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Emily Grossman

Full Circle

November 14, 2011 at 6:21 AM

(After much introspection, I located the website with his email address, composed my thoughts, and sent the letter. I hesitated before posting this publicly, but thought it worth sharing, just in case there are any students out there who have ever been turned away from their violins as a result of much-needed chastisement. Likewise, if any teachers out there have been the one responsible for delivering the reality check in a student's musical career, this letter is for you. Lastly, I wish to make public acknowledgent because I feel I owe that to my teacher.)

Dear Professor Ma,

I decided to contact you because, although I only studied the violin with you for one year at the University of Oklahoma (1993-94), the things you said and taught me come to mind and teach me new things even to this day.

I grew up in Tulsa, and began the violin in 6th grade through the public school, taking private lessons only briefly before choosing to major in violin performance. When I came to you, I had little foundation on which you could build, and you told me a lot of harsh truths about my playing. I wasn't emotionally prepared at the time for the reality check I received from you, nor was I able to understand your advice or commit to the hours of practice it would take to get where I wanted to be. Honestly, I didn't believe that it was even possible, which was why I quit my major. (That decision haunts me to this day.)

You told me I would come back years later wanting to learn, but by then it would be too late. I've never forgotten those words. I didn't think I would ever want to pursue the violin again, but nine years later, I matured enough to pick it up and try to learn all that you had instructed me.

I'm 36 now. I live in Alaska. I run a music studio of 32 students, play with the Anchorage Symphony, and gave a public recital last fall featuring Brahm's G Major Sonata, Beethoven's Spring, and Sarasate's Caprice Basque. The violin is my passion and joy again, and though I do regret not sticking with it through college, to this day, I gain from your wisdom. I use your instruction when I practice, and also when I teach. My lessons are full of recountings of, "My old violin professor used to say..." And every time I have to sit down and tell the cold hard facts to one of my students about their goals and practice habits, I think of you. That's why I decided to write. I wanted to thank you for giving me proper instruction and let you know that I appreciate the time I had with you. You knew what you were saying.

I hope you are well, and I'm glad I was able to track you down after all these years.

Emily Steele Grossman

From David Russell
Posted on November 14, 2011 at 8:23 PM
This is a beautiful letter. I have received a couple like it (though perhaps not as eloquent as yours) over the years. Every time, they bring tears---as just reading yours does now. It is often times not understood until much later--- that such (sometimes brutal) honesty and "difficult" lessons reflects a true caring and concern for the pupil. Because you recognize this in your old teacher, it means the same process is at work in you as a teacher---and your own students will find this to be true about you---now ---or someday. Keep going strong! :-)

From Christina C.
Posted on November 14, 2011 at 8:33 PM
Wonderful letter Emily. So glad you followed through.
From Heather Schuetz
Posted on November 14, 2011 at 9:07 PM
Beautiful and heartfelt. I'm glad you went thought with it. You may have known him only briefly, and felt like you hadn't parted on the best of terms, but he was obviously meant to be your teacher for that short time. Everyone's musical path winds differently throughout the trees. I have a feeling he will appreciate this more than you might ever know.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 15, 2011 at 3:21 AM
I hope that at least one of my students will keep a lifelong passion for playing, and not stray away as life's responsibilities and difficulties mount. I can picture them coming back to visit me--I'm all old and grey-headed, hair up in a bun, bifocals--and we tune up and play the Bach double, or a Mozart Duo. I'd be so satisfied with my life.
From Randy Walton
Posted on November 16, 2011 at 2:38 AM
Although I admire your letter, I can't help but wonder about the methods of your former prof. We, as teachers, should not only teach and reprove where necessary but also encourage and nurture. Granted, I don't know all the details, but it seems like his harsh "reality checks" were over the top,(they did make you quit) and even more so since they were directed at an emotionally sensitive young woman, who was and is very creative and who ultimately did achieve her goal. I just think that a kinder,gentler more sensitive,nurturing approach would accomplish more. Again, I don't know all the details so I could be totally wrong. It's good that you forgive him for temporarily shattering your dreams, and he DID impart nuggets of wisdom that you remember and use. He'll probably read your letter with a chuckle and say, "Ah, I knew that Emily would one day prevail!"

I love your blogs, Em, keep em coming!
Best to you,

From Emily Grossman
Posted on November 16, 2011 at 7:21 AM
Ah, don't judge too quickly. Some of the best times of my life I enjoyed during college. I needed that time to gain some social skills, and I made some of the best friends of my life then. Although I couldn't mentally handle the practice room during that growing stage, I sought and gained a part of my life that I'd been craving, and I don't regret that one bit.
From Randy Walton
Posted on November 16, 2011 at 11:16 AM
Like I said, I could be totally wrong......:)

It seemed as though he looked into the heated cauldron of your life, and couldn't see the molten gold beneath the dross. It takes time to wrestle with life but you managed to skim off a lot if not all of that dross, and the gold that always was there is now shining and we at benefit from it every time you write. I wish there was some way we could hear you play your violin. That would be great!

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