It’s time to me say "thank you" to my violin teacher, and close the studio door.
For the past five years, I’ve had a superior violin teacher. She is one of those rare individuals who is knowledgeable and comfortable with all levels of instruction, student musical experiences, and ages. She works well with four-year-old children, elementary kids, teenagers, adults, and senior citizens. Detailed, focused, clear, and patient, she has established and maintained a solid practice before the pandemic, online throughout the isolation period(s), and even now, with the probability/possibility that this pandemic madness will end.
She gives her students a variety of performance opportunities from recitals, to children’s, teen, and adult soirees, and work with string ensembles.
In addition to her teaching, she has toured Europe as a musician, is a highly skilled and popular studio musician, and travels back and forth from the United States to Australia to visit her family, and participate in string quartets.
So, why have I made the decision to stop lessons? Everything has been going well, I learn a lot, she keeps me focused, and I look forward to the lessons. No issues at all.
What’s my problem? Why have I made this choice?
For one simple reason. It’s time to move on.
I started playing a violin just before I turned 68. Next week I’ll have my 73rd birthday. If there is anything I’ve learned over the past 73 years it’s to recognize change, and act accordingly. A lot of people have trouble starting new actions and directions in their lives, but a lot more people have trouble recognizing when it’s time to end something. What’s worse, is most people won’t end something because they have no idea how to walk away with grace.
Let’s look at these two enigmas.
There is a phrase I tell myself when I recognize a time in my life when I need to make a change. After all, things may be going well, and it may be fine to assume they will always go smoothy. However, life changes. Age, living situations, experience, work, and so on are liquid. It’s dangerous to assume the view from the top of the rollercoaster will always be wonderful.
When I was in college, I spent five summers working at a girl’s camp in Vermont. I loved it. I would teach golf in the daytime, and act in the theater at night. It was (and still is) an amazing camp. The first year was enchanting. The second year was great. The third was wonderful. The fourth, however, was a bit like watching a favorite movie for the 10th time, and the last year was strange – by then I was married, had a career, and feeling very out of place.
I’d stayed too long. Three years would have been wonderful. Five years overcooked the entire experience.
The lesson? When you leave a situation, leave it when people can say, "He was good!" as opposed to "Remember when he used to be good?"
Walk out the door when you’ve hit a good plateau, but also know you need to see other horizons. It’s like one of my music teachers said to me, "When you’re the best in the room, it’s time to leave."
Keep on learning and growing. Don’t rest on your accomplishments, and take everything for granted.
Remember, at some point we always leave. That’s the way it goes. So, when you leave, leave with grace. Don’t just walk out the door. Let your violin teacher know what’s going on. Don’t leave people guessing. You may fear how they will react. They might not like your choice to go, but no matter what happens, they will remember how you left.
For my part, I talked to my teacher, and told her of my decision a month before my last lesson. She took the news like a professional. She was excited for my future. (Now, that’s flat out cool. I’m almost 73 years old, and looking forward to new adventures!) I paid for the final month of lessons so she could get her finances in order, and more importantly, to enjoy those last four lessons with her as my teacher.
Frankly, I’m a bit sad about leaving, but I know it’s the right decision. At the end I played in the spring concert, and we exchanged gifts.
Don’t turn a shared moment of change into something dark and blunt. Celebrate what you’ve done, and be grateful for the experience. We’ll keep in touch, and who knows what’s down the line? It’s sad, but also exciting.
My plan is to put myself out there and play wherever I can. One of the wonderful advantages of being a retired person who is also an amateur musician, is I can call the shots. I can get together with others in jams – Bluegrass, Irish, Scandinavian, or anything at all. I can go to open mic shows and fiddle away.
One ambition of mine is to form an ensemble of a banjo, an accordion, a viola, and some bagpipes. We’ll call ourselves the Four Musicians of the Apocalypse. Then we’ll go bonkers with anything we like, and see what happens. Why not, right?
I’ll keep you posted.
