What was the first piece, on your instrument, that really challenged you?
And when I say "really challenged," I mean something that you were pretty sure was actually impossible, something that made you consider whether or not this playing-the-violin business (or viola, cello, piano, etc.) was really such a good idea, after all. But then somehow you conquered it!
I've been thinking about this question ever since interviewing the highly successful violist Nokuthula Ngwenyama, whose early studies on the violin were nearly cut short by the challenge of learning Minuet No. 2 by Bach - toward the end of Suzuki Book 1. Of course, she learned it, and she went on to win the Primrose Competition, to compose a piece that was played by the LA Philharmonic and to accomplish all kinds of amazing musical achievements. Yet she told me that "I still remember the sensation of not being able to coordinate my left hand with the right hand and the string crossing. I remember that wall."
Yes. It doesn't matter the "level" of the challenge, I remind myself of that all the time, as a teacher. When you have advanced beyond something, it's easy to think that it is simply no longer a challenge - for anyone! But come on, have some empathy!
I vividly remember having a complete breakdown over the ever-popular Seitz Concerto No. 2, third movement, which is in Suzuki Book 4. I was a traditional student, so for me, this concerto was simply a piece my teacher thought I was ready to play. Certainly I was ready (and excited) to play the first page.
In fact, things were going so well in the beginning that somehow I'd agreed to play the entire movement at an assembly in the gymnasium, in front of the entire elementary school. Unfortunately, I hadn't quite grasped the difficulty of the second page! When I tried to play it, I simply couldn't figure out anything - what were these notes? How on earth do you play them? Slurs? What? Too fast! Too much!
"This is IMPOSSIBLE!" I wailed at my music stand.
Needless to say, I figured it out, with help from my teacher, and I wound up performing it pretty well. The impossible became possible. This is another thing I like to remind my students, when they proclaim something new to be "impossible."
"Do you remember six months ago, when the piece you just played was 'impossible'? And now it's easy?"
It's worth remembering this, for all of us!
So let's talk about the pieces that gave us challenges. Do you remember the first piece that gave you serious trouble? Was it toward the beginning of your studies, or well into them? Was it a "piece" or was it something like an etude, or a scale? How did you get past it? How did you feel after you "conquered" it? Please participate in the vote and then share your thoughts in the comments.
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