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Forte: Mentoring great mentors

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The process of becoming a whole musician is a constant exploration of one’s mental agility, physical dexterity and — something much less often discussed — social emotional intelligence. A complicated web of learned skills and attributes leads to (hopefully) a person capable of successful performances. As with nearly any skill, however, the process of becoming a marketable musician is not a task performed in isolation.

An infrastructure that supports musical growth is staffed by teachers, parents, community members and, of course, peers and friends. This social network is one of the primary reasons that such a demanding practice has remained so relevant and attractive to new musicians young and old. All these people who support and guide become mentors.

What does a mentor do? In the words of Anthony Marquez, a senior in high school and assistant teacher at Yakima Music en Acción (YAMA) last school year, the mentor/mentee relationship looks something like this: “I know how to play violin, you’re just starting out. I LOVE playing violin, and I want you to love it, too.”

Mentors do so much more than explain repertoire history and solve technical problems. Mentors can open up worlds and help to demystify the relationship between a young person and their instrument, their musicality and their audience.

In YAMA we aim to directly cultivate a practice of consistent mentorship that goes beyond teachers teaching students. Through the “Teaching Artist Mentor” program, more experienced students are paired with YAMA staff members who then coach the young person to teach classes and activities of their own peers. Beyond cultivating ownership of class materials, students young and old learn to learn from each other, and how to navigate leadership both academically and socially.

Mentorship has shaped my career, my musicianship and my teaching. Through learning with YAMA teachers and students, I’ve grown to see what an astounding role mentors have played in my own development. This, in turn, informs the way we receive students into YAMA as we strive to continue the cycle of mentoring great mentors.

• Josh Gianola is Yakima Symphony Orchestra principal percussion and a YAMA teaching artist. He and other symphony members write this column, which runs every four weeks.

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