Helen Neilson

Academic Work

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Research activities
Having initially completed a science degree, studying pure mathematics alongside music performance as an undergraduate, Helen has always been interested in the parallels and connections between these disciplines.  Thankfully she narrowly escaped from a much earlier inclination in the direction of computer programming!!   As a young teacher, she was very interested in working things out from 'first principles' and in the logic of the processes behind the development process for young string players.  This has continued to be a theme of her work and to be developed with ever increasing practical knowledge and experience of working directly with the human relationships involved in supporting young string players in a variety of environments to develop to fulfil their potential. She is interested in the history of ideas behind string teaching, and has a strong knowledge of the work of Paul Rolland, Shinichi Suzuki and many more eminent thinkers. She is interested in how others have then developed these ideas over time, and the range of characters who have contributed towards the string teaching literature that string teachers all over the world enjoy today!

Current interests include:

·        *  Developing clarity and greater understanding of the art and craft of teaching the cello – preservation of the great traditions, and how we can develop and evolve these to be relevant for current and future generations.

·        *  Creating and supporting opportunities for mentoring and learning through observation and collaboration as tools for professional development and building of skills and confidence, both for young string teachers and for experienced teachers at all stages in their careers as ongoing professional development.

      * Teamwork in teaching.  Collaborations and opportunities for professional exchange and dialogue.

·        *  Neuroplasticity and the further development of neural pathways at various life stages through learning of a string instrument

·        *  Therapeutic uses of the one-to-one relationship through music education in cases of both diagnosed and undiagnosed special educational needs, learning difficulties and mental health issues

·        *  Practical and scientific developments in string instrument production to help facilitate functional and cost effective tools for learning across the range of developmental stages

·        *  Ergonomics and accurate fittings of instruments, bows and stools at all stages of learning, with specific reference to individual body dimensions for attaining greatest freedom with the instrument

       * Bows: historical and contemporary including the traditions of the great English and French makers in particular and contemporary developments using materials and workmanship from Brazil and China and beyond.

       * Learning about the life stories and paths of development of musicians who she meets, with a particular interest in the unconventional, especially the quirky stories frequently to be found in the double bass world.

·        *  Natural processes at play in the learning process in cases of varying ages and social environments

       * Useful, practical and cost effective editions of printed music to be of greatest use to teachers and students in the learning process, designed and thought out with care to allow most efficient use of lesson time and students' practice time.

·        *  The use of group learning as a positive tool for development for string players, whether in addition to individual lessons or as a complete learning model.

Helen completed her MMus in Performance Studies degree at Trinity College of Music in January 2007. This involved two years of study, culminating in the completion of a final recital, a lecture recital, and a dissertation. Her dissertation paper since attracted wider interest, and she was invited to give lecture presentations about her work at a number of conferences. This work has been a great influence upon her teaching in particular, but in conjunction with much hands on practical experience and knowledge gained through application and experiment!

The paper titled "Multiple facets of the centre of the body in the communication process in music performance: perspectives from the worlds of music, dance and Eastern spirituality." She draws upon ideas presented in recent cognition and perception literature, including the work of Jane Davidson and Aaron Williamon; theories from the world of dance including the work of Mabel Todd and Rudolf Laban; and Eastern spiritual practices, such as the Japanese practice of "Hara" and Iyengar Yoga. The examination of some of the inner processes at play in the process of music performance would be of interest to any performing musician.  
"First stage of teaching: to learn awareness of parts of the body;
Second stage: to make the mind feel the action;
Third stage: Acquaintance, or the state of intimate knowledge, whence intelligence and body become one;
Fourth stage: perfection or ripeness." 
(Iyengar, 2000)
Conference and lecture invitations include The International Society for the Study of Tension in Performance: Conferences on Health and the Performing Arts - invited by Professor Carola Grindea, who was at the forefront of the field of the study of body movement in performance for many years. Carola was the original founder of EPTA and initiator of ideas both of teachers working together to share ideas and of musicians and teachers collaborating with medical professionals and alternative health therapists to facilitate better and healthier performance and learning.  She has also lectured at the University of Cambridge, giving a presentation on the Practical Application of the Singing Voice in Instrumental Teaching.
Suzuki teacher training includes study of the philosophy of Dr Shinichi Suzuki and many aspects of approaching the teaching of students in a Suzuki environment.  Coursework tasks included detailed study and memorisation of the repertoire, the development of teaching points through the early books and study of various practical elements of the teaching relationships including the changing role of the parent through the ongoing path of development from the earliest stages.  Helen holds a Suzuki level 4 teaching qualification and participates in ongoing teacher training and mentoring schemes and regular collaborations with colleagues.
Study of Anatomy and Physiology is something which Helen considers important to her work with developing bodies of young students.  She achieved an ITEC in Anatomy and Physiology after a period of study in 2013.  She is also very grateful to her yoga teachers for helping her to develop her teaching style and language.
Presentations and articles for parents of current students help with the ongoing education of the parents of young cellists who also need to be supported in their journey as parents of developing cellists.
Educating the parents of students about the theory behind the work done with their children is vital to help their understanding of the process and to help them feel more involved in the development of their child. The approaches to communication have to be tailored to different teaching environments.  Presentations and written communications can be particularly relevant to students having lessons in situations where regular observation is not possible.  
Articles include submissions to the European String Teachers Association magazine, London Cello Society Newsletter and regular contributions to the Cello Club magazine which Helen previously collated and edited.  Published articles include a discussion of various approaches to teaching beginner bow holds for the ESTA magazine and interviews with Melissa Phelps and Laura van der Heijden in the Cello Club magazine.
Exchange of ideas with people from within the music profession and from other related disciplines is encouraged.  Please email Helen if you are interested in discussing ideas.  She is always keen to exchange ideas with interested parties!

DVD REVIEWS: Helen reviewed a series of DVDs of legendary teacher and cellist, William Pleeth, probably best known as teacher of the legendary Jacqueline du Pre, giving masterclasses to advanced students at the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies.  These can be viewed on the Shar Publications website, from where the DVDs can be purchased directly.

Shar Publications website