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Thanks, Paul. I'll keep playing as well. Come on up to Portland. We can sit in the park and fiddle for the trees.
Thank you Michael, for a thoughtful and beautiful article. Indeed, for several, as I have always enjoyed reading your contributions. Enjoy your violin future. Wishing you years of fun and fiddling in 'The Horsemen'.
I've also enjoyed reading about your violin adventures, and hopefully this is not the last we'll hear from you.
This fall I'll turn sixty and will start my fifth year of violin lessons. I've asked myself how much longer I'll take lessons, and I don't know. The first couple of years were, as Yehudi Menuhin says, an act of faith with nothing much to show for them. But curiously I made good progress during the pandemic via zoom lessons, and over the last eight or nine months with mostly in-person lessons I have become, much to my surprise, a competent player. I'm working my way through Mozart's Paris violin sonatas, which is frankly a joy. Maybe this fall I'll work more on Baroque pieces, which have always defeated me because I've never had a feel for that music. I had originally decided, like Paul Deck, that I would stop worrying about technique when I turned 60 and that I'd just take whatever technique I had at that time and see what playing opportunities there were. Paul is of course a better player than I am since I'm only four years in, but I will say that despite arthritis in both hands (and feet, darn it) and all the other declinations of age, I am improving every year so I figure I might as well keep up with lessons. And who is to say, Michael, that you might not find your way into someone's studio?
Oh, I'll keep writing this blog. I'll also keep practicing, playing violin and viola. My teacher, Mirabai Peart, and I are friends, so if she needs me to play guitar with the children's jams, or a viola in a string group, I'll do it. The ride isn't over. It's just going in a variety of directions.
Michael, not a lot I can add to the replies, except to say that I am also proceeding along a similar age-wise path, but your suggestion of starting up a 4-piece band is a good and interesting one, especially the instrument line-up.
My former violin teacher started up a professional folk band, Spiro, many years ago with a similar line-up to yours of accordion, violin, mandolin, and acoustic guitar. Spiro concentrates mostly on folk music of the British Isles, the violinist (my former teacher) doing all the arranging, and has several CDs to its credit.
My teacher, when she was teaching me vibrato, made an interesting point about using vibrato in her band line-up - and that was never to use it! The reason she gave was that vibrato in that line-up would render the violin unduly prominent and would spoil the tonal balance with the other non-vibrato instruments. A point worth considering.
Trevor! Thank you!
I listened to Spiro on YouTube, and love the sound. Sadly, the CD isn't available on Amazon (everything in the world is BUT that CD! Frustrating.) Any idea how I could get it?
Check out these groups of unique instruments - Dreamer's Circus, Vasen, and Talisk.
Again, thanks for your comments and thoughts.
Michael, I've checked out Amazon.com, and you're quite right, nothing by Spiro there. However, if you go to Amazon.co.uk it is a different story. On their British website GOTO CDs&Vinyl and there search for Spiro in music, where you'll find a number of their CDs which Spiro have recorded on the Real World Records label.
Interestingly, Spiro's latest recording on Amazon.co.uk is "Repeater", their first foray into vinyl. This vinyl is a compendium of selections from previous albums Pole Star (1997), Lightbox (2009), Kaleidophonica (2012), and Welcome Joy (2015). I am familiar with the first three of those albums.
I have seen Spiro perform live in Bristol's St George's Hall, and their playing is not to be missed. I'd compare their precision favourably with that of any professional string quartet.
Anyway, I hope you find what you're looking for on Amazon's British website.
Great suggestion. Thank you!
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May 25, 2022 at 06:52 PM · I decided a while (years) ago that I wasn't going to put a lot of effort into improvement on the violin after age 60. That's a few years off yet. But I'm still going to *play* the violin as long as I'm able. I'm in a chamber "club" of sorts where many of the other players have 10 or 20 years on me.
So it really comes down to whether you *enjoy* it. If you enjoy other things more, then for heaven's sake, that's where you should be spending your precious time. You'll get no judgment or negativity from me.