Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ten hours

Yesterday Erin practiced longer than usual. She did 10 hours. That's up from her "usual" (of late) 4-8 hours a day. She normally has a bit of a burst of motivation after the summer music school weeks. But this much? It's almost unprecedented. Three years ago, delighted by the prospect of a new violin teacher and lessons in Calgary, she practiced 3-4 hours a day for a while. Since then her typical pattern has been 1-2 hours a day with occasional runs of missed days. Sometimes 3 hours. But rarely more.

So what happened? Well, she had a great week at SVI. Especially being part of the Advanced Chamber Music program, and performing the Mendelssohn Octet. And afterwards the social connections, friendships new and old and renewed and deepened, continued to give her the sense of belonging to a wonderful musical community. Several of the other ACM participants either live in the area or were able to spend additional time here afterwards.

During the VSSM week that follows SVI, Erin was to do only an hour a day of chamber music, on piano. But at the last minute I managed to slot her in for a couple of private violin lessons, one with Gwen Hoebig. Gwen must have been impressed with her, because she not only gave her the gears about not having specific plans for a post-secondary performance music program at a good university, but gave her advice about where to go and who to study with, and offered her letters of recommendation. This is big. The letter of recommendation offer especially.

Erin has received a lot of encouragement from various teachers over the years, but almost all of them have been friends of her mother's and/or grandmother's long before she studied with them. To get this kind of validation and encouragement from someone who not only is a leading light in the development of young violin talent in the country but who is an objective outsider, meant a lot, and it came at the perfect time for Erin. With two years left in her high-school-aged education, she has just enough time to make good on Gwen's advice.

And the result is shown above. Erin hasn't had a regular lesson since mid-June. Since then she's expanded her task list of assigned repertoire, studies and technique to include ongoing polishing of previous repertoire with a view to an early-winter full-length recital, repertoire she knew her teacher had in store for her for the fall and winter, and an ambitious array of extra-challenge repertoire that's she's set for herself, stuff like the Kreisler Tambourin Chinois and the Bach Chaconne. If you wondered how a 16-year-old can fill 45 to 50 hours of practice time a week without any lessons, this is how.

The result of Gwen's encouragement also shows in Erin's school plans. Although she's been attending school part-time for a couple of years, she was until recently still hedging her bets on whether she was going to pursue requirements for a graduation diploma. Her reasons for taking courses at school used to be about providing some challenge and structure to her learning and some time away from home in an academic environment. But recently a new reason has percolated to the surface and taken on primary significance. She's going to school so that she can graduate with the diploma that will simplify her admission to her music performance program of choice. She told me recently that she would like to work hard at school, in the self-paced independent study program she's been part of all along, in order to complete almost all her required credits this academic year. For her this means immersing herself in a full-year course for two or three weeks and completing it in one fell swoop, then moving immediately on to the next one. This will allow her much more time in her Grade 12 year to focus on violin, working up her audition to as high a level as possible.

I don't doubt that she can do whatever she sets her mind to. And she is certainly setting her mind to this!


  1. Sounds like you are raising a very independant, smart young lady who knows what she wants (for now). Kudos! School means so much more to kids that go with a purpose and not just because they have to!!!

  2. Anonymous6:25 pm

  3. Is 10 hours of practice healthy for her? I'm wondering about over-use of her muscles. I'm glad she's so motivated, but it would be so sad to end up with physical problems. Just a thought. I'm loving hearing about what she's planning for herself!


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