Believe what you play, believe what you teach

January 22, 2008, 12:01 AM · Nicolette Solomon stands in her cowboy boots on a sunny Sunday afternoon, light pouring into the red-carpeted, craftsman-styled music room where she's teaching a violin master class for our Suzuki group in Pasadena.

"He wanted a VICIOUS vibrato there," Nicolette insists in tidy, South-African accented English. "And that slide can sound a bit more cheap....I don't think Bohm would mind..."

She wants Rhett, who is about 12, to play it again, the "Introduction and Polonaise" by Carl Bohm that she's been helping him to schmaltzify.

"Have you got the tissues ready?" she asks the audience of about a dozen that are gathered for the master class. She's quite serious: expect tears. Turning back to Rhett she advises, "You've got to make us believe; no one's going to believe if you stand there looking really bored. You've got to have the pained look on your face..."

Rhett plays with more glissandi and warmth, and she leaves him with this thought, "Every day, for the rest of your life, you've got to believe. You've got to believe what you're doing on the violin for the rest of us to believe it."

She clearly believes. She gets everyone believing.

For little Charlie, age 6, who had a tendency to play over the fingerboard, she believed in the contact point. And I loved the way she appealed to his imagination to make him believe it, too. After he had played Papini's "Theme and Variations" all the way through, she asked him: "Have you ever heard of the Kreisler highway?" He wagged his head slowly: No. "Have you ever heard of Fritz Kreisler?" she asked, and again he wagged his head: No. Her eyes widened, "Well. Dr. Suzuki thought that Kreisler – Fritz Kreisler -- was the most beautiful, beautiful violin player in the world," she said, pausing for effect. She was not hurrying this explanation in the least. "Dr. Suzuki asked Kreisler, how did he do it? How did he play so beautifully? And he said: he played on the Kreisler highway." Charlie simply kept looking at her.

"Would you like me to show you the Kreisler highway?" she asked. Charlie nodded slowly: Yes. "I'm going to draw you a highway, so you can drive your bow on the highway," she said, taking out a black Sharpie pen and marking his strings. "It's like driving on a very narrow road."

Charlie examined his new "highway," then he played his entire piece, looking intently to make sure he was driving his bow on the highway. She explained afterwards that he could play on the highway for all his pieces, and she had him take a few of his other songs for a spin on the highway...

A good teacher makes it look so easy: find the one thing, explain it thoroughly, drill a little, imagine a little, enjoy how it makes all the rest a little better.


January 22, 2008 at 08:25 AM · Thanks, Laurie. Your reports on these training sessions are all so helpful.

January 22, 2008 at 03:12 PM · Laurie, I love these training reports!! It really helps me!!

By the way, I'm learning that Papini's themes and variation (I just started 4 weeks ago), and this piece is killing me!! Is there a recording of this somewhere so I can here it?

January 23, 2008 at 04:59 AM · Cheers Laurie,

I'm just about to start back teaching for the year, and know a few students who could use the Kreisler highway. I'd never heard of using a Sharpie Marker before... will have to invest in one.

January 23, 2008 at 06:53 AM · I hadn't thought of doing that, either! But it's quite simple, eh?

January 23, 2008 at 09:29 PM · Thanks so much Laurie for that extra glimpse. I'm always impressed when I see/hear/hear of a gifted teacher at work. Could do with this idea for my twosome. What's a Sharpie marker by the way? Or what's special about it?

Is it a type of white board pen or permanent marker pen? I don't live in the US so need to find an equivalent. Thanks!


January 24, 2008 at 02:14 AM · It's just a permanent pen; or sometimes people call it a laundry pen. :)

January 24, 2008 at 06:25 PM · Loved reading this. Especially the "you've got to believe" part. Very profound.

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