010, where I served as co-principal cellist in the CMU Philharmonic and Contemporary Music Ensemble. Prior to that, I attended the Brevard summer institute where I also served as co-principal cellist; performed in master classes for Yo-Yo Ma, Gavriel Lipkind, and Andres Diaz; and won the Voorhees and New England Music Camp concerto competitions.
I made the decision to leave conservatory in 2011 when I realized that I needed more expansiveness than I could find space for in the world of classical performance. Changing course from something I was so sure for so long would be my life’s work was a huge leap of faith, but doing so allowed me to reconnect with joy in my musical practice and cultivate a more creative, intuitive relationship to music on my own terms. I went on to receive a BA in Sociology from SUNY Purchase in 2015 and am currently pursuing my MSW at Temple in hopes of becoming a therapist for queer and trans adults. These days, I predominantly perform original electric cello/vocal music of a more experimental variety; however, I continue to enjoy classical practice and light study of solo repertoire in my free time.
Prior to going back to school, I worked as a teacher in various areas for 10 years. I kept a small private cello studio between 2007 and 2010, taught martial arts (Kempo, Tang Soo Do, and Muay Thai) for 5 years, and have 8 years’ experience teaching children ranging from Pre-K to 6th grade.
My top priority as a teacher has always been to create a supportive space where students can feel empowered to explore, experience, and follow their curiosity. I believe that all good teaching is collaboration; as such, it is important to me to meet every student where they’re at and let their goals, learning styles, interests, etc guide and shape the learning process.
When did you begin playing Cello, and why?
I really kind of wandered into it! No one in my family (including myself) had ever played an instrument, so when my elementary school sent home the strings program sign-up form when I was in 4th grade, I picked the cello kind of arbitrarily after soliciting a suggestion from my mom. Little did I know how much that on-a-whim decision would change my life!
What other instruments do you play, and what is your experience with them?
In addition to standard classical cello, I play a lot of non-traditional and experimental music on my electric cello; I especially enjoy creating ambient soundscapes with the aid of a looper, and playing while singing!
What are your personal goals as a musician?
To continue centering joy in my musical practice and finding ways to make that joy sustainable throughout life’s changes.
Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked? Something you’ll remember forever?
After missing what would have been my first-ever cello lesson, my elementary school strings teacher sent me and the rest of the kids in the program home with a page explaining the open strings (A D G C) and listing out the note names for the first couple bars of Twinkle Twinkle (D D A A B B A). I remember sitting in my room with my cello puzzling over the sheet when I got home: I understood the open Ds and open As but couldn’t figure out what the B was or how to play it. After experimenting for what felt like hours (but was probably more like 20 minutes), I finally figured out that I could use my left fingers to change the pitch of the open strings and it absolutely blew my mind. I still remember the moment I found that B and how ecstatic I was!
What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?
One of my favorite grad school professors would often stress the importance of writing and sharing “crappy first drafts”–even though she was talking about academic essays, the advice resonates with me on a musical and personal level as well. There’s a lot of vulnerability and courage involved in putting something new out there knowing it’ll be a little messy–whether that’s bringing a new piece of music into a lesson for the first time or getting that uncensored first draft onto the page–but working through that ultimately makes the learning process more satisfying, transformative, and connective.
What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?
A few months after I started my medical transition, my voice started to change–at the time I was doing a lot of singing and playing, and I remember the feeling of opening my mouth to sing and having no idea what would come out! Since I couldn’t rely on the “feel” of singing certain pitches anymore, I really had to tune into my body and use my ear in new ways to basically relearn how to sing.
What is your biggest musical achievement?
Letting go of perfectionism and finding a way to make my musical practice creative, intuitive, and joyful on my own terms (playing a master class for Yo-Yo Ma is a close second, though!)
Favorite thing about teaching?
Learning something new from a student, or being asked questions that make me think about a concept in a way I hadn’t considered before–teaching isn’t a transmission of knowledge, it’s a co-creation of wisdom, and any moment that brings this to the fore feels like magic to me. I also love to laugh with my students!
What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?
Don’t take yourself too seriously or get lost in perfectionism; at the end of the day, this is music–it is meant to be enjoyed!