Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Back in the swing

We're back in the swing of activities now, I guess. Erin's been doing community choir for a few weeks. This morning we made our first trip of the year to Nelson for weekly piano lessons. This afternoon the other three kids had their violin or viola lessons. This evening violin group class started, and next week it'll be community orchestra. The following week Erin's (new!) student quartet starts, and Noah's student quartet gets back to regular rehearsing. And Erin's piano teacher is teaching an exchange student from Japan who happens to live in New Denver, and is going to put the two girls together on some challenging four-hands piano duet repertoire. Erin is thrilled about this -- on the way to her lesson she was bemoaning her lack of contact with other advanced pianists.

Tomorrow I teach, then there's a farewell potluck for Chuck's colleague of 13 1/2 years. Thursday the kids and I head off to Calgary for another set of violin lessons for Erin. Chuck is back at work full-time, and my clinic work kicks in again next week.

In the works are a few new activities. We're going to try an ethnic cooking club with a group of local homeschoolers once a week. (First up: Thai food.) Sophie is hoping to join a children's choir that may be starting up locally.

And while it's not really in the works, Fiona is agitating for piano lessons. I'm not sure what to do about that. There's no obvious choice for a teacher for her. If she were 7 or 8, it would be a different matter. Somehow she's convinced she should be allowed to start lessons after her 5th birthday. We may have to "homeschool for piano," though I confess I don't have the experience and expertise I should.


  1. I would be happy to send along our first year Yamaha books that Rhiannon used for her first year of piano when she was five. I bet with all your string expertise, you'll be fine. In the beginning, piano is a bit easier than violin - faster learning curve, anyways.... I mean no matter where you put your finger on the C (do) key, it is still C...

  2. Thanks for the offer Andrea. We've actually got beginner method books coming out our ears here, so I think I'll pass. Though I've never seen the Yamaha stuff (perhaps the books are different than I imagine) my favourites so far are the RCM Celebrate Piano! series, because the music seems a cut above most and the intervalaic approach to pitch-reading fits with my philosophy. So it's not the materials I'm lacking as much as the confidence to deal with the technique aspects -- the theory and the reading are no problem for me to teach, but I don't think that's really the sort of stuff that's appropriate for Fi' at this point. I have done about half of the 1A book with her, but I'm already beginning to feel the oppression of the expectation of reading. She wants to play!

    I did a complete Level 1A/1B primer series on my own with Sophie, and of course helped Erin and Noah along with their primer books (Noah got to RCM Grade 3, and Erin is currently Grade 10). But they were older, and more ready for the note-reading (or so I thought). Like it or not, such books are intended to get kids reading, and learning music by reading. That's not what I'd like to do with Fiona. I want the sort of piano approach that's not based in print, and is therefore not in a method book -- and I don't have the experience and creativity to imagine how to do that, nor do I have the expertise to know how to work instead on tone and touch and technique and articulation and such.

    I think I'm wanting something that doesn't exist, except through Suzuki piano.

  3. Or how about having your oldest daughter teach Fiona? That could be a good opportunity for her (the eldest that is).

  4. We're in a similar boat with regards to piano lessons, Miranda. Maddie has wanted to take lessons for a while now, but the instructor that was recommended to us suggested that we wait until she is eight or so. That's a long wait when you're six and wanting to learn. I can read music because I played clarinet for eight years, but I'm not a true piano player by any means. Sigh...what to do? Please keep us posted on how things progress with Fiona's piano experiences.

  5. So, is Erin willing to take on a beginning student or does that dynamic just not work?

  6. Maybe I'm a music education snob, but I just don't believe in having students teach beginners. All my violin pedagogy training and experience has led me to believe that, as my mom says, "any idiot can teach an intermediate student, but it takes and expert to teach a beginner." Erin can play the piano better than I can, but she has even less training and experience than I have (my experience as a violin teacher, and as a studious observer of Erin's own piano beginnings). She's thirteen and I'm sure has no memory or understanding of her first teacher's introduction of particular thumb exercises or of the timing of introducing contrary rhythms in both hands, or of the need to push some concept, or of the wisdom in letting some other outstanding issue linger.

    I've seen the dividends that pay off with a really good start -- especially in violin, but also in piano. I've seen so many other kids with other teachers in other programs lose momentum because they just do not get some intangible fundamentals at the early stages. Erin's first teacher (no longer teaching) had her faults, but one thing she did have was an excellent pedagogical foundation, and the ability to creatively nurture quick and highly motivating progress in general musical ability in the absence of "equal" sight-reading skills.

  7. Just because I'm curious (and an ex-piano teacher), did Erin start with Suzuki? Or was she older and do a reading-based method?

  8. Anonymous7:18 pm

    so is Erin's teacher not an option?


  9. Erin started around her sixth birthday. Non-Suzuki, but she had been reading fluently for a year and a half and I assumed she'd learn to read music "early" too. When it turned out she was learning mostly by ear, her (then) teacher, who had a son who was very similar to Erin though about 8 years older, was able to run with her strengths.

    When Erin switched to her current teacher she was 8 I believe. That's the age her current teacher prefers to take kids, and having seen how Noah did at age 6-7, I understand why. She is quite rigid and didactic, and believes in "reading first." When all else fails, musical instruction pretty much stops and it's flashcard time. Fortunately Erin was just taking off in her sight-reading at the point we switched teachers.


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