Saturday, August 25, 2007

Violin Redux

I think it's pretty unusual for a music student to persist on two different instruments at a roughly equal level of ability for more than a few years without beginning to favour one over the other. Perhaps most often it's the time pressure that gets to them, and there Erin has an advantage. Because we homeschool, she can do piano solos and accompaniment projects and recitals and the practicing and lessons and also have time for violin lessons and practicing and orchestra rehearsals, group classes and quartet rehearsals. But still, I always suspected that she would eventually discover that one of them felt like her "primary instrument" and the other her "secondary instrument." Personality-wise it seemed to me that piano was a better fit for my introverted, perfectionistic intellectual and my guess was that this was the direction she would inevitably lean. She's had the advantage of a stable, long-term good relationship with a teacher who has the expertise to carry her for a few more years yet, and most piano music is complete in and of itself, without another player or group of players to provide ensemble or accompaniment. For the most advanced student in a rural area piano looked like the best fit.

And in fact this summer, for the first time, she began expressing a preference for piano. Due to the lack of a violin teacher, I wondered if this was the beginning of the end. She has such great potential for further growth as a violinist, but the stars just didn't seem aligned to make it work. I resolved to let things lie and wait to see if she developed any passion and interest in violin throughout the summer music programs we'd signed her up for last winter before her violin teacher retired. I tried to make myself comfortable with the idea that she'd maybe just give up studying violin, but secretly I was hoping that the summer programs would fire her up about it (thus greatly complicating our lives with the need to feed her desire for further study).

Things weren't looking great in July. She was practicing a bit, but doing pretty much all review work, not trying to improve her playing of her "current piece" (the Kabelevsky Concerto 1st movement, partly learned when her violin teacher retired) or her "recital piece" (a Bach unaccompanied movement that she'd decided she'd play for the SVI recital). While I'd felt strongly that what she needed was a source of motivation from outside our family, her master class assignment at SVI ended up, by necessity, being her aunt, the only faculty member comfortable teaching at that level. When her VSSM orchestra music arrived, it turned out not to be Stravinsky or Mendelssohn or Tchaikovsky or some other meaty, challenging piece similar to what the advanced students had been assigned in past years, but a straightforward Handel Concerto Grosso for the intermediate (~Suzuki book 4-7) orchestra. I asked whether she might be placed in a more challenging orchestra, and she did get bumped up, but even the "advanced orchestra" turned out to be considerably less than advanced, as unbeknownst to us the more advanced string students (Erin was enrolled in the piano program with an orchestral option) had been skimmed off for various chamber ensembles. And then, the final shot was when we got a phone call saying that there were too many violinists and not enough violists in the VIP Chamber Music Program, and would she possibly be willing to play piano in a trio sonata? Of course she agreed -- at that point she was keener on piano -- but I was inwardly disappointed. While I'd hoped three weeks of violin inspiration would fire her up, each week seemed to have suffered a serious complication.

But master class assignment aside, the SVI week really really fired her up. Yeah, the draw was mostly social, but she also enjoyed playing. Enough to begin saying that violin was now her favourite instrument. Not enough to motivate her to want to practice, but enough for her to say "I want to do that again next year, so I guess I'll have to get some lessons and practice." A sort of begrudging form of motivation.

The VSSM was a bit of a washout, both socially and instrumentally-speaking. She did love the choral stuff (is this yet a third 'instrument' she's committed to?) but both the piano class and the orchestra were only so-so.

And then a funny thing happened during the VIP week where she had to play piano with an inexperienced group of string players, amongst a sea of more advanced string players in other chamber groups. She got itchy violin fingers. She longed to be playing the music she could hear coming through the floor. She wished she could be playing their Schubert quintet music, rather than the Handel piano sonata. She was 'stuck' doing a great job of piano in a not-very-challenging ensemble, while all this interesting romantic challenge was taking place around her, but just out of reach.

The violin lesson we'd managed to arrange for her last weekend with our Calgary-based friend who had been teaching here for two weeks gave her a launching pad. She's been practicing the Kreisler Praeludium and Allegro for two hours a day in the midst of a week nominally devoted to piano, completely passionately and unbidden.

Maybe piano isn't such an obvious fit for her after all. The introversion, perfectionism and intellectualism that made piano seem like such a natural personality-fit for her have tempered a little as she's matured. Music has always been a crucial social and relationship vehicle for her. As relationships out in the world beyond our home become more and more important to her, perhaps the fact that violin is such a sociable instrument makes it more relevant now than it ever could have been in the past. Gosh, I sure do over-analyze these things, don't I? I hereby declare a three-month moratorium on obsessive analytical posts about Erin's musical issues.

But anyway, here we are, against all odds, with a kid more passionate about the violin than she's ever been. Life sure is complicated.

1 comment:

  1. But I LIKE your over-analysis, it's always helpful!


This blog is moving to archive-only status. Please consider posting comments instead at the active version of the blog at

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.