Faculty Spotlight: Benjamin Lash

Benjamin Lash teaches cello in the Community School. He graduated from the Colburn Conservatory in 2013 with his Bachelor of Music degree and is originally from Evanston, Illinois.

This interview has been lightly edited for content, length, and clarity.

How long have you been on faculty at Colburn?
I’ve been on the faculty since the school year began.

So it’s your first semester? How’s it going so far?
Yeah, it’s been great! I really enjoy working with my students.

You were a Conservatory student here. When did you graduate and what was your path to becoming a faculty member?
I graduated in May 2013. I became more interested in teaching in my second year of undergrad when I started teaching a grade school student who was in YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles). This was my first exposure to teaching and I found it to be exceptionally gratifying.

I also participated in the Colburn Teaching Fellows Program, led by Robert Duke. As a part of the program, we learned about different methods and philosophies of teaching. For this class, we videotaped the lessons which we taught and in class, we would review and analyze these videos in great detail. This was a very inspiring experience and gave me a much deeper insight into my approach to teaching.

During grad school at USC, I had a few private students and also taught non-music major students at USC. I particularly enjoy teaching kids because I think you can make such a big impact on their playing and hopefully, on other aspects of their lives. I was very excited when I noticed the open teaching position at Colburn!

What’s it like being back here on faculty after a few years?
Of course the perspective of being a faculty member is completely new, but returning brings back many great memories of being a student here. Colburn is such a warm and supportive school. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to study with Ron Leonard, and to have chamber coachings with other great faculty members. It’s such a small school, but it has everything you could ever want. It is wonderful to return to Colburn!

Why did you originally decide to study at Colburn?
I was drawn to Colburn by the opportunity to study with Ron Leonard. My teacher prior to college had studied with Ron Leonard when he taught at Eastman. She had lots of wonderful stories about his teaching and artistry. I came out to LA for a couple trial lessons and it immediately felt like we would work well together. As a student, he challenged me to think outside the box and to learn lots of repertoire.

Besides what you’ve mentioned so far, how do you think the education you got here played a role in your musical development and career?
In addition to the great experience I had studying with Ron Leonard, there were many fantastic chamber music opportunities. As a Colburn student, I was able to perform alongside faculty and guest artists. I was a serious musician before I came to Colburn, but the high standards of the faculty and my fellow students inspired me to develop to another level.

How do you approach working with your students and figuring out what to teach them?
I try to focus on two major objectives in approaching an individual student. First, I personalize my teaching style to fit the student’s needs and learning style. Second, I strive to create a learning environment in which the student has fun while achieving their goals.

To accomplish this, I try to use strategies that develop both technical skills and artistry. I guide my students to become experts at practicing by actively teaching them healthy approaches to practice and encouraging them to look for their own creative solutions. Specifically, I emphasize breaking down problems into small, manageable components, creating a clear path to improvement.

To foster artistic development, I encourage my students to become comfortable expressing their musical opinions and often ask them to sing, which provides invaluable insights into phrasing and interpretation. Supporting students in the development of their own thought processes greatly improves the quality of their musicianship.

What else do you do besides teach here?
I sub with a few different orchestras, including the LA Phil and LA Chamber Orchestra. I also do some studio sessions for movie and TV music. Chamber music is an important part of my musical life. I am a member of the Sakura Cello Quintet. We arrange most of our own music and try to present it in a creative manner.

What’s it like building a musical career in LA?
LA is an exciting place for building a musical career and provides wide range of opportunities for orchestral playing, chamber music, studio work, and teaching.

What kind of advice would you give to students that want to do something similar?
My advice would be to focus on mastering their craft as much as they can and to really know what they want to say with their playing. In addition to mastering their instrument, it is equally important to develop strong interpersonal skills and to learn how to communicate and work effectively with others. Finally, I would emphasize the importance of maintaining balance in their life and learning to focus on fulfilling activities outside of music.

What’s something your students might not know about you?
I really like to play ping pong and during my college years, I participated in [Robert] Lipsett’s tournaments. I’m a big Chicago Cubs fan. Sorry about that Dodger fans!

Benjamin Lash Performs Bach's Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012

The monthly Saturday Spotlight series highlights our outstanding students, faculty, and staff from across the school. Read other spotlight interviews.