On the first day of the Institute, the children each had to play something for the teacher who would be working with them all week. For some, this was a rather nerve-rattling experience. This was the case with a boy of about 10 named Christopher. His playing was quite excellent; he played the second movement of Handel’s Sonata No. 3, which is in the Suzuki Violin Book 6.
His playing problems were immediately apparent, though, and they were typical of a student at this level: his rather stiff wrist and bow arm were keeping him from executing the string crossings with ease. He, however, was more concerned and worried about something else.
This became clear when he had a slight memory slip. It was barely a slip, even, more like a slow-down. At this point, his big blue eyes began filling with tears and he continued with difficulty.
“Let’s stop here,” said Lucy, without losing her smile or her ease of manner. He continued to fight the tears as she talked a bit.
At this point I’d have been tempted to say, “Hey, a little memory slip doesn’t matter! It’s okay!” But she recognized that it did matter a great deal to him, and that he needed to get through the rest of the piece in order to feel better.
“This piece is kind of like going on a hike and finding things you like,” she said. “For example, here we find some string crossings,” and she demonstrated. “And here is a place where you have to figure out which path to choose.”
After showing him a few of the memory spots they’d be encountering on the “hike,” she said, “Let’s play it together!” in the manner of someone saying, “Let’s go to the playground!”
So she carefully played through the rest of the piece with him, stopping frequently to talk about the memory pitfalls. “This is a sequence,” she explained, “The composer liked this so much he did it over and over and over again, starting on different notes….” And, “Here is a place where you have to choose different paths. If you go this, you go back to the beginning. You don’t want to do that! If you do this, you go on…” She suggested writing an “M” with a circle in his music for the tricky memory spots.
When they had made it safely to the end of the piece, addressing all these concerns, she said with a smile, “For our purposes today, it really doesn’t matter that you remember those spots, but I wanted to give you some tools to help.”
With just a little bit of time left at the end of the lesson, she gently introduced the idea of working on his posture, starting with his extremely tense right shoulder.
She put her violin on the floor (oh DEAR!) and pulled the bow across the A string, just holding the screw.
“Listen to the great tone we have, just with gravity,” she said. She explained that we need not bear down or tense the arm to produce such a tone.
“Try playing the beginning of this piece once with a really scrunchy shoulder,” she said, and he did. “Now, play it with a relaxed shoulder.” He tried, and he was quite conscious of it. I could see him consciously relaxing the shoulder several times as it crept up.
His assignment for the night was to play with a relaxed shoulder, and she had the rest of the week to work with him on that. Most importantly, she had created an environment of trust and good faith. He was relaxed and ready to learn with her for the rest of the week. Not another tear!
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