The Colgate Scene
November 2004

Teaching the whole person
Laura Klugherz uses holistic techniques to cultivate students' innate musicality

Professor Laura Klugherz performs Feldenkrais on violinist Julie Saiki '06. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]

On an unusually warm late Friday afternoon in September, Colgate music professor Laura Klugherz leads violin and viola student Eva Dettweiler-Robinson '05 through an airy practice room in the James C. Colgate Student Union building to a space with only a couch, a desk, and a large padded table. As the melodies of a university a cappella group's rehearsal waft through the room's open windows, Klugherz asks Robinson to lie on her side on the table, close her eyes, and relax.

Klugherz gently works various parts of her pupil's spine for a few minutes, then gently plucks up Robinson's wrist, extends her arm with painstaking care over her head, rotates it in large circles at the shoulder joint several times, and returns her hand to its original position on her hip. Next, she lifts Robinson's leg and repeats a variation of the routine at an equally measured tempo.

"You have to have total freedom in your body to play music," explains Klugherz in hushed, soothing tones. "People forget that musicians are like athletes -- their bodies can't withstand hours and hours of practice if they aren't used properly."

Klugherz was employing a unique technique on Robinson -- officially called the Feldenkrais Method -- that she learned about 20 years ago while performing in Germany. In 2000, she started working toward her professional certification in the system and just recently began using it to improve what she calls her "students' capabilities."

To the lay person, the method -- which is named after its originator, Moshe Feldenkrais -- looks like a combination of traditional physical therapy, yoga, Pilates, and tai chi moves. But the somewhat obscure somatic (body movement) technique provides Klugherz an additional approach beyond traditional musical instruction techniques to help her pupils become aware of themselves, and use their bodies gracefully and efficiently while making music. She only tries the method with students who ask for it, she said, and she makes certain they don't feel uncomfortable in any way during Feldenkrais sessions.

The body as an instrument
Klugherz's use of the technique, said her students, embodies the popular professor's holistic, "hands-on" approach to teaching music, interacting with her students, and life in general. "She thinks of the body as an instrument in itself, and that all the joints and muscles must come together to produce musical sound," said Jash Datta '06, a violinist and violist and molecular biology major. "Through her exercises -- which are an integral part of her teaching -- [Klugherz] showed me that music is produced not only by the fingers in the left hand, but by enlisting the help of all the muscles of the body."

"She teaches the whole person, not just the musical side of a person," added Robinson, a biology major, who said that she felt "about four inches longer" after her Feldenkrais session. "She gets to know you bit by bit, and when you are having trouble with something, she asks you to draw on some other experience or skill that you have cultivated in another activity."

With plenty of other activities of her own to juggle, Klugherz should know. At Colgate since 1988, the native Californian has chaired the university's music department; coordinates the Colgate Chamber Players, which this year includes eight student ensembles; gives private instruction to up to nine students per semester; founded, organizes, and participates in the annual Chenango Summer MusicFest, a four-day, international music event in Hamilton; regularly takes her classes on extended study trips to places such as Mexico and Chile; and embarks on international recital and solo tours each summer. (Prior to coming to Colgate, Klugherz had a five-year stint as an assistant professor of music at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., spent several years as concertmaster for various symphony orchestras in Germany, and studied as a Fulbright scholar in Germany in the late 1970s.)

A cultural scholar
In addition to her regular music duties, Klugherz just finished her tenure as university professor for the Core Cultures curriculum, teaches the Core Mexico and World Music: Latin America courses, serves on the board of Colgate's Upstate Institute, and participates in the committee on the arts and humanities. She was named a Colgate Presidential Scholar for outstanding scholarship and service in 2004.

A certified hatha yoga teacher, she is about a year away from completing her Feldenkrais professional practitioner training. She can also speak Spanish and German fluently, carry on a conversation in Italian, and read French, Catalan, and Portuguese. While all of these activities seem like a bit much for one person, she said, they only stoke her passion for teaching and performing music, particularly Latin American music.

"When she first came to Colgate, Laura's playing was obviously one of the most attractive things about her as a candidate -- she's a very talented musician," said Dexter Morrill, Charles A. Dana Professor of music, emeritus, who hired Klugherz in 1988 and has composed several string pieces specifically for her. "Then she turned out to have this amazing proficiency with language as well. These things have made her a great teacher, and helped her attract a lot of wonderful student musicians. Our string program has really taken off since she's come to Colgate."

Building relationships
Penny Ho '92, a graduate of the string program and former pupil of Klugherz's, recalled how her music professor changed her life. Ho came to Colgate in 1988 after studying violin at the Juilliard School, where the competition and intensity of the program had driven her to quit playing. She needed a breather from the stress, she said, so she enrolled at Colgate as a math major. Almost as an afterthought, she decided to take lessons with Klugherz. Within months, Klugherz had her playing chamber music and had convinced her to play in a group that would become the Colgate Chamber Players.

Today, Ho is working toward her doctorate in musical arts at the City University of New York and performs and teaches the violin herself.

"She was the one who brought me back to music and made me fall in love with it again," said Ho, adding that she last spoke to Klugherz in March about her dissertation proposal on Morrill's compositions. "She looked at my situation in a very circular way and said to me, `Let it come to you -- don't force it,' and it came." Since then, Ho said, her relationship with her music professor has never been the same. "She's like my second mom now. If I ever need any suggestions or advice, I go to her."

Klugherz shrugged off compliments about the success of her initiatives and former students, saying that her longevity and reputation at Colgate can be attributed to her willingness to try new things in her teaching and to engage pupils like Ho, for whom music might not always be the top priority. Once playing becomes physically uncomfortable or even boring for those students, she said, she runs the risk of losing them, so she tries to make music as enjoyable, fulfilling, and easy an activity as possible through such techniques as the Feldenkrais Method. "There's a certain musicality in each one of them," she said. "It's not mine. But it is my job to help them find their own."

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