Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Music education decisions -- the next phase

It's been almost two years since we began monthly or bi-monthly violin lesson trips to Calgary for Erin. She'd outgrown the local teachers, had taken five months off lessons entirely after the sudden retirement of her Nelson teacher, and had then discovered that she really did have the drive and motivation to pursue violin. She had an excellent summer-workshop relationship with a terrific Calgary-based teacher and seemed willing to do almost anything in order to be able to study with her. So we started doing the big drive. Once a month, except when scheduling was impossible.

Alas, 8 or 10 lessons a year are not sufficient for a 15-year-old who is considering a performance career. The world of string playing is extremely competitive; the kids Erin will be compared to if/when she applies to music schools are practicing three hours a day (as she sometimes does) but are also getting weekly private lessons, chamber group, technique classes, regular opportunities to work with accompanists and perform, youth orchestras. Mostly they're getting very focused attention to the refinement of their technique through weekly diligent overseeing by teachers who are preparing them for future careers in music. She needs to be getting the same type of experience.

Erin's current lesson arrangement is really that of a self-taught violinist getting occasional bits of input on repertoire from guest teachers. That's how it's felt for everyone involved, I think. It's just not going to be enough to ensure a performance career. If that's what she wants, which she seems to.

Then there's piano. She has had little to no interest in piano for the past 18 months. Practicing has averaged half an hour a week. Her long-time teacher has a little experience teaching at her level, but isn't a performer herself, doesn't play at this level, and has no accompanying expertise. Accompanying is really where Erin's interest, what there is of it, lies. Lessons have been spotty due to travel (by both Erin and her teacher) and lack of motivation.

At the beginning of this week Erin had finally decided to announce her decision to quit piano lessons. She's doing the Advanced Piano program at the Valhalla Summer School of Music again this summer, but is feeling like a hypocrite, having played almost no piano since last fall. I had a short conversation with her teacher explaining that it was pretty clear this was Erin's swan song on piano.

This week Erin has been taken aside for chats by both a visiting piano professor and by her Calgary violin teachers. The [pretty well-known] piano guy has worked with her in chamber groups for two summers now and basically told her that if she was indeed interested in pursuing music at the post-secondary level he'd love to work with her ... especially in collaborative piano (accompanying), which she's clearly got a talent for. He asked how old she was, how many more years of high school she has left, gave her his e-mail address. She didn't have the heart to tell him that her interest in pursuing music at university was not in piano, or that she'd just decided to finally quit piano. Truth be told she was very flattered, and rightly so. "Darn!" she told me afterwards. "He just messed me up. I'd finally decided to quit, and now this!?"

Her violin teachers, a husband-and-wife team, have been up-front about her prospects for ongoing musical development. If she wants to really dig in and work for a music career she needs weekly lessons. Or close. They've offered to let her stay with them in Calgary. Wow. Maybe this is something she can do part-time, for a few days every other week or something, busing back and forth? She's now old enough to travel the long bus routes without an adult escort (younger children can travel unaccompanied but only on daytime routes less than 5 hours). Does she feel ready to move? Not really, because not having school or some other program to slot right into, she would be a kid living with two very very very busy adults who can't really act in loco parentis. It would be a lot of arduous travelling for her to go back and forth like that, but maybe she could do it? She could probably continue with her self-directed schooling here, using the Facilitated Learning Lab when she's in town, working from afar when she's in Calgary.

But how would she do chamber music? Or get orchestral experience? And could she keep up her two wonderful choirs?

And what about piano?

Have I ever used this many question marks in a blog post?


  1. Wow, what a pickle. Definitely a drawback to the idyllic rural life. I hope you come up with a workable solution!

    I keep thinking... are those her ONLY options? No aunts or cousins? No other cities or places to study or internet lessons or....

    Being confronted with the amount of question marks you gave us is almost unbearable for my personality! I want to solve, fix and arrange.

    My husband, who grew up in rural eastern Oregon 8 hours from Portland said his family had the same problem. His sisters and brother are driven 8 hours to the city twice a month for harp lessons, piano lessons and violin lessons. One sister went on to study music, the youngest two are still in college. One of their solutions: buy a single-engine plane. :)

  2. Remind me how far Calgary is for you?

    If Erin wants to come to Manchester, England for a while there are a host of teachers to match up with at RNCM!

  3. Calgary is 7 hours' drive. Eight in the winter. Piano big-wig guy is in Winnipeg, which is about 20 hours. But her aunt also lives there, and although she doesn't currently have the space, theoretically there's family there that she could live with, perhaps in fall 2010. Piano big-wig guy is married to violin-even-bigger-wig, and both of them know Erin and have worked with her well. That seems the logical step when she's ready to move away definitively.

    Manchester -- what an offer! But too far I think :-).

  4. Wow they sound like good big-wigs!

    And there was me thinking I was up for Mother of the Year for driving Jules 90 miles for a lesson once a month. Next trip we catch a cave and a wallaby farm along the way!

  5. eviesmum20052:08 a.m.

    There used to be a program at the RCM in Toronto for students interested in accompanying - full time for a month or something, but I can't see it on their site now...maybe you can find it... If there is something @ the RCM that Erin would like to pursue she is welcome to the spare room as we are only 15 mins by subway from there. We really are lucky to have so much available to us so easily - we don't appreciate it and make use of the opportunities that are here.
    PM me on ivillage if we can help eviesmum2005


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