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Making It Your Own

January 11, 2017, 8:50 AM · Who is really taking whom on this journey?

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I had to ask myself this question as I was helping one of my longtime violin students, a high school senior, get comfortable with the rhythms in Chick Corea's Children's Song No. 1, which his school jazz band was making into a piece for keyboard, violin and trumpet.

Yes, he's in his school's jazz band, not the orchestra. And -- this might be obvious -- I'm not exactly a jazz teacher. But I certainly enjoyed this simple exploration; I played the piano part on violin, while he played the top line, and we sorted things out until he was feeling comfortable placing his part against the asymmetrical-sounding pattern I was playing. Then it was back to scales, etudes and Bach.

Wow, to be in the jazz band at school! Wish I'd thought of that, back in high school. Scratch that, I wish I'd even had the guts to think of it, much less do it.

The fact of the matter is that my students come to the instrument with all kinds of different motivations, and they bring the violin into their lives in all kinds of different ways. It's something I regularly celebrate; every recital I make it a point to congratulate their musical efforts that go outside their work with me. I actually have two students who (without consulting one another or me) each joined the jazz band at their separate schools. Besides playing in school or youth orchestra, I've had students busk for the Salvation Army, play at the Farmer's Market, create a gig quartet, play with the choir, go to a bluegrass festival and just join in. One writes arrangements for her school orchestra and just got an electric violin. Recently one student snitched on another for a little humorous breakout moment at their school orchestra concert: "Did you know that she played a Justin Bieber solo? It was awesome!" No idea, but right on!

I'm all for this independent exploration and ready to support it, as long as we're getting the basics at the lesson. Yes, I will be teaching everyone how to play in tune and in rhythm, how to hold the instrument ergonomically, how to read music, how to count, how to produce a good tone, how to work up a fast passage. We'll work on the standard repertoire, and I don't hold back my own enthusiasm for classical music.

But they will go their way, both while we are together and certainly when we finish our time together. The more they "own" their violin journey, the better the chance that they will continue it. Meanwhile, I enjoy the times when they pull me into their own projects!

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