Monday, June 28, 1999

Erin's Violin Blog 15

By mid-spring, Erin was showing some interest in re-mastering some of her more challenging review repertoire. We began working gingerly together. Things began falling back into place gradually. But there was still the big hurdle of Etude staring us in the face. Despite lots of work on G-major fingering and scales, she'd been more or less stuck at that first phrase for the better part of six months. I was dreading taking on the challenge with her again. She clearly disliked the piece because of all the frustration it represented.

On a whim, I suggested one evening that we sit down and write a "hate letter" to Etude. Here is what Erin dictated:

Dear Etude

I understand that you are an important piece. You are the first G major piece but I don't like you very much right now. Right now I'm a little frustrated with you. I promise I will come back to you sometime later, but right now I am planning to move ahead to Minuet 1 and leave you alone. I hope you will understand. Right now I think you are nasty and awful and bad and yucky and mean and a rascal too.

Love, Erin

And so we began work on Minuet 1. Within two weeks, there was good progress and we decided it was time to schedule a lesson with Grandma again. At that point I reminded Erin about her behaviour at her last lesson, and explained that it was because of this behaviour that we had gone without a lesson for so long. This appeared to really sink in.

In the six weeks since that first lesson, Erin has done very well. We've only managed to squeeze in a couple of formal lessons, but she is working well with me at home. The posture troubles are beginning to improve a little. Minuet 1 was easily learned, without any difficulty with the G-major fingering and intonation. Soon she was teaching herself new repertoire: Minuet 2, Chorus (despite my requests to the contrary: it's a Book 2 piece she shouldn't yet be learning), and, most recently, a successful return to the once-hated Etude, which she has mastered in two days.

Most interestingly, her improvisation has continued, but has slipped into the keys of G-major and E-minor. She's had a successful performance as a "guest soloist" on a piano-teacher-friend's student recital. She played Allegro and Minuet 1 with confidence, pleasure and reasonable posture to boot!

This year Erin has learned very little in a tangible sense. She's mastered three or four pieces, a new fingering position and some new bowing patterns. Her posture skills have deteriorated a little. But she has become infinitely more comfortable with playing by ear, she now thinks of the violin, I believe, as something she does, not something I coddle her into doing. I have learned the importance of trusting her own sense of readiness. I have become more humble. I now know that I cannot motivate my own child, I can only create the conditions under which she might motivate herself. I have learned to honour her unconventional learning path. At least I hope I have learned these things. And I hope she has come to trust my commitment to honour her sense of readiness.

Erin is five now, still playing on a sixteenth-sized violin. We will be attending a medium-sized highly reputable summer institute this summer, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her brother will be enrolled in an infant music class for under-threes, but he is already studiously playing Twinkle rhythms on A and E, asking for daily lessons, and showing signs of having learned tremendous amounts from his sister. I suspect I will be treading the pre-Twinkle path again soon!