Judith Mitchell cellist

CV: Performing and Teaching

4. Early years and influences

Experiences and influences continue throughout our adult lives and these are what I have written about so far. However, events in our childhood and early adulthood also have a profound and lasting effect. As teachers, we must always bear this in mind and weigh up what influence we might have on our pupils. Should we be influencing them at all? Might it be better to help them discover and decide for themselves? And what influences in their lives are already operating? We really need to find out about this.

One of the best places to start is to look at the positive influences in your own life. Tackled honestly it can be a surprising experience! Here are some of mine, partly in response to persistent enquiries by pupils past and present!

Born 1947 (just as the 'big freeze' thawed) in Aldershot. I'm not claiming this as an influence but you have to start somewhere!

Lived in a big old marginally converted barn in the village of Normandy right on the dividing line between farmland on clay soil and the acid silver sand and heather hills of William Cobbett's 'villainous heath' (made progressively more villainous by the army using large parts of it as a training ground).

My mother, first person in her family to study at a university, became Science Research Fellow at St Hilda's College, Oxford, at a very early age and stayed there for about ten years from the early 1930s onwards. Her work was scrupulously honest and acutely observed and she had a great interest in and gift for the teaching side of her work too, with a clear understanding of student centred teaching and the value of a careful, step-by-step process.

My father (also a first generation academic!) left school at 14 yrs and worked his way through night school and St Catherine's College, Oxford, to gain a degree in physics. He was technician in the laboratories my mother worked in for a while and was seconded to the Royal Aircraft Establishment during the war, staying there for the rest of his working life.

My mother was an excellent pianist (prevented from studying accompaniment at the RAM by her father who, rightly, pointed out that there was no money to be made in music at that time!) and I was so fortunate to have 'in-house' (and patient!) musical and piano support and an accompanist throughout my childhood. My father loved music, too, and especially Ravel and Debussy piano music.

Some of the things my parents passed on to me, (as well as sensitivity to and respect for others and other important life skills), which I think have been tremendously important and valuable in my musical life: Excellent schools, with a specially caring environment in my first school.

Guildford County Music School (outside school hours): Chamber music courses at Drayton, Berkshire, and the Ernest Read Music Association Junior Orchestral Course, were highlights of my childhood and teenage years.

National Youth Orchestra

Quite simply the best musical and personal experience I could have had as I was growing up.

Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra

In those days this was a mixture of good local players and freelance musicians from London, conducted by Vernon Handley, who kindly set up a scheme for some students to play in the orchestra to gain experience. The contact with some superb players, and the chance to play so much wonderful music was tremendously valuable.

So I played so much music with so many musicians throughout my childhood and teenage years, learning about music through my ears and my playing. I slowly built up a great curiosity about how it all worked, how it made its effect, which made musical study a logical next step.

Royal Academy of Music

Ruth Railton (founder/director of the NYO) suggested I take the B. Mus external London degree that the RAM then offered, side by side with my performance studies. This was discerning advice and my studies provided the foundation for lifelong learning about music and musical interpretation. Such studies extend perspective and provide in-depth understanding without which no player or composer can really manage, and I am therefore really committed to showing as many people as possible how musically creative this can be.

There are pros and cons to taking two full-time courses together and there were moments when both were affected adversely. The theory of 10,000 hours' practice being required to learn an instrument is undoubtedly close to the truth and it is part of the reason why conservatoire students are notorious for non-attendance of concerts and other necessary activities. I think that taking university and conservatoire courses consecutively also presents problems and I don't really know what the answer is. All I do know is that, to perform and create music, you do need to study music in every way possible, throughout your life.

Grateful thanks to a wonderful array of professors at the RAM, all of whom gave me so much: Douglas Cameron, Sidney Griller, Wilfred Parry, Eric Thiman, Arthur Jacobs, Geoffrey Pratley. Lectures for one year, given by Thurston Dart at Kings College, London, were also a huge influence, spanning as he did both academic and performing worlds (see Teaching Career also).


As for the rest of my life, where would I be without the wisdom, discussions, support, companionship, everything that my husband has brought to me over the last 25 years. And he is an artist, so that is why many of my best analogies in teaching derive from the world of art and colour!