As my son started working his way toward “toddlerdom”, two things happened; *he* started taking violin lessons and I started a gradual return to a practice routine of my own. It turns out that when your child can feed himself, dress himself, use the bathroom alone and play unsupervised without choking on objects or falling from dangerous heights, it frees up a lot of time… and some of that time can be used for practice.
After attending a series of concerts at the SPCO (did I mention my crush on Joshua Bell?) and watching other accomplished musicians from the University of Minnesota’s School of Music, I began to think about where I might be going with my own instrument. I’d been taking lessons for about 10 years and I needed some new goals. After an excruciatingly long time of playing very little other than the Bach Gavotte, I dared to look at the next piece of music in Suzuki Violin Book 5.
What I saw was the 2nd Movement of the Vivaldi Concerto in A Minor. It’s a deceptively small piece, maybe 14 measures, slow moving… sure there were plenty of 16th and 32nd notes, but it’s Largo, for heaven’s sake, it’s manageable… except, well, it shifts between 1st, 3rd and 4th positions about fifty times in 14 measures. Book 5 is where the music starts to feel “serious”… and serious music can only be dealt with by serious practice.
After hours and hours… and hours of practicing that 2nd Vivaldi Movement, I managed to get my fish-shifting to a minimum and gave a decent performance of it at recital. Emboldened by the accomplishment, I showed up at a lesson with thoughts of playing Bériot’s Air Varié No. 14 in G from Barbra Barber’s Solos for Young Violinists. As we lumbered through some of the third position passages, my teacher referred to the gap between my performance and sight reading abilities as something like the Grand Canyon. She was right, of coarse she was… I didn’t see the need to spend much time thinking about scales, note names or intervals when playing the Suzuki repertoire was my only objective. My *pre-revised* Suzuki Books 1-4 had little numbers for fingerings all over the place, and listening to recordings daily made it pretty easy to recognize if an accidental had been missed.
But now Suzuki repertoire wasn’t the *only* thing I wanted to play. Lessons and group weren’t the *only* places I wanted to play. The time had come to learn some new skills.
Why do you (and/or your child(ren)) play a stringed instrument (or take any music education for that matter)?
My reasons for playing an instrument have varied wildly; everything from enjoying the sound of beautiful music to simply not wanting to disappoint my teacher. Sometimes it’s the freedom of letting everything else go while I concentrate on a piece. Sometimes it’s the rush of adrenaline from performing. Other times its the comradeship of playing in groups. But sometimes my only motivation is not being a ‘quitter’. Even lackluster motivation like that will work (for very short periods). While I’ve had many motivational shifts and swings, fame has never entered into the equation. So hearing about it from my son this morning was as baffling as it was comical.
Today my son’s practice started off as many of our less-than-pleasant practices do. There was his slog of a journey down the staircase after my third appeal. There was breath-holding and bobble-heading while I summarized our goals for the morning. There was the instrument power-struggle as we attempted Monkey Song on the D string. Finally, there was a kind of warp-speed galloping through review pieces. Somewhere between Go Tell Aunt Rhody and May Song, I made the mistake of mentioning our need to be at school in two minutes; putting both of us in full-scale panic mode. The result was a mell-of-a-hess-of-a-folk-song rushed, less than ideal piece of music.
As I became aware of our growing unease, I tried to comfort and reassure my son with affection. It began an awkward sort of tug-of-war with his bow, but after a moment he acquiesced and let me hold him. Then he began to sob and out came the statement: “I’m never going to be famous.” (Huh?)
His ambitions for *fame* never occurred me. I’d always considered his music lessons an educational pursuit; not something to bring notoriety. While I don’t want to squash my son’s ambition, the thought of having fame as our goal would make daily practice on folk songs feel a little like trying to climb Mt. Everest in Uggs and Spandex shorts.
A plan to focus on the more immediate benefits of music education seems much more helpful. In fact, Carolyn Phillips of the Norwalk Youth Symphony has compiled a great list of them: The 12 Benefits of Music Education. Staying motivated is easier when purpose is clear… when we really *feel* why we’re doing something. So here’s a question for *parents* of string players – Why is your child(ren) are learning play a stringed instrument? Are the reasons yours, theirs or both and… are those reasons the same?
Somewhere between pregnancy and new motherhood, I managed to spend the years 2004 – 2007 *not* progressing past the first piece in Suzuki Book 5– the Bach Gavotte.
It turns out that when 15 minutes is a “good practice day”, a sort of gradual regression in performance ability sets in. While a student in Book 1 could survive on 15 minutes of daily practice, (all the pieces in the book can be played in 20 minutes and even 5 minutes can go a long way toward working on something like Perpetual Motion) a student beginning Book 5 is lucky to get their bow rosined and their tonalization / shifting work done in that time frame.
My focus shifted from trying to advance to the next piece to simple damage control. At a low-point in my practice, I spent lesson times discussing various technique books I purchased in hopes of becoming a good “Suzuki parent” for my son. My playing suffered, but I started to acquire some decent materials for our ‘music library’ which gave me some better perspective on things to come. Looking back at those times, it’s easy to be discouraged at how much progress I didn’t make, but I try to stay focused on the fact I didn’t give up. (It helps that I had an understanding violin teacher who was willing to stick with me.)
As adults (who are not professional musicians), we have responsibilities that often conflict with learning to play our instrument: jobs, relationships, children, aged parents – the list goes on. Sometimes it *isn’t* possible to block out hour(s) of practice with regularity. When crises or opportunities happen, the choice can always be made: give up or ride it out. I’m very glad I chose the latter.
Why did *I* start playing violin as an adult? I answered this question about six years ago back when I first attempted the art of blogging on Xanga. Rather than start from scratch, I’m going to take a short-cut an repost an entry for some background:
In third grade, I played the clarinet- because our family owned one. That was the beginning and end of my desire to play that instrument. I had my heart set on the flute. Men at Work was popular at the time and I suppose I fancied myself having a pop music career playing the flute. (Third grade… cut me some slack.)
Fast forward about sixteen years; a good friend of my grandmother entertained the family with some amazing violin playing. He could play classical, fiddling improv and everything in between. I suppose that was my first inclination toward the instrument. I have a photo of me holding my brand new starter violin complete with foam shoulder rest for his approval.
So I called every number in the phone book (the physical book) to find a violin teacher. As it turns out, not many violin teachers were advertising in the phone book circa 1998. They most certainly aren’t now, I suspect. Fortunately I found an instructor (and now dear friend) of the Suzuki Violin Method. I plowed through Suzuki Violin Books 1 & 2 with zeal. Book 3 slowed me down considerably because I had already reached my watershed piece, the Gossec Gavotte, at the end of Suzuki Book 1.
I kept playing and joined a few other adult players at Violin Camp over the summer and it has been a support group of sorts. In 2002, my soon to be step-daughter took interest in playing and made it to the beginning of Suzuki Book 2 when the flute caught her attention.
I’m working desperately to learn the second violin part of the Bach double to play with another adult student at the recital in May…. and there’s my personal history of life as an adult violinist part I.