I was fortunate to have my Grandmother living up the mountain (that’s what we say in southwest Virginia). She was a professional violist and music teacher. From the moment I was born she would play music and sing with me. There was a box of music instruments (rhythm sticks, triangle, bells, etc…) that we would play with every day. Kind of like Ready Set Play classes! When I was 5 she decided it was time to sign me up for piano lessons. I was never offered a choice about what instrument to play. A few years later I heard the Elgar cello concerto performed live and begged to play that instrument. I was drawn to the deep voice and the idea of playing with an orchestra. When my constant begging continued for more than a year, I was granted permission to study both instruments on the condition that my piano practice would come first. Well, we know how that turned out. 🙂
Unfortunately I was not able to get answers from my grandmother to all of these questions, though she could remember a few things to include. Most of this interview is coming from my Dad.
Q: What were your thoughts about starting lessons? Were you excited? Anxious? Confused?
A: My music education consisted of playing clarinet in the high school band. When your Grandmother told me she wanted to sign you up for piano lessons at age 5 I was surprised. But I knew it would be a good opportunity for you.I had no idea where you would take it! I was just thinking piano lessons couldn’t hurt you…
Q: What was the most helpful thing my teacher ever told you? Least helpful?
A: You were so lucky to have an amazing Suzuki school where we lived in Virginia. (Side note–Ellen actually gave a masterclass there!!) I can’t remember one specific thing, but I remember your teacher gave us many goals for each practice week which helped a lot. The semester reports (pictured below) were also helpful because it gave us perspective on how much work you really did accomplish. Some days the progress is so slow it’s hard to see the bigger picture!
Q: Were there times I wanted to quit? Were there times YOU wanted me to quit?
A: As you got older, yes. I never wanted you to feel like you were forced to do it. There were times you would say “why can’t I just be a normal teenager.” But every time I gave you the option to quit you wouldn’t do it. All the way to the point when you needed to pick between music conservatory or engineering school.
Q: Did I always like to practice? If not, did you have any tricks that made practice easier?
A: No, Kayla! No one always likes to practice! Cookies made it easier.
When you were in high school there were times when you found balancing music and schoolwork quite difficult and frustrating. You were extremely motivated through your quartet and chamber orchestra and I think that carried you through so many of the difficult practice days.
Q: Was there a point when it became clear to you that it was all worth it?
A: As long as it was something that you wanted to do, I always felt it was worth it. Not that there weren’t difficult days of practice, but I never felt that you truly did not want to do it.
Q: How did you see my musical education as affecting the rest of my life?
A: I think it did a lot to promote responsibility, organization and sense of commitment. Music taught you at an early age that it required work to make something happen. It didn’t just come because you held your hand out.
You also had so many opportunities through your music. Your first plane ride was for a Suzuki institute. Your first international trip was for a chamber music festival. Your first trip to New York City was to play at Ground Zero with the Irish National Youth Orchestra. And that is only naming a few of the many opportunities you had.
Q: What’s the worst fight you remember having with me about music?
A: There were many tears, many meltdowns. Many birthday parties you had to arrive late for or sleepovers you couldn’t do. Summer vacations included practice time. I can’t think of a worst fight, but it was hard to stand my ground about making practice a priority. But I’ve watched you become an adult and be able to make those decisions for yourself. I like to think that some of your discipline and work ethic comes from the difficult moments we spent in your childhood. Doing the thing you want vs. the thing you need to do is a very hard lesson to learn.
Q: Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
A: I probably regret not pushing you to go to Walnut Hill School for high school. You were too scared to make that choice yourself and I was not anxious to send my little girl all the way to Boston at 14. But I think it would have provided you with many more opportunities than we had in Virginia.
Q: What’s the best time you remember having with me surrounding music?
A: Your concerts at Point Counterpoint chamber music camp in Vermont. Those concerts were the most enjoyable ones I ever listened to. And taking the road trips up there and back! Actually all the trips we took together for your music activities were so much fun. I can say I’ve been to so many cool places because of trips your music took us on.
A: From my grandmother: You had worked so hard with you duet partner for the annual piano duet recital. She was sick that day so at the last minute I got on stage with you and performed. I was so nervous! My hands were shaking. But I had such a fun time getting to perform with you. Your piano teacher wrote me a beautiful note the following week.