Fiona started learning violin on a box almost two years ago. A little over 18 months ago, she became very eager to be included in the regular Tuesday routine of violin lessons that her siblings were part of. Her grandma began giving her little five-minute 'lessons,' just to fulfil her need to feel included. But, though we had no such expectations, she began to progress. And she loved it!
She has an unusual combination of two traits that keep it fun month after month. The first is her emotional resilience and ability to cope with mistake-making, to see the learning opportunities in mistakes rather than simply getting angry about them. Today she was working on polishing the infamous last section of Gossec Gavotte. In the midst of one of the sixteenth-note slurs, an extra finger went down and she played a sextuplet instead of a quadruplet of sixteenths. It was like her finger had played a joke on her, and it was a very funny joke indeed. "Where did that come from?" she shrieked and launched into a hysterical giggling fit. Then she had to try to replicate it, and that led to more hilarity. I was thrilled that I had the camera handy, and that she's so un-self-conscious around it.
The second trait is her intense focus. At the beginning of her practicing today I suggested she play slow piece as a warm-up, and that she could choose to think either about her tone, or about her left thumb. These are longstanding focus-points, so I left it up to her which to choose and didn't give any other guidance. "See if I can tell which you're thinking about," I challenged her. So she launched into the piece. And suddenly I realized that she was thinking very intensely, and very productively, about two new skills that are far more complex than the ones I suggested -- "walking independent fingers" in the left hand, and the subtle left elbow swing that helps position the fingers at their best mechanical advantage over each string as appropriate. "Chorus," which she was playing, is one of her more recent pieces, and rather than doing simply what I'd asked, she chose to do an exceptional job of not one but two pretty complicated new tasks, simultaneously. This is typical. She is always trying to "go farther" with things. She never takes the simplest choice. She chooses to challenge herself, far beyond my expectations. And with such pleasure!
I know other kids with a lot of focused intensity (a few of them in my family, actually). And I know other kids with emotional resilience. But to get both happening to such a degree in the same pint-sized body is something special.
We have our not-so-great days too. In the past six months there have actually been a few days when she didn't want to practice (and so we didn't). And for the past two or three months, many of her practice sessions have been brief and cursory, under 30 minutes. But she's now got past the 'hump' at the end of Book 1, and she's still lovin' it. What am I doing right with this kid? Nothing special, I think. Mostly I'm just lucky.