After an exhausting Thursday, Friday seemed simple, with only one workshop scheduled. The only problem was, I had no idea what I was going to teach. I asked our host several times before the trip what to expect, so I could plan accordingly. Would it be children? Mixed audience? Violin players, or complete newbies? What were they interested in learning? Her response was, “You’re already thinking way too much about this. This is real informal. Don’t even worry about it.” So, I had no lesson plan.
After a good practice session in the morning and a delicious mongolian beef meal prepared by the french horn player’s husband, three of us took a ride on a skiff out on the Bering Sea. I was really hoping to see some new species of bird, but the closest I could come was an especially grey fox sparrow. However, we did see puffins, murrelets, kittiwakes, and pelagic cormorants. The whales were hiding, but the sea lions were out. In the rain, we toured an old ship graveyard and checked the shallows for multicolored starfish and jellyfish. I had just enough time to dry off before the workshop.
Not being one who loves to improvise, I felt a bit uneasy when I entered a classroom with an assortment of people already waiting. A woman and daughter approached me with their grandmother’s fiddle, a Stradivarius copy from the 50's, with a crooked bridge, frayed strings, and warped fingerboard. They wanted to know how to change the strings, so we began with that. Trying not to be too concerned over the fact that the bridge may not stay up while undergoing such drastic changes, I tried to work quickly and keep the conversation flowing without drawing too much attention to the ball of string I extracted, along with the soundpost, from the f-hole. I asked about the teacher situation. They had none, on all the island. Three or four families had now joined me, and five potential students all watched with hungry eyes. What could I give them? What use was it to talk of technique or repertoire, when some of them didn’t even know how to get the rosin onto their bow? And what would they do once I left? I had to think quickly of a way to prepare a violinist’s survival kit, one for extreme situations such as being stranded on an island with no teacher. Wait...
I took out a dry erase marker and began writing on the board. I listed about eight websites and my email address. “Here is where you go for a good starter violin that might costs less than a neck repair. Here’s where you can go for ear training and theory. Here’s where you can watch violin masterclasses. Here’s where you can get lots of books about the violin and instructional curriculum. And, most importantly, here’s the name of a very helpful website where you can register and post any old question, no matter how silly, and get answers from people all over the world. You want shoulder rest debates, we got it here. You want opinions on the best strings, search the archives here. You want to know how to get from A to Z and beyond, remember there’s a whole world of help now, just a click away.”
I hope they come here. I hope they get the help they need. I was torn over the fact that I couldn’t stay there for them and teach them how to play.
Just as I was packing up at the end of the lesson, one of the fathers, Andy, had each of his sons play for me, followed by his own fiddling. Self-taught, all of them, and out of their instruments rang the most amazing intonation I’ve ever heard from beginner students. Naturals! I smiled, remembering that my own grandpa was a self-taught fiddler, and a good one at that. I could see that Andy had missed his calling as a violin teacher. I prodded him a bit about teaching, but he was tied up with a job; he wouldn’t even be able to make Saturday’s concert. I could tell he was disappointed. So was I. The kids need a teacher. Little did I know that Andy would be coming in handy very soon.
This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.
Violinist.com is made possible by...
Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.