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Laurie Niles

September 21, 2003 at 1:09 AM

“I’m sorry, I don’t take any students under the age of five.”

I’ve said that to a great many parents seeking lessons for their “exceptionally gifted” toddlers. Children need some time to enjoy music, dance to it and feel it in their little souls. And I’ve found teaching toddlers slow going, difficult and sometimes near impossible. Especially little boys.

With this in mind, let me tell you about my newest student.

On Friday I took my three-year-old son, Brian, to get a “real violin.” He had been playing with a cardboard violin and wooden stick bow, but he’d progressed so far by watching my lessons with other students that he now wanted the real thing.

We walked, hand-in-hand, up the alley and down the steps into the back entrance of Pasadena’s Old Town Music.

“Mom,” Brian said with concern, “Do dey have my vi-lin?”

I assured him, they do, but we have to pay. First, though, Brian wanted to test-drive the new fiddle. He put it to his chin and played the Suzuki rhythm for the first “Twinkle variation”: Motorcycle stop-stop. Then he wanted to keep the violin under his chin. He was irrepressible! Finally, I told him that we had to pay or we couldn’t take the violin home. He seemed to understand this.

Meanwhile, an Italian couple took an interest in this unusually small person being outfitted for a violin. They were chatting in their native language, pointing at Brian and looking at me like I was some slave-driving lunatic mom.

“He two?” said the woman, a little incredulous.

“He’s three,” I said. I felt the need to explain. “I’m a violinist, and his older sister has been taking lessons. He’s actually been wanting to play since he was one.” Indeed, when he was just eighteen months, he could perform a number of the “pre-Twinkle” songs, which involve singing and holding the violin.

“Ah,” said the man, then he translated for the woman. All I heard was, “violinista…,” then the woman said, “Ah!”

Brian insisted on carrying the tiny gray case himself as we walked back to the car. Then he insisted the fiddle remain at his side. He fell asleep on the way home.

An hour later, he was up, stumbling downstairs from his bedroom with his usual post-nap bedhead and all-around grogginess. But that did not stop him from asking, “Wheya’s my vi-lin?”

I showed him to the tiny red chair where I had placed it.

“Want to play my vi-lin.” I guess lunch wasn’t high on his agenda. We spent the next 45 minutes learning about holding the violin, standing in rest position, putting the violin on his shoulder, holding the bow, clapping rhythms.

Eventually, I had to stop.

“Let’s take a bow,” I said. Then he carefully helped me pack the violin away.

Later that evening, I was getting ready to go for a run. When I came downstairs, Brian had opened his violin case, secured the little foam pad to the back of his violin with a rubber band and rosined the bow. “Teach me!” he implored.

“Later!” I said. But I didn’t wait too long. We were back at it, the minute I got home.

I still don’t take three-year-olds. But this one took me.

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