Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Violin teacher woes

Erin, who hasn't been willing to work with me on violin since she was about 8, has outgrown my level of teaching experience anyway. And, over the past couple of years she's outgrown my mom's level of experience. My mom is over 70 and probably ready to cut back her teaching in any event. There is an excellent violin teacher in Nelson, and we'd always planned that the kids would move on to her when they got to the Grade 9-10 level. We finally got Erin talked into making the switch last fall. She was a little reluctant to make the move into what she felt to be "the big[ger] time", but she was pretty sure the time had come. It took her two or three months to warm up to W., but eventually she did and by January things were starting to click. She dived into the Grade 10 repertoire and had made a pile of progress with her intonation and bowing technique.

In February W's husband was diagnosed with cancer. And today she told us that because of this she's decided to retire early. Effective next week. Chemotherapy and all those unknowns ....

Now what? There's a teacher 4 hours from here who has experience at this level, but having worked with him and watched him teach during the summers, we don't really get the right vibes from him, socially or musically. Beyond that, we're looking at an 8-hour drive. Calgary or Vancouver. Video-conferencing is not an option. The internet just isn't up to the task, and unless we can afford a $20,000 video-conference setup and a dedicated fibre-optic line, we're out of luck. I've taught video-tape-through-the-mail lessons, and they stink. There's no real-time feedback, and it's really hard to get good-enough quality audio for the details of high-level instruction.

I honestly can't see sacrificing the well-being of the younger members of this family in order to do a biweekly or monthly drive to Calgary. At least not based on what I see of Erin's drive and maturity at this point. I've asked Erin to have a serious think about whether she would be willing to just focus on piano and keep violin on the side as a hobby. She's playing in my quartet, she plays in our community orchestra, she plays at group classes. She's never been one to do more than the bare minimum of violin work required to go to a lesson without totally disgracing herself. She does think carefully and musically about her playing in a lesson situation, and this compensates to some extent for the lack of actual woodshedding, but these days it doesn't compensate as much as it used to. Maybe she just isn't driven enough to take the violin to the next level, under what will be less-than-ideal circumstances (inexperienced teacher, or infrequent lessons). Maybe she is driven enough -- in which case she needs to come to terms with her personal committment to violin. Does she really want to actively and seriously pursue it? If so we'll figure out what we can do, and perhaps we can find some manageable sacrifices.

Truth be told, we'll be facing similar issues with Noah in three years or so. Even though he's less advanced than Erin was at his age, because he's a violist rather than a violinist he will exhaust the local expertise sooner.


  1. Anonymous11:18 am

    Would Spokane, WA be an option? I think the drive would be considerably less and the options might be pretty good.

    I know we're a four hour drive from Spokane, and friends of mine have gone their in the past for advanced music lessons for their children when they've gone beyond what was available in the Flathead Valley.

    Of course, the key is whether Erin is motivated to work enough to justify the time factor, as it does impact an entire family. Still, a trip to the big city can offer some incentives for the other kids.

    Elaine in Montana

  2. Hi Elaine, that's a good thought. Spokane might be an option, though I think we'd still have to stay overnight (it would be 8-9 hours of driving round-trip plus lesson(s) plus whatever we needed to do to keep the little ones happy, plus meals and all that). And I have absolutely no musical contacts in Spokane, so there would be a lot of proactive legwork involved in tracking someone down who would 'gel' with Erin. The kids already know, and have a long-term mentory-type relationships, with a wonderful teacher in Calgary, so that seems the more natural, simple route to go. But oy, the driving. Maybe I should look into Spokane.

    My other approach is recruitment. I've contacted an acquaintance from Ontario who is looking into relocating to the BC interior. He is a very fine cellist, his wife an excellent violinist. Both have over 20 years of teaching experience. They have taken an interest in my e-mail last night. It's very much a long shot, but who knows!


  3. What about Vernon? There is Immant Raminish (sp?) and Bev Martens. I know they both taught to very high levels... Bev might be full (but she might make an exception) but I know Immant has room...

  4. I guess my immediate feelings on the issue were that if the entire family (minus Chuck) is going to devote 2 to 4 complete days a month to getting Erin to a violin teacher (while still devoting long 4 half-days a month to getting her to Nelson for piano), it ought to be someone who (a) is highly skilled as a teacher and (b) has the experience and expertise to be able to carry her for the next five years, not just for a year or two. She doesn't form relationships easily. And so I guess at least initially I was focusing on those real high-end teachers in the major centres.

    Bev is someone I've thought about. She's very nice and does some good teaching at least up to the intermediate/lower-advanced levels. The two people I've asked re: Erin said "She's certainly done some teaching at that level." I'm not sure about Imant; he seems like a nice guy, but I guess I just find it odd that his name has never come up as a recommendation anywhere amongst violin teachers I know. Truth be told I didn't know until you mentioned it that he taught violin.

  5. LOL, I just found this photo of Erin standing just to the right of Imant Raminsh at a performance in Vernon in 2001. She was too little to sit in the orchestra and see anything, so they made her stand at the front. Looks like her T-shirt is a little too big, doesn't it?

  6. Actually when I was thinking about Imant later, I realized that I don't think he does Suzuki. (is it still Suzuki when you are at the gr 10 level?) He does recitals with one of our violin teachers and I have seem some very, very advanced students, though. He only does a bit of teaching and it has been more recent that he has started, I think.

    As for Bev, she is really awesome and I know that several of her students have gone on to music programs at UBC and other universities and others have gone on to play professionally in orchestras. I have also heard some of her very advanced students. Karen Thoreson could probably tell you more about Bev as she has been with her for a few years. I am a novice and I am not sure I could tell the difference between a grade 6 student and a grade 10 one... it all sounds awesome to me!

    I hear you on the travel and trying to figure out the level of commitment, though. It is always a balancing act, isn't it?

  7. In addition to Bev Martens who does have students in the higher levels (grade 10)and who often go onto Provincials. The Vernon Community School also has Denis Letourneau teaching violin. I know that he is teaching two extrememly talented sisters (aged 11 and 13)who are amazing.I don't know much about him besides the fact that he is concertmaster with the Okanagan Symphony.

  8. Anonymous1:38 pm

    Hi, Miranda. I have seen on other unschooling sites that to use the word "teach" or "teacher" is not the appropriate wordage to use. I was wondering your take on that, since you use this wordage here.

  9. Holy toledo, Danielle, that's a new one on me! I'm not a rabid definer or defender of The Unschooling Label. I tend to describe what we do as unschooling because it is child-led and doesn't look much like school. I wouldn't define myself as "My Children's Teacher," except in specific instances when they request that I teach them something. For instance, lately I'm spending 5 minutes every evening teaching Sophie the arpeggio section from the Vivaldi a minor Violin concerto 3rd movement. She had the option of learning entirely from the recording and printed music, but she likes it when I demonstrate and we play through the bits together, and I share with her my tips for breaking it down and conceptualizing the patterns and thinking about the fingering and the like. I say "okay, why don't you play that bar four times and then I'll show you a trick for getting the note after the harmonic in tune." I can't think of any way in which this wouldn't be considered teaching. The only thing I don't do is impose it on her against her wishes, but that hardly seems a defining characteristic of "teaching", LOL.

    Our homeschooling approach is likely best described as 'no uninvited teaching.' Not 'no teaching.'


  10. Anonymous2:41 pm

    That makes a lot more sense. On some of the other unschooling sites, they are so gung ho about this. Have a great day.


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