July 2009

To your health

July 22, 2009 07:13

To (one of my adult beginners),

I'm sorry that I didn't have the chance to talk to you longer when you called me the other day, but I have been thinking of you.

I'm so sorry that you've been having so many troubles with your health lately. I have had some of the same problems, but mine are not as severe as yours. I hope that you get better soon.

I have some advice for you regarding your violin: Hang on if you possibly can. You've told me that playing the violin is fun, and you look like you're having fun when you play it. Having some fun should be part of your recovery plan. In fact, it should be part of everyone's daily life plan. There is another reason I'm giving you this advice: You have talent. Musical talent is a great gift, and you should nurture it happily. You may need to cut way back on your practice while you are not feeling well. I recommend that you set yourself a goal of practicing twice a week. We can change your lesson schedule to one lesson every two weeks. I'm willing to be flexible so that we can reschedule your lessons, if necessary, according to your health. Studying violin on this schedule will mean that your progress will be slow, but you will not lose what you've worked so hard to accomplish already.

I recommend that you discuss my advice with your mother and your doctor. I know that your mother is very supportive of you and that she also loves music. If you decide that you need to give up violin lessons now for medical reasons, I will respect your decision. I just hope that you will go back to studying the violin whenever you can. I have a lot of adult students who are rebeginners. They played violin through high school or college and then stopped. Later -- sometimes years later -- they came back to studying the violin, and it was like returning to an old love.

I know that your first consideration must be your health, and I hope that you will get better soon. I also hope that you can nourish your spirit by playing your violin.


3 replies | Archive link


July 16, 2009 23:32

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Americans were totally shocked and terribly saddened. The great twentieth century violinist Isaac Stern wrote about his response in his autobiography. When he heard the news, he was in no mood to play his recital scheduled for that night. He called the appropriate person in the recital management and said that he could not, would not play that night. After arguing about it, the two men came to an agreement: Stern would play the recital, but he could choose whatever he wanted to play and for whatever length of time he chose.

When the recital started, Stern walked onstage and told the audience, "Different people have different ways of praying. Sometimes musicians pray by playing their instruments." Then he played Bach's Chaconne, walked off stage, and went home.


My ex-boyfriend who recently had surgery for lung cancer has been on my mind a lot lately. Of course, I wish the best for him. Other thoughts and strong feelings about him come and go, leaving me unsettled. Then my violin helped me.

Sometimes when I pick up my violin to practice, I have no agenda. I just put my fiddle under my chin and let it sing to me. It can tell me a lot about my mood. This time, my fiddle started playing the kinds of songs -- bluegrass and other traditional American songs -- that we both liked and loved to play together.

A lot of people learned about bluegrass music from the film "O Brother Where Art Thou?" This music shines with vocal and instrumental improvisation, as here, on a grand scale, and tight harmonies. After a while, my fiddle started playing stained glass bluegrass, aka Appalachian gospel, music. These songs tell about suffering in this worldly life and the joy to come in Heaven. Although I'm not a believer, I am moved by many of these songs. I played these and other songs, some over and over, not noticing the passage of time. When I finally stopped playing, I felt calm and at peace.

Today I saw photos of my ex, just a few days out of lung surgery, on Facebook. He looked awful, but he managed to play his mandolin in the hospital. He has spoken about coming back to this part of the country and jamming with his old friends again in just a few months. When I saw the photos of him, some of my confused feelings came back. Again, I played my fiddle, and again, I felt better.

I am so lucky that music has this settling effect on me. I will never be an alcoholic or drug addict. I will always have music. In music lies my strength and my salvation.

4 replies | Archive link

Dear parents of my student

July 7, 2009 20:41

Dear parents of [my student],

I am happy that your son [daughter] is one of my students. He has musical talent, and he enjoys playing music. Do you know that as parents, you play an important role in his musical development? This is true even if you do not know how to play an instrument or read music. You can foster his musicianship in many ways.

First and foremost, you must be supportive music education. Let him know that you take it seriously. Have him keep regular attendance. Encourage him to practice daily, even if he can only practice for 10 or 15 minutes on a very busy day. (More about this later.) Buy him the books I recommend. Show an interest in what your son can do, and praise him for his advances, improvements, and even his persistent efforts.

If your financial situation is difficult, as it is for many people in this deep economic recession, please feel free to speak to me about it, and we'll find the best way to cope. I've done this with several of my students already, and it works.

