As it turns out, I only needed one event to turn my entire week around for the better. One of my students, Shane McVeigh, was awarded a scholarship to Interlochen’s summer music program.
At the time of his audition, we weren’t really working on any serious repertoire. I was focusing more on getting his setup just right, teaching him solfege, and getting him to listen to the little important things, like intervals and sound production. We took pieces like Hot Cross Buns and Avignon and sang it, then bowed the open strings, practicing upper half detache, then lower half. We played simple piece after simple piece, listening for the sounds to ring clean and pure, scrutinizing the bow's contact point and the angle of his left wrist.
The last piece we’d gotten together was a very basic Bach gavotte. Modest as it was, I remember that during our last run through, I felt a specific contentment as our two violins intertwined in the room and made gorgeous mournful phrases. I told him I was impressed, to which he responded with a shrug of dissatisfaction.
What is it about my role as a teacher that makes me such a harbinger of criticism and self doubt? I get so downhearted at times when I see my students struggling to find the confidence and determination that it takes to continue improving themselves. I wish to insert little disclaimers as I begin opening their ears, warning them of the negative side effects that are likely to follow. As we progress together, they begin to hear things that they didn’t before, like funky bow sounds and wonky tuning, and they become disgusted at themselves. I can’t seem to explain to them that they are actually beginning to sound better than before, not worse. All the flaws had been there before; they just hadn’t noticed them. The only difference now is the honing of their ears, which in turn pilots their progress. The forward gain is difficult to see; it’s almost like watching spring breakup. It’s slow, but steady and certain--undeniably certain to the one who chooses to be patient and give it a try. It can’t be rushed beyond its own pace, though.
So we continued along, like our March thaw. “It snowballs later, I promise!” I kept insisting, when Shane complained about the heckling his peers gave him for playing such babyish songs. To make things worse, I discovered that he would need two audition pieces instead of one. We didn’t have two. The application wasn’t specific as to the deadline for the recording submission, and by the time we got some solid clarification, the deadline had already passed. He really wanted to go. In good faith, his mother submitted a simple recording of his gavotte anyway, and nothing else. I assumed that since he’d failed to meet the requirements, nothing would come of it. I felt bad; every time the subject entered my mind, I tried to convince myself that it was okay that I didn’t spend the year polishing up flashy showpieces to get him into that summer camp.
I was on the scene the day they opened the acceptance letter, and watched the overjoyed mother and the typical bashful 7th-grader counter-reaction. I played the role of the excited and proud violin teacher, alternating between sincere appreciation of his achievement and feelings of reassurance as to my own legitimacy as an instructor.
As a largely self-taught violinist lacking in credentials, I cannot count the number of times I've ended my lesson day with an urgent discontent under my fingernails. Questions assail me for the remainder of the day: Did I make sense? Were they ready for that exercise? Am I holding them back? Are they improving? And if not, is the lack of improvement due to my incompetence, or their incorrect/insufficient practice? What if I forever doom a potential concert violinist to a life of weddings and Friday gigs at the local coffee shop because I didn't equip them with the tools they needed to become the musician they were meant to be? O horrors! Sometimes, I just want a sign, some concrete proof, some connection to the outside world that shows me where I stand as a teacher. And sometimes, my kids need a pat on the back from someone other than myself.
So, my Shane got a scholarship to Interlochen. He got it on a simple Bach gavotte, played well. On my way out, I caught him as he was rounding up his stuff to go snow machining. "You should be darn proud of yourself, Shane."
My favorite fishing deck’s gone, washed out by a broken ice dam that flooded the Kenai and caused 2 million dollars worth of damage. It’s stupid; I feel like a low budget country song, bawling over something as trite as a missing fishing hole. I guess it’s not just the deck that's got me down. It’s everything adding up: my sick husband, my knee injury, my nonexistent spring, and my sore bow arm that’s keeping me from practicing. It all adds up to a spring break full of nothingness, plus a little less to look forward to this summer.
I guess there’s only one thing to do when the negatives add up. Find the positives and add them up until they outnumber the negatives.
(That’s after taxes, of course.)
I’ll be back with my happy list soon. Everyone needs a happy list. Hmm... sushi ...fresh strings ...silver white winters that melt...
“No, I’m certain we had a couple of weeks of warm sunshine last summer, and it was really nice.”
No, Ruth. No we didn’t, and I would now like to throttle anyone who insists otherwise. And since we are all (myself included) in the habit of misconstruing the facts to favor our fancy, I went home and looked it up. Then, I wrote down the official average temperature for each month over the past year. Not stopping there (I have lots of time on my hands over spring break), I wrote down the average monthly temperature over the entire past 57 years, ever since they started keeping records in this town. Expectantly, I awaited a trend of some sort to reveal itself.
Well, the facts are in. The 50's were cold, with average annual temperatures of about 33 degrees. The 80's were the warmest, with an average temperature of 35 degrees. The 90's were a tad cooler, and this past decade has averaged 34. And last year? Well, the average temperature here for 2006 was 30.5 degrees, with last summer setting a record for being the coolest in recorded history.
I made a few graphs.
Then I bundled up
and went outside
to see just how March was coming along.
Nope, nothing's wearing green today, not unless you count bars of soap. St. Patty, you will just have to pinch me. And pinch Alaska, too. I’m heading over to the coffee shop to play some jigs and reels with any Irishman who cares to join me (or any person who happens to feel Irish today, for that matter). Let me know when we've reached the end of the rainbow.
The Maestro, when ideals denied,
In an adjective personified
Mimes and manipulates
Till every last note has complied.
Be one with the music: follow your local conductor today.
It's the new concert black.
(Maybe this would work in LA, but what about AK?)
More entries: April 2007 February 2007
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Violinist.com Summer Music Programs Directory
ARIA International Summer Academy
Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine