My apple tree, the “Old Girl”, having received a perfect pruning (thanks, C!) weeks before, gives leaf and blossom (April 2021)

This week I’ve been spending time pondering giving and receiving. Singing is the ultimate generous act. We give of our breath, our heart, our imagination when we sing. It is an act of devotion, of reverence, of desire to communicate and share. What singers have missed the most during this pandemic is the ability to do that giving; audiences have missed receiving their songs. But lest we infer from this that the singer is the one doing all the giving and the audience, all the receiving, I draw attention to the fact that there is a beautiful exchange of energies at play in this interaction. The singer gives, but also receives; at times the audience members sigh, gasp, are completely silent and rapt–these reactions are gifts the singer receives and returns them abundantly with even greater engagement. The audience receives the singer’s voice and expression and artistry, but also gives their attention, their very breath. This is a thing of magical beauty, this communion. And it is this that artists of all stripes miss most deeply. And audiences too, I dare say.

So it is also with teaching. One wise colleague of mine had a sign posted on his door. The word was “learn”, but if you walked past it, it also said “teach”. Look at the spelling of those two words and the shape of their letters, and you will notice that an “l” can easily become a “t” if you gently cross it, that an “r” becomes a “c” if you just tack a little serif onto the bottom right of it, and that an “n” becomes an “h” with just a small addition on the top of its first upward line. I often walked by that sign on the way to my studio, and marvelled at how some days, I only saw “teach” and others I saw “learn”, and on still others, I moved back and forth and saw them flow one into the other like a see-saw. Teach, Learn, Teach, Learn.

This week I have been preparing for a conference presentation with one of my graduating students, Sarah Stapleton. She is an eager learner, but also a brilliant young teacher. She and I have been collaborating on this project for many months now, and it is reaching a more public space with this presentation. On more than one occasion, she has humbled me with her intuition, her creativity, her gift for pedagogy and so much more. Often I felt more like the receiver than the giver. And this was a profound learning for me; I do not always need to teach. I am learning all the time. And my students are very often doing the teaching, whether they know it or not. There is no giving without receiving, no receiving without giving, if we are at our best. Let’s learn to humbly do both.