New Zealand-born Robin Wilson has become one of the most sought-after violin teachers in the Southern Hemisphere. Last year his 10-year-old pupil Christian Li won the Junior division of the prestigious Menuhin International Violin Competition.
"He is the youngest ever winner of that competition...and it wasn’t something that was expected at all".
“He’s a very special and unique young person who has an extraordinary enthusiasm behind his music making and this incredibly sort of rare affinity with music at such a young age. He’s able to internalise emotions that he hasn’t experienced before. I mean as a ten-year-old you can’t hope to have lived all that music actually conveys in its meaning by any means but he can tap into that and somehow still relate to that in a sincere and real way. So he’s a very special kid and it was a very interesting by rewarding process to work with him.”
Dr Robin Wilson believes that the most important thing to assess with a young talent is whether or not they're driven by an inner volition.
"With young kids it can be parents that are ambitious and it can be parents that are really wanting that success for the child. I think for the young students that I work with their parents are not musicians. They’ve just noted this talent in their child and they’re very, very supportive and it’s actually the children that want to do it."
It's important that the impetus to practice and perform comes from the child.
"I believe that really to be able to get to the heart of music and to go to deeper levels with it you need to have that genuine love of the art. And it’s very hard to force a young child to do something against their will in a convincing way."
Robin Wilson began teaching while he was still a student himself. His first experience was as a 16-year-old coaching the son of his violin teacher and preparing him for an exam. Robin enjoyed the experience and it sparked a life-long fascination with pedagogy.
As a student Robin has learned with an incredible variety of teachers - some of whom were taught by famous violinists such as the legendary David Oistrakh. The journey to find the right teacher taught Robin a lot about the teaching method - what worked and what didn't.
He ended up in Sydney studying with Alice Waten who had studied pedagogy in Russia. Eventually he became her assistant and this experience opened him up to the process and theory of teaching.
"I like to think of it as a combination of both art and science. You like to say that cooking is an art and baking is a science and there’s a bit of both in violin playing."
Robin's first violin 'laboratory' was a large studio of young beginner violin students. “It was literally a laboratory of trial and error and trying everything out and seeing what worked and what didn’t for many years and developing from there.”
Another influence on his teaching has been the renowned Natasha Boyarsky. She nurtured the now famous Nicola Benedetti and Alina Ibragimova. Robin has visited Menuhin School where she teaches at least five times to observe her in action.
“It was utterly fascinating to witness the extraordinary level of technique that she was able to develop with all of her children. The process of that – the repertoire she used – the methodologies that she used. So, I learned a great deal from watching her teach.”
A member of the violin faculty at Australian National Academy of Music, Dr. Wilson has a clear vision for his students. He's not there to be their best friend. He fosters self-reliant musicians, mentoring them and preparing them for a difficult career.
“I think music can be a hard life. I hope for them to be content. And to be able to experience the joy that music can bring – whether or not that be in chamber music or orchestral or solo capacity – music is such a rich art form and there’s so much to explore – the repertoire is vast and you hope they can enjoy that exploration for an entire lifetime. That’s really what I hope for them.”
The demands of a career in the 21st century stretch beyond the instrument himself. He points out that in the days of social media, communication skills are incredibly important.
"You used to be able to hide away and just appear on stage and be this sort of mysterious personality that was perhaps extraordinary at what you did, but you didn’t necessarily have to converse with anyone. Now I think, partly because of the transparency, social media has allowed people into everyone else’s life, people expect to know more of the performer and they want to know more. And because there are many, many performers out there who are all very capable it’s becoming more and more important to be able to promote oneself in that way and to gain some sort of advantage. So even recording companies and concert promoters are wanting that engagement with the audience."
Robin just hopes that the clamour for social media content doesn't subjugate the music itself. "It's important that the art form itself is always first and foremost".