Find occasions for your son to show off at home with an audience which is sure to be appreciative. Visits from grandparents are great for this. Your son can choose two or three songs to play for them, and he should practice them extra in advance. Any gathering of friends or family in your home can give him a chance to play and show off. Birthdays are special events. I will teach him how to play "Happy Birthday to You." That's a real crowd pleaser. One of my students, age 10, surprised everyone at a Thanksgiving dinner at his home by playing several tunes on his violin. Everyone was impressed and said so. When he told me about this experience, he said, "One of the reasons I like playing the violin is that I can do something well even though I'm just a kid."

If you or your spouse plays guitar or a similar instrument, you can play back up guitar with your son as soon as he learns a few simple songs. You can start doing this at one of your son's violin lessons with me to coach, if you like. I've coached several duos like this, and sometimes I play along. This is a valuable experience for several reasons. Playing by yourself is different from playing with others, and your son will benefit from getting an early start on playing with someone else. Playing music together is a great bonding experience for parent and child. Besides, music is a wonderful thing to share with someone you love.

If you know something about music and/or playing the violin, you may be able to help your son practice. The mother of one of my students used to sing in choruses, and she misses the experience. When her daughter has trouble keeping a steady rhythm in a song, Mom stands up in front of her daughter and conducts. It works! When her daughter plays a wrong note during her practice, Mom calls out, "Wrong note," and that helps too. Another student has a father who plays an instrument other than the violin. He doesn't attempt to teach his son violin specific skills, but he does help his son with rhythm and scales. In these cases, the parent knows enough about music to be a good, creative coach.

Now for the tricky part. Sometimes a talented kid won't practice. I know you don't want to get into a habitual nagging routine or, worse still, have confrontations with him. Reasons that make sense to us adults, such as "You have a gift, and you should appreciate and nurture it" or "I work hard to make the money to give you violin lessons" just fly over the kids' heads. I've found that it sometimes helps to schedule a regular time for practice every day and stick to it. If time is short because your son has too much homework, needs to attend soccer practice, etc., he can practice just 10 or 15 minutes and still accomplish something. At the very least, he will reinforce his muscle memory. If he plays a song he likes, he can motivate himself to keep practicing. Another approach is to reward steady practicing, preferably not with money. The mother of one of my students gave her daughter the reward of having not just one, but two, girlfriends over for a sleepover after she attained a certain goal. It worked. I encourage you and your son to talk with me if the practicing problem persists. After the three of us talk, it might help for me to talk to your son one on one. Sometimes a kid will talk more freely and honestly when his parents aren't around.

"Listening is practicing." So says the great trumpeter, writer, and educator Wynton Marsalis. He's right. Music is one of the few subjects which you can really learn by "osmosis." I'm often surprised that my students and their families don't listen to music much at home, and if they do, there is only one audio device for the whole family. I tell the parents of these students to play a music CD in the car when their kid is with them. Ideally, each student should have an iPod or CD player of his own. Some of their instructional books, including the Suzuki books, have their own CDs. It really helps a student know what a piece should sound like before he even gets to play it. Besides the educational CDs, your son should listen to "real" music to enhance his understanding and appreciation of music. I have hundreds of CDs, and I'm happy to make copies of any of them that your son may like to listen to. However, nothing beats the excitement of a live concert. Unfortunately, the tickets are often prohibtively expensive. There are free concerts, some family oriented. I'm always on the lookout for these, and I let my students and their parents know about them by email.

If you have any questions or issues you'd like to discuss with me, please feel free to contact me.

I look forward to helping your son grow as a musician and enjoy playing the violin.

Pauline Lerner

7 replies | Archive link

Happy Fourth of July!

July 4, 2009 00:47

Today (July 4) is Independence Day (and also my birthday).  Independence Day is a major holiday for Americans. Laurie posted a blog about it, but her approach and mine differ. I've gathered a few items from Youtube which make me feel proud to be an American.

Marin Alsop is the first woman conductor and Music Director of a major symphony orchestra (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra) in this country. In her first two years on the job, she has worked wonders. The Baltimore Symphony has made great gains both musically and financially at a time when many other American orchestras face major cuts and possibly shutdowns. She has initiated several outreach and education programs. One is having question and answer sessions after concerts, and other is a series of Webumentaries such as this.


We have free elections in this country, and we celebrate presidential inaugurations with music and other forms of entertainment. Musicians playing at the inauguration in January of this year included Yo Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman.


One of our patriotic songs is "America the Beautiful," performed movingly here by Ray Charles.



Happy Fourth of July, everyone!


6 replies | Archive link

More entries: June 2009

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Violinist.com Shopping Guide
Violinist.com Shopping Guide


Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop



Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of Violinist.com in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews.

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn

Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2
Violinist.com Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine