September 2003the trust fund gig I wrote about in August? Thought I'd let everybody know, I just received my checks today. I had to think for a minute to remember what they were for!
“Mrs. Niles, I don’t know that one!” he said with concern. Different teachers put different phrases to the same rhythm, so it is likely that this little guy learned, “alligator ate the butter,” or “one-ie and a two-ie and a,” or something else altogether. It’s all the same, as I explained, but he didn’t understand.
“I don’t know it!” he insisted.
“You know what?” I said, leaning forward confidentially, “Fake it!” Gasps went up all around the room, from parents and students alike. Then everybody laughed.
And he faked it, very well.
I’ve said that to a great many parents seeking lessons for their “exceptionally gifted” toddlers. Children need some time to enjoy music, dance to it and feel it in their little souls. And I’ve found teaching toddlers slow going, difficult and sometimes near impossible. Especially little boys.
With this in mind, let me tell you about my newest student.
On Friday I took my three-year-old son, Brian, to get a “real violin.” He had been playing with a cardboard violin and wooden stick bow, but he’d progressed so far by watching my lessons with other students that he now wanted the real thing.
We walked, hand-in-hand, up the alley and down the steps into the back entrance of Pasadena’s Old Town Music.
“Mom,” Brian said with concern, “Do dey have my vi-lin?”
I assured him, they do, but we have to pay. First, though, Brian wanted to test-drive the new fiddle. He put it to his chin and played the Suzuki rhythm for the first “Twinkle variation”: Motorcycle stop-stop. Then he wanted to keep the violin under his chin. He was irrepressible! Finally, I told him that we had to pay or we couldn’t take the violin home. He seemed to understand this.
Meanwhile, an Italian couple took an interest in this unusually small person being outfitted for a violin. They were chatting in their native language, pointing at Brian and looking at me like I was some slave-driving lunatic mom.
“He two?” said the woman, a little incredulous.
“He’s three,” I said. I felt the need to explain. “I’m a violinist, and his older sister has been taking lessons. He’s actually been wanting to play since he was one.” Indeed, when he was just eighteen months, he could perform a number of the “pre-Twinkle” songs, which involve singing and holding the violin.
“Ah,” said the man, then he translated for the woman. All I heard was, “violinista…,” then the woman said, “Ah!”
Brian insisted on carrying the tiny gray case himself as we walked back to the car. Then he insisted the fiddle remain at his side. He fell asleep on the way home.
An hour later, he was up, stumbling downstairs from his bedroom with his usual post-nap bedhead and all-around grogginess. But that did not stop him from asking, “Wheya’s my vi-lin?”
I showed him to the tiny red chair where I had placed it.
“Want to play my vi-lin.” I guess lunch wasn’t high on his agenda. We spent the next 45 minutes learning about holding the violin, standing in rest position, putting the violin on his shoulder, holding the bow, clapping rhythms.
Eventually, I had to stop.
“Let’s take a bow,” I said. Then he carefully helped me pack the violin away.
Later that evening, I was getting ready to go for a run. When I came downstairs, Brian had opened his violin case, secured the little foam pad to the back of his violin with a rubber band and rosined the bow. “Teach me!” he implored.
“Later!” I said. But I didn’t wait too long. We were back at it, the minute I got home.
I still don’t take three-year-olds. But this one took me.
My daughter’s first day of first grade was last week, and her teacher sent her home that afternoon with an odd gift. It was a paper bag containing an assortment of seemingly random items: a cotton ball, chocolate kiss, sticker, rubber band, penny, star, tissue, toothpick, bandage, gold thread, eraser and Life Saver candy. Attached was a note that explained it all:
Dear First Grader,
A precious gift indeed!
Hear more from the world's top violinists in The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, which includes our exclusive conversations with Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, and David Garrett, and others, as well as a foreword by Hilary Hahn.
Smiling as he spoke, Steinhardt offered his suggestions with clarity and appeal, in language both efficient and richly meaningful.
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
Please consider supporting Violinist.com by becoming a sponsor, and reaching our dedicated community of violin professionals, students and fans!