I used the opportunity to air out my Tchaikovsky Concerto, a bit of a self-indulgence. But if anyone was going to appreciate the effort, my students, their fans and my friends would. I've always wanted to perform it, and now I know why. What fun it was! During the rehearsal, when I was able to play through it twice with the pianist, I felt like the second time was just a joy ride.
Though my own performance was important to me, I found that I was equally invested in the performances of every single student who took a turn last night. In the end, I was quite proud of myself, but even more thrilled with the accomplishments of my students.
I realized, from performing something that is right on the edge of my own ability, that I had required every one of them to do the same. “Twinkle” may not seem like a big deal, but it certainly is if you've played the violin for only six months and never performed for anyone.
So here are some of the amazing feats that my students performed last night:
A two-year-old walked up in front of a sizeable audience, stood on a foot chart, and played an open-string “song” called the “E-String Concerto.” She bowed beforehand, played her song, even corrected her right hand position when it was out of place, then bowed afterwards, picked up her foot chart and went back to her parents. Go, little girl!
A four-year-old with a rather quiet disposition sang the “Rest Position Song” all by herself, quite boldly, getting all the movements and words right.
Another four-year-old played the “Cat Kitty Song,” a scale song, with wonderful accuracy and the stage presence of a movie star.
A six-year-old student who started just last summer played the marathon “Twinkle Variations,” completely in tune with wonderful position. I told the audience that by the time a student masters the “Twinkle Variations,” he or she has learned 45 new skills. Pretty amazing, eh?
A five-year-old girl whose attention is prone to straying played “Song of the Wind” with complete focus, and quite well in tune! This was after a dress rehearsal in which the fingers went far from the tapes, resulting in a week of concentrated effort to set them straight. She did it!
A second-grader conquered all the confusing double up-bows and rests in “O Come Little Children.” She was so on-target that I could see her starting exactly in the middle of the bow, where I'd put a red tape, then dividing bow exactly in half for the double up-bows. Beautiful!
An adult beginner, who has been through a difficult year of job changes and challenges, got up and played Perpetual Motion, perfectly in tune. She smiled the whole time!
A fifth-grader, who in the past has gotten quite nervous on these occasions, truly made the “Happy Farmer” sound like a happy farmer. If she was nervous, she had wonderful poise. Not to mention good form and intonation!
A 10-year-old boy, whom I've subjected to a great deal of technical overhaul in our six months of collaboration, played “Witches' Dance” like a star. I was pushing him to play it with more energy, and there it was!
An eight-year-old, whom I started when she was four and a half, played the Gavotte by Martini, which is wickedly hard to memorize for all its repetition, and it has a rather contrapuntal piano part to further confuse the mind. And, she had not made it to the rehearsal. Did she flub up? Not a bit! Played it like a pro, without a memory glitch, and with some nice musicality that is going to shine gorgeously when she gets a bigger fiddle with sound.
My teenage student played the slow movement from Mozart 5, and though it was a struggle to put it with the piano for the rehearsal, she did it from memory for the recital, having patched every point of rhythmic confusion. Plus, it sounded like Mozart! We all know that this is not easy to achieve, it takes a lot of patience and attention to seemingly simple and “boring” detail, though she never shied from that work.
Another adult student, after some 30 years of orchestra playing, was performing a piece from memory for the first time. After always performing with the music, it is a major accomplishment to throw it aside! He played a gorgeous “Meditation from Thais” that had everyone clapping for a long time.
All of my students' accomplishments belong to them; they are the result of their own hard work and of the support of the people around them. But I am thrilled to have a part in shaping their progress, and to be able to watch them grow into this art. For some, I am watching them grow up! What a privilege, to have this vantage.
Good work, all!
She is a five-year-old beginner, and she learns new pieces at the speed of lightning. Unfortunately this comes at the expense of playing things in tune and attending to the details that allow for technique to advance. She seems to listen to herself play long enough to figure out by ear what the right fingers are, then she saws through pieces, looking at the ceiling and giggling at her mother.
How to get through to this little gal?
The other day, I found myself reciting a long list of things that fell on deaf ears...
“Okay, let's stand up. Watch your fingers. Listen, it's out of tune. Wait, wait, slow down. No, no, do that again. Wait!”
“Can you hear that you are playing out of tune?” I asked her. How crazy, that someone who can learn so much by ear would then play it all out of tune. Obviously, she is an auditory learner.
“Can you hear that you are playing out of tune?” I asked again.
She stood there and smiled, swaying around, always in motion.
“Do you talk?” I asked politely, but with some frustration.
She looked at her mom and giggled.
Fine, then, I thought, getting an idea. I won't talk to you either, not for the rest of the lesson!
I played the beginning of Perpetual Motion completely out of tune, accompanied with rolling eyes and other pained facial expressions. She seemed interested. So I played the same thing perfectly in tune, smiled big, and nodded my head. Then I pointed to her.
She understood. She played the beginning of Perpetual Motion, but inevitably came to an out-of-tune note. I pounced. I played the note she was playing, flat as it was, made a horrible face, then dramatically slid up the fingerboard to the proper place and smiled with satisfaction. Then I pointed to her.
She corrected her note.
We went on like this, correcting many out-of-tune notes. If she did something I didn't like, I simply mimicked it on my violin, with some exaggeration and a bitter face, then played it right and smiled.
When her bow went skittering over the bridge, I pointed to it and shook my head with disapproval. Then I played on my own violin, skittering across the bridge and shook my head. Then I dramatically placed the bow in the right place for me, then for her.
I actually enjoyed the challenge of communicating with her with the violin only, using no words at all. I'm not sure if this will work every single week, but it certainly was a fun experiment. Now I can add, “Charlie Chaplin teaching” to the repertoire!
Our interview with Sarah Chang is one of more than two dozen in The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, which also features talks with Joshua Bell, Maxim Vengerov, and David Garrett, as well as a foreword by Hilary Hahn.
Laurie Niles is from Pasadena, California. Biography
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