True, Kind, Necessary

I first came across this phrase while reading a book about Dorothy DeLay, the extraordinary teacher and mentor to many of the world’s concert and orchestral violinists, among them Itzhak Perlman, Midori and Sarah Chang (as well as my friend and wonderful violinist, Leslie Shank, of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra). Dorothy DeLay said that before she said anything in critique of a student’s playing, she would ask herself, “Is it true, is it kind, is it necessary?” If her criticism didn’t meet this criteria, she wouldn’t say it. She also marked up a student’s scores only ever so lightly in pencil with the things he or she needed to improve upon; when the student had fixed the issue, the light pencil markings were erased, with absolutely no trace alluding to previous mistakes.

I’ve often thought about “true, kind and necessary” words with my own students. I love teaching - the times in my life that I have a good balance between performing and teaching are when I’m happiest - and I strive to be helpful and supportive while giving honest feedback. And every student, of course, is different, so wording something so that a student really hears what you’re saying is sometimes a challenge…but, I think the “true, kind and necessary” standard is a good standard to live by - as a teacher, and also simply as a person.