Sunday, August 12, 2007

Violin issues, chapter 2

As I wrote last March, Erin's violin teacher, with whom she had been studying for just a few months and had been just beginning to gel, retired unexpectedly, leaving her without a teacher in the region. She's not a self-structuring "driven" music student at this point. Heck, she's thirteen -- it'll probably come, but she's young. She works consistently when she has a teacher-student relationship she's comfortable with and committed to, but it takes her a while to get to that stage with someone new. To find her someone experienced at her level would require a minimum 3 1/2 hour drive, something we'd be unable to do on a weekly basis. Maybe monthly, but at that frequency how long would it take her to get comfortable, and how often would she practice? I resolved to wait and see how her inclinations panned out over the next six months or so, especially after the music summer school weeks that we're now in the thick of. Since then she's been coasting along, practicing every once in a while, playing with the community orchestra or the Osprey String Quartet at rehearsals and performances, but not really doing any work to speak of. She began, for the first time, to express a preference for one instrument over the other: piano over violin.

I've had a long time to mull this over and have reached a few conclusions. First, this kid is a musician right down to her bones. Not just because she's been steeped in it, but because of who she is. She's bright, intense, intuitive, passionate, and music has become her voice and a strong part of her identity. On the other hand, she does have the piano still, and has reached a level on violin where she can continue to play easily at a recreational level -- and that would be okay. But the biggest realization has been that if the violin drops off her horizon, it will be simply for the lack of a musical relationship with someone significant outside the family. She has everything going for her on violin, this kid -- technique, instincts, astonishingly efficient sight-reading and note-learning ability, a love of chamber music, brilliant ensemble-style musical responsiveness, musicality oozing out her pores. All that's missing to carry her to a very high level is a relationship with someone out there, some musical commitment or pursuit that is not organized or directed or taught by a family member -- not by her mother, not by her grandmother, not by her aunt -- to inspire her to make this area of study her own. Just one long-term connection wit hone teacher or mentor, and she would jump right in with both feet and get on with it with a high level of commitment and exceptional ability. Almost every other violin student has this. Is it really so much to ask for?

Her Beethoven string quartet playing last week was jaw-droppingly brilliant. Her coaches and teachers were raving about her abilities. She had a wonderful time musically and socially and told me that she wants to come back to SVI in 2008 so badly that she figures she'd better find herself some violin lessons. She also said that violin is now her favourite instrument.

So where, where oh where do we find her this relationship with a teacher? Oh, and she also needs a full-sized violin if she's going to carry on. She's pretty much outgrown her wonderful three-quarter size. If only life were simpler!


  1. Anonymous12:25 pm

    Leave this idyllic life and move to the city? Just kidding.

    My daughter's flute teacher has done real-time online teaching with video. Not perfect, but better than nothing.

    Good luck.

  2. I know someone here on the westcoast who has lessons with a teacher in New York (fiddle). This is in addition to other teaching that she receives (classical).

    They do it by phone.

    It might be possible to do it by webcam if your bandwidth is good and the microphone can pick up the nuances of tone.

  3. Thanks for your suggestions! The main problem is that I feel strongly that she needs that relationship first on which to build the pedagogy. This is a kid who at 13 still would rather do almost anything than use the phone. Webcams are kind of the same thing. Put her in a room with someone and she will gradually warm up over a period of months. Offer to hook her up with even a close friend by phone or webcam and she will refuse point-blank. The other issue is that I've spoken to a number of people about phone and/or webcam lessons and while some of them admit that it can work to some extent, when supplemented by monthly or bimonthly in-real-life lessons, none of them see it as at all realistic beyond the Grade 9-10 level. There is a group at U of Ottawa working on links with large-screen two-way interface, stereo hi-fi sound and the whole nine yards, in an effort to do this meaningfully beyond the Grade 9-10 level. But this technology would require dedicated sound-room facilities at both ends and ultra-high-speed satellite connections, something we don't have access to. It's being considered for things like giving students at universities and satellite colleges lessons with part-time high-end faculty located elsewhere, as an alternative to flying them in. And still there's the relationship issue to be dealt with -- I know that if such a studio was present in our community or within an hour or two, Erin would at this point not touch that format with a ten-foot pole. She needs a real live person to relate to.

  4. Oh, Miranda. What a spot to be in! I can see that Erin really needs the face-to-face relationship to make this work.

    You are just going to have to lure someone who fits the bill into your neighbourhood. And I hope they arrive soon!

    The young violinist I'm referring to does play at the advanced level - but she also has lots of real life interactions with teachers and this is just the supplemental lessons for a specific are of her playing. It's quite a different situation than what you've got on your hands.

  5. Anonymous2:10 pm

    This is such a tough one! My daughter Alex (within days of Erin's age, who prefers the sax over the violin most of time, now that she is finally big enough to play a 3/4 size), suggests a couple of months of sacrifice (by the family) so that Erin can have frequent lessons to build a relationship with a new teacher, and then dropping to monthly lessons and also engaging in something that requires substantial practice, like regular chamber music with other musically advanced teens, in piano trios or mixed ensembles (winds/strings/piano/voice), to complement the sea of strings in which she lives.


  6. Deborah, Alex is onto something, I think. This is the direction we're trying to head (minus the "musically advanced teens," of which there aren't any). I'm trying to get her two lessons this week with a wonderful teacher who is here for the music summer school, and then another couple of really substantial lessons with the same teacher in early to mid-September, when we would travel the 7 hours to Calgary to go violin shopping, and then back off a bit after that.


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