I started violin at what my students consider to be the ripe old age of 7. I was not a Suzuki kid but rather took “traditional” lessons and studied at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. Although no one told us about the Suzuki Triangle (student-teacher-parent), my mother was a huge part of my violin studies and attended lessons as my note taker and practice partner until I was about 12. Here’s a brief Q and A with my mom where she talks about some of her memories of my violin journey.
Q. What was the reason I started lessons?
A. Because you wanted to. When your brother started trumpet you wanted to play an instrument too and the only instrument I knew that was small enough was a violin. I told you that and you immediately said you wanted to play violin. I thought, yeah, sure, that won’t last. But you asked me for a month nonstop, “when are you going to find me a violin teacher?” so I finally took it seriously…
Q. What was the biggest misunderstanding you had about how the lessons/practices would go?
A. I didn’t know that I would be so involved. And I didn’t know there would be tears. So many tears.
Q. What was the most helpful thing my teacher ever told you?
A. She told me a lot of helpful things that were really about life. She told us that in every piece there is a part that takes much more time to master than any other part and I think about that often– there are aspects of every challenge in life that will take longer to overcome than others. It’s to be expected and accepted. Also, when I asked her why you had to play in recitals instead of just playing “for yourself” she explained that music is to be shared and we always have to think of an audience and how to help the audience enjoy the music. She was very clear that you should always be playing with the musical interpretation you want to express or else you’re not really practicing.
Q. Were there times I wanted to quit? Were there times YOU wanted me to quit?
A. More than once when you were in tears I would tell you that you could quit and you would sobbingly say, “no, no! I don’t want to quit!”. Looking back, I think the temper tantrums were really frustration over difficulty rather than any desire to stop playing the violin. What you really were hoping is that I could somehow solve your difficulties, which, unfortunately I could not.
Q. What helped us through those times?
A. Nothing I can think of now, other than talking to other parents and learning that at least some of them were going through the same thing– I had thought we were alone and that no one else could be having these same kinds of struggles. Knowing we were not alone was very helpful.
Q. Did I always like to practice?
A. No, you didn’t like to practice. But you would. You had a clear understanding that you could not improve without practicing. At the time I was trying to learn how to play guitar and I recall saying to my cousin, who is an accomplished guitarist, “I don’t want to practice, I just want to be able to play guitar”. He looked at me as if I were crazy and said, “everybody wants that!” For some bizarre reason, I had thought that was an unusual desire…
Q. Was there a point when it became clear to you that it was all worth it?
A. Yes, absolutely. Many points. There was never a time I thought it wasn’t worth it as much as I had questions. I think I always saw a value that just because clearer and clearer. The discipline and focus you learn is invaluable. And the experience of playing in orchestra was really a highlight. The value of making music together with others was always clear to me. When I look back on my childhood my school band memories are among my happiest and you were obviously the same– you thrived in orchestra.
Q. How did you see my musical education as affecting the rest of my life?
A. It was invaluable. Particularly in adolescence to have a focus outside of yourself is crucial. Your brother also took music lessons [trumpet] and did not become a musician, or even pursue it after high school, but the experience was nevertheless invaluable. Plus, it brought me a huge amount of pleasure!
Q. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
A. Yes. I wish I had found a way to be more peaceful and not get so engaged in struggles during practice.
Q. What’s the worst fight you remember having with me about music?
A. Oh man… there isn’t any one that stands out. But there were definitely some very unpleasant times– when I was near tears myself. I wish I had done a better job of helping you.
Q. What’s the best time you remember having with me surrounding music?
A. There were lots of good times. I think orchestra was definitely a really lovely time. Everything about that experience including the driving [one hour each way every Saturday, even on holiday weekends!] was a great time to have together. In fact, sharing all of your music experiences, including learning how to interact positively with some very demanding teachers, were really meaningful times to have together. Then there were all the concerts we attended together and the recordings we listened to and studied. I didn’t even like solo violin when you started…and now the violin repertoire includes some of my most favorite music. Your musical experiences definitely enriched my life, no question about it.
Here I am, age 10 or 11, practicing while my mom video taped. Things start out ok but you’ll soon see how I react when I can’t get the sound I want. Mom must have encouraged me to slow down and the next section is pretty successful until… you’ll have to watch and see. But I kept working, through the frustration, and it didn’t sound half bad by the end!