Lucie Robert: Inspiring, understanding, teaching
From the moment she first put a bow to strings, Lucie Robert knew that she would be a violinist. What’s more, her love for the violin has always run in parallel with her vocation as a teacher, a calling that has been very instinctive and natural for her. Very quickly, the talented young girl earned the admiration of her older sister, Anne. At only five years old, out of their parents’ sight—they firmly believed that one violinist in the family was enough—Lucie trained her sister in the basement, giving her her first violin lessons. Later, when, aged 11 or 12, she was one of the youngest musicians at the Conservatoire de Montréal, older students would often ask her for advice on phrasing or bowing.
At 18 years old, Lucie left for Indiana University to study with renowned violinist and teacher Josef Gingold. She remembers liking the school and her teacher at once. She stayed in Bloomington for nine years and became Gingold’s assistant for the last three, an opportunity that provided her with an excellent training. Already known as a skilled teacher, many excellent musicians would play for her to hear her opinion. Finally, at the age of 26, the violinist was offered a teaching position at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music.
For over 20 years, Robert has taught at the Manhattan School of Music and Mannes College in New York, as well as at various summer academies over the last few years. Whenever she travels the world, she brings some of her students along. “The world is big, so there is lots of room for different ideas. Meeting other teachers and students with their different experiences is very motivating and so important,” Robert explains. Each musician is the product of various influences; we have to generate our own blend from all the people and influences around us to create our own understanding of our surroundings. Understanding others and the world is essential in Robert’s mind. Of course, the countless hours of practicing are important, but we also have to be aware of what’s going on around us. We have to be open to these influences our whole lives.
“Life itself is inspiring,” says Lucie Robert. “Even the things we sometimes consider negative become inspiring because they change us; they shape who we are and define our character.” Life is what it is and we have to learn from our experiences, be passionate and always do our best. And if we really want something or really believe in something, we owe it to ourselves to be convincing. Our voice counts, but we also have to realize that we are not alone and there is always something new to learn. In this respect, chamber music is a wonderful exercise: even if musicians don’t get along for either personal or musical reasons, when show time rolls around, they have no choice but to play and come to some kind of mutual understanding.
As a teacher, Robert always tries to see the good in every student. It is not easy to see things from the students’ perspective, as they are often bombarded with negative reinforcement. Her role as a teacher, she believes, is to increase musical awareness regardless of level or talent. Her role is to expose students to the infinite expressive possibilities of the violin and to help them search for a beautiful sound. Indeed, many of Robert’s students possess a particular lyricism, strength, and sound quality. Happy to find her signature in her students’ playing, the teacher would, however, be disappointed if they all played the same way.
“I am never prouder than when a student just slightly alters a line from a work that I know very well—while staying true to the composer’s intentions—with his or her own feelings,” she says enthusiastically. A good teacher finds each student’s individual voice and teaches them the technique to let them express it freely. It is important to listen to what students feel in the music and to help them channel those feelings. “Technique is fairly straightforward,” Robert explains. “It’s the student’s talent, their sensitivity towards the music that is astounding; the way their ears hear things, their gut feelings, how they express their souls, how they move from one note to the next.”
A demanding teacher, Robert always asks to be surprised. Adamantly against laziness, she has to feel a desire for learning within her students, in exchange for which she dispenses all her energy and efforts towards pushing them as far as possible. Bear in mind that her students have distinguished themselves in many international competitions, such as the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium, the Concours Musical International de Montréal, the Indianapolis and the Paganini International Violin Competition, to name a few.
When it comes to the future, Lucie Robert foresees a new stage opening up before her. Given that her son will be leaving the family home for university, she will be able to dedicate more time to performing. However, if one thing is sure, Robert, always in demand, will remain greatly involved in teaching the violin, ready to inspire many more musicians.
Published in La Scena Musicale on November 2012: