Maybe I should have kids. Maybe then I would stop pretending like my students are my children, thus relieving them from so many unexpected expectations upon entering my studio.
"Hello there, and welcome to my studio! Please note, there is an eighteen-year commitment; by signing my contract, you hereby surrender all rights and subject yourself completely to my authority. Also, please be sure to wash your hands before you play. Make sure you get your practicing done before you watch TV, not after. --No complaining! And remember, 'Because I said so' is the final word, so don't even think about talking back. Finish your theory, or else no dessert. ...Don't you give me that look! Watch it, or I'll give you something to cry about!"
Funny as it sounds, I've become accustomed to my authoritative figure as a violin teacher. It's quite enjoyable, really, to be in the position where it is not only acceptable, but expected, for me to criticize mistakes, correct wrong behavior, offer praises and stickers upon compliance, and make everyone wash their hands. Yes, I admit some people would label me a control freak. However, others in the same position are simply called... mothers.
But there's something else besides control that comes along with my job description, some misplaced maternal attachment that I wish would make itself less noticeable when dealing with the termination of a student's lessons. It's this feeling of ownership: You are my student! I brought you into this world; what makes you think you can leave this house without my permission!
You see, I wasn't through with you just yet. I had so many plans for you. The first few years were so much work, and I invested so much time in you so that when you were older, you could play along with me, and we could take off together, exploring the world of fine music. I had so many cool things I wanted to show you, but now you'll never know. You're gone even before the termination dust sticks on the mountain tops, announcing the arrival of winter.
These are the thoughts I struggle to hide when my new student shows up on his seventh lesson to tell me he's moving--but don't worry, he brought along another student to take his place. (Who are you, and what have you done with my son? --I mean,) "Hello, nice to meet you, what was your name again?"
And do you intend to stay for tea, or should we even bother removing our coats?
I turned to the next page in the book. "Okay, let's take a look at this next song... Piece."
"What's the difference between a song and a piece?"
"Ha, funny you should ask that question, Juliet. It's simple: songs have words and pieces don't." Question now is...
"So,where does 'The Yodeler' fit?"
"It's a song... Piece."
Most people will tell you to ignore the voices in your head. Most, but not the violinist.
Jonathan rosined his bow as I explained to him the function of the minor third in the major triad. "--No, let me make it more simple. 'So-Mi' sounds like a cuckoo bird. Coo-coo, Coo-coo." I sang the notes over and over as he joined in. We made a few nice coo-coos together, and then he played "This Old Man", the lesson objective for the day. The point of it all is, you don't have to build up to the second finger (do-re-mi) to get it in tune if you know what it sounds like when compared to the next string over. Open A string is the higher note, and the second finger creates the lower note. Put them together, and you have a minor third.
I began the next exercise. "Okay, now I get to be So, and you get to be Mi. I play, then you play, then I play, then you play, then both of us play together." I was hoping that by hearing the interval both melodically and harmonically, it would better pinpoint the exact location of the note in question. We played: So. Mi. So. Mi. Together, together, together... hold the two pitches for a moment and listen.
"Did you hear that?" Jonathan asked.
"That voice. It was a different voice than ours, and it was singing along."
Frowning casually, I asked, "Did it sound like it was coming from your head?"
I shrugged. "Oh, then it's probably in your head."
Hoping he wouldn't notice my smirk, we played our minor third once more.
"There it is again!" He halted, cocking his head to one side. "What is making that sound?"
(Hmm, should I explain, or just let him think he's gone crazy?)
"I don't know what you're talking about. Maybe you should get that checked out or something." I paused, glancing sideways to check his reaction. Seeing that he was genuinely concerned about the status of his own sanity, I gave in. "Okay okay, let me explain. What you're hearing is called a Tartini tone."
Tartini tones are the byproduct of two notes, created by either the sum of the sound waves or the difference of the two. They can only occur when each pitch is vibrating at just the right speed. In this case, the difference between the higher pitch and the lower pitch creates a much lower pitch that hums along. This tone has been proven to be completely mental; if one pitch played in a left headphone and the other in a right, one would still hear a Tartini tone. So, since the sound is created in the mind, somewhat like an optical illusion, it also feels like it is coming from inside one's head. Many people have been surprised by this phenomenon and believe that they have somehow begun compulsively singing along with their own playing. But for the seasoned violinist, they are a true sign of good things coming about: it means we are now officially in tune.
"So, really, what you're hearing is a good thing, Jonathan," I concluded.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Jonathan wiped his brow and shook his head. "Whew, I thought maybe the Golliwogs had finally gotten me."
(Is is wrong of me to find such humor at the expense of my students' mental health?)
"Not today, Jonathan" I laughed. "At least, not today." He's a young one yet. We still have plenty of time to reach crazy.
More entries: September 2009
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