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Emily Grossman

The Group Lesson

January 23, 2009 at 10:10 AM

With the past two weeks of teaching weathering on me like, well, the crazy weather, I couldn't help but be a little frayed around the edges.  One unexplained canceled lesson is one thing, but when I lose six students and four more need to change their times, things get just plain crazy.  My brightest beginner can't afford lessons anymore, and my two most advanced students just flaked off like dandruff; I chalk it up to senior-itis.  It wouldn't be so difficult if I didn't care about them all so much.  Instead, I feel rejected and abused.  And I don't take too well to unemployment, either.  Luckily, I had my waiting list to consult.  Albeit, most of the I names have drifted off like unclaimed mavericks, but a couple still might be interested.

Several hours of phone calls later, I'm happy to announce that this week I got to meet five--count them, five--fresh beginners.

Two brothers, aged five and seven, are the ones that stood out most in my mind.  I could tell by the father's enthusiasm toward the subject of fiddles that he was the one who wanted to be taking the lessons, but like any good father, he was putting what he could afford into his children instead.  The three of them crowded into my little studio at the back of my house, eager to show me their eBay treasures.  I scanned each instrument, flipping the bridges around, carefully tightening the pegs while averting my face, and announced with mild surprise, "Well, these should work just fine."  They even fit!  I decided that the remainder of the hour would best be spent on both boys at the same time, so they could have time to familiarise themselves with their new instruments.

It's been a while since I taught a five year old boy.  This one was strong and energetic, gripping the neck of his violin like a baseball bat, swinging it.  Lesson number one: how to hold the violin.

(To the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel")

I tuck my violin under my arm
I put my left foot forward
I hold my violin out to the stand
Up goes the violin!

First, I needed to show them how they should hold their violins.

Take your left hand and place it right here, on the body of the violin.  ...No left hand.  This hand here.  Right here.  Now don't let go.  Keep your hand right where it is, and now you can tuck the violin under your right arm like this.  No, right arm.  This arm here.  Under here.  Like this.  No, don't let go.  You hold it here. 

Five year old has the violin by the neck again, swinging it.

Let's try this again.  I tuck my violin under my arm...  Good!  I put my left foot forward.  (this foot)  I swing my violin out to the stand--no, don't hit the stand with your violin, step back just a little, you need to stand just far enough away--no, don't let go of the violin.  Keep your left hand right here.  Left hand.  This one.  Right here.  Don't--move--okay.  No.

Five year old has the violin by the neck again, swinging it.

Let's try this again.  I tuck my violin under my arm, I put my left foot forward.  I swing my violin out to the stand, up goes the violin!  Now.  The violin balances right here on your collar bone.  Do you know where your collar bone is?  Okay then, do you know where your clavicle is?  No?  See, there's a bone running across here.  No, you're reaching over your shoulder.  Take your finger and run it from your chin down your throat until you feel a little dip at the top of your chest.  Now, slide across that bone...  No, that's your Adam's apple.  Take your finger, right here.  Feel that?  This is where you balance your violin. 

I tuck my violin under my arm--left hand, hold it here, tuck it there
I put my left foot forward--this foot
I swing my violin out to the stand--no, don't hit the stand
Up goes the violin!--on the collarbone.  Don't put the scroll there!

Five year old has the violin by the neck again, swinging it.

The seven year old on the other hand, has followed all directions thoroughly and expertly from the get-go.  He is so good that, in fact, I haven't directed a word toward him all hour.  The only time I thought of him was when he intermittently ducked under the swing of his brother's violin to avoid the sudden clanking of wood on wood.

This is when it occurs to me that eBay violins are not such a bad idea after all.

This is also when it occurs to me that group lessons are not such a good idea after all.

From Bill Busen
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 4:15 PM

I think on another thread someone mentioned a plastic violin suitable for a combat zone...

From Anne Horvath
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 6:37 PM

Don't forget:  "The bow is not a sword!"

(Aren't first lessons grand!)

From Emily Grossman
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 7:05 PM

The dad told me they already wrecked the first bows.  They're more into bow hunting than sword fighting...

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 8:02 PM

You know that in history, such kind of little hyperactive boys became great masters and beat all those who were too serious after... It is a well know fact that the ones who really have "raw" talent are often noisy and move all the time.  Milstein, Menuhin, Mozart etc were not always angels and almost hyperactive (in some articles I've read) Maybe they are really sportive little boys but this is great since the violin is a sport and requires agility and quickness of reflexes. Those who have succeded in interesting such kids to the instrument sometimes had very good surprises!  Try and you will see. Of course the same applies to hyperactive or really sportive girls!

good luck!


From David Allen
Posted on January 23, 2009 at 9:27 PM

Emily, you are priceless!

"...flaked off like dandruff..."

"...drifted off like unclaimed mavericks..." brings new meaning to the stage production auditions euphemistically known as "cattle calls".

Love it!

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on January 24, 2009 at 7:23 AM

I've been losing students, too. I ascribe it to the terrible state of the economy.  I wouldn't like unemployment, either.

In my experience, when a kid decides he wants to take violin lesson, it's likely to work.  If the parent decides that the kid should take lessons, it usually doesn't work.  IMO, if the father wants to take violin lessons himself, he should.  He can live his own life, but he shouldn't try to live his life through his kids.

P.S.  I like your new photo with that lovely dress.


From Tom Holzman
Posted on January 24, 2009 at 6:08 PM

What a great post!  What a world you live in.  Thanks, Emily, and keep up the good work.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on January 24, 2009 at 6:35 PM

Thanks guys for the compliments!

Pauline, when I read this to George, he said, "You forgot to mention all the giggling."  Truth is, everyone was having so much fun, I didn't bother asking who was interested in learning anything.

PS Thanks!

From Bethany Morris
Posted on January 25, 2009 at 2:26 AM

Now I understand why the Cambridge Public Schools doesn't start instruments (in their unique rotation program) until fifth grade.  Image 20 students swinging their violins around like baseball bats, all crowded into one classroom.   Eek!

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