Paul Coletti, viola professor to both Conservatory of Music and Music Academy students, has been teaching at Colburn since 2003.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
What brought you to Colburn?
I came to Colburn after being at UCLA where I was the head of chamber music. The level of students at the Colburn School was so overwhelmingly astounding that I felt there was no way in the world not to teach people who would be the next leaders in the musical world.
What’s your favorite thing about teaching at Colburn?
I would hearken back to the level of the students, their intelligence and gifts. Of course they’re all totally different, some I teach because I admire qualities in their personality or their character or work ethic, others I admire because of their natural relationship to music or the instrument. My favorite thing is just the variety of personalities that one can guide towards their own fulfillment of their dreams. One is always grateful to be part of somebody else’s journey and see them reach the potential that they might not yet see—but I can see.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to your students?
Everybody that’s here is meant to be here. Sometimes students come here and they see other people with astounding gifts and they think, ‘I’m never going to be like that.’ The reality is that it’s not just the most gifted people that get into music schools like Colburn. It’s also people that have phenomenal determination and grit, the ability to take criticism and bounce back, the ability to constantly develop and work on themselves and find ways to believe in themselves when trouble is mounting.
It’s very easy to compare yourself to others but it’s a personal journey, and everybody that’s here is designed to be here. The teacher has picked you because there’s something in you, and your teacher feels they can help guide you to the fruition of all your talents. Don’t be dismayed or lose faith. I know what every single one of my students is capable of doing, and I believe in their gifts. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have taken them. You don’t have to be the most gifted or intelligent, or the most athletic. You can be the worst of all these things and still be the ideal student.
What’s one thing about you or your career that your students don’t know?
I come from the Lyra constellation beside the Pleiades. I think most people don’t know that, my alien past.
Well, I was the least talented player when I went to music school. I was in a music school with 20 other people and if you put them in order by talent, I was number 20. There were easily 19 people vastly more gifted than I was.
But when students see someone like me, they see me as I am now: I’m part of the establishment, I wear my jacket and my nice clothes, I speak with important types and look like I belong, but I was just like them once. I was exactly like them, a student with all my own problems, difficulties, insecurities, and with my own view of my teachers, not seeing them as anything other than older people who have something to offer, rather than realizing that my teachers were also the same as me once. And they were also insecure or worried or doubtful and weren’t sure if they were going to make it.
I’m obviously at a place in my career now where I’m very successful. I’m teaching at the best music institution on planet Earth. I have the best viola job you could ever have, ever. So students just assume it’s always been like this. But of course it isn’t like that. When I was young, I didn’t have any knowledge of where I would end up. But I had something in my character that decided I would practice and practice and practice until I reached a certain level. I knew I would never be as good as some of the other players, but I worked hard anyway. Good work habits lead you to good opportunities, and good opportunities lead you to lovely jobs.
So now I teach at a wonderful institution with wonderful colleagues, plush studios, and people who tune the piano. I mean, this place is pristine. Nobody goes to music school like this; I never went to music school like this. This is astonishing.
Students don’t always realize that the way to success is just to continue to work with fantastic habits. How do you climb Mount Everest? One step at a time. You don’t make leaps and bounds; it doesn’t work like that. It’s just consistent work, utilizing good habits. I think that would be true in any profession, but it’s certainly true in music.
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