I took a seat on the city bus with my new violin in its case. I’m 68 years old and I’m on my way to my first violin lesson. I’m excited. I’ve been down a lot of roads in my life, and this is a first. That’s important. At my age, anytime something comes up that is a first – it’s a big deal.
A young guy was sitting next to me. He looked up from his cellphone and saw my violin case.
“What orchestra are you with?”
“Um…. excuse me?”
“That’s a violin, right?”
“So what orchestra do you play in? Oregon Symphony?”
“Well, actually I’m on my way to my first lesson.”
“I’m a beginner. I’m going to my first lesson.”
“Seriously? At your age? Ha! Well… good luck, dude.” He turned away from me and looked at his cellphone.
I would have said something witty and devastating in return, but I’m the type of person who often needs five minutes to think of a snappy retort. I’m sure I would have come up with something that would have left him in tears and the other passengers would have applauded my impressive rhetorical skills, but the bus stopped and the guy got off. I let it go and looked out the window.
So, I’m going to my first violin lesson. The big question in my mind was a simple one – what should I expect to happen over the next hour? What was this entire experience going to be like?
We’ve all been in situations like this one. We’ve all stepped into experiences where we have little more than a vague notion of what is going to happen. How do we get through it?
In his book, The Empty Space, British theater and film director, Peter Brook discusses what happens on the first day of the rehearsal of a play. “The purpose of anything you do on the first day is to get you through to the second one.”
Wise advice. Taking that example a step further, it’s important to realize what happens on the first day of any activity is almost secondary to the situation because everything is new. Beginnings are often filled with so much mental noise it is difficult to focus on the actual task at hand. Too many questions fill everyone’s mind. What is does the room look like? Do I stand? Sit? What should I wear? Who is this person I’m working with? Will we get along? Will I understand what I’m being asked to do? Can I ask questions? Will my questions sound stupid? The list goes on and on. Indeed, there is often so much going on in everyone’s head it is amazing we get through the hour in one piece.
This is true of the first day of a class in a school, the first meeting of a group, the first day of a new job, the first day of basketball practice, and definitely with the first lesson with a private violin teacher. The first day can be constructive, hopefully encouraging, somewhat awkward, and frequently unfocused.
As a former teacher I’ll let you in on a little secret. Often, the most nervous person in the room is the teacher. More often than not, they are asking themselves the same questions you are. How am I coming across? Am I dressed appropriately? Who is this person? Will we get along? Did I bring everything I need? Do I have enough material to go a full hour? Will I know the answers to questions? This list goes on and on.
So how do you handle all of that? There are two general ways to approach the hour.
The first way is to treat the lesson as the most important thing in your life. Create a make or break situation in your mind and get all stressed and panicked about it. Become a basket case. Your adrenaline will be pumping, your focus will be shattered, and in the end, because you don’t know how to play a violin, you’ll most likely be disappointed. So, that’s probably not a good way to deal with the situation.
The second way is to remember this little mantra – Here I am, I’m going to do the best I can, and we’ll simply see how it goes. Simply get through it. Let it unfold naturally because it is an unusual and unique experience all by itself. Don’t overload that first day with too many expectations.
That’s it. Take the pressure off yourself, and enjoy the hour. You are on a new adventure. Dive in, have some fun, and be yourself. Stay focused, but stay light. After all, you’re not expected to know anything, so why worry? This is one of those situations were you can ask any question you like, and nobody will judge whether it’s a bad question. So ask questions, ask for clarifications, try to do what the teacher asks you to do, forgive yourself if you forget something, jump in there and try to do your best. Use the rest room before class, be polite, don’t interrupt the teacher and you’ll be fine.
That’s pretty much it.
How did my first lesson go? It was great. I absorbed all I could remember, and I knew I’d probably forget some of what I was being taught. I did some things as well as I could, and a few other things need a lot of work. I asked some good questions, I asked some dumb questions. I repeated some things over and over and I got one or two things right away. I made some really loopy sounds with my violin, and a few good ones. In other words, I got the whole thing started. I had a good feeling about my teacher, she was patient and detailed, and she even laughed at my jokes! (I think I’m funny and my grandchildren agree, but the rest of the family rolls their eyes.)
Oh, I even made one big mistake. I brought along a digital recording device. I wanted to record the whole lesson, but I forgot to press “record” rather than “pause” and didn’t get one word on tape, but so what? On the way home I sat on the bus and wrote down everything I could remember.
Anyway, I was assigned a couple of things to practice over the coming week. I will now close my door, shut the windows, and get to work. Wish me luck.Tweet
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