Printer-friendly version
Karen Allendoerfer

From discussion to blog, my daughter's break from violin

April 24, 2007 at 11:10 AM

There are always so many interesting topics for discussion on this site. Many of them get me thinking about blogging. It's clear from the threads that interest me that I still have some unresolved "issues" around practicing, teaching, and learning, and that watching my daughter go through musical instruction brings those feelings back.

Last fall, after a mixed Suzuki violin experience, I decided to just let my daughter play violin with me at home, and to let her have piano lessons instead. I thought this would keep her "in the game" until next year when they start string instruction in her public school.

She's been happy with that plan, but her violin playing has really fallen off. She hasn't opened the violin case in over a month. On the other hand, she's been enjoying and practicing piano. She knows Minuet in G, both hands, by heart. She even plays "air piano" on the table and in the car. It seems to calm her and help her focus, among other things. She enjoys her piano lessons and looks forward to them, and frankly she's a lot easier and more enjoyable to listen to when she plays the piano. She plays piano for other people.

I'm glad that piano is going well, but I'm still fretting over the violin experience, probably too much. As far as I can tell, the desire to play violin originally came from her, but I guess it's possible she did it to please or be like me in some way, and if that's the case it's better she find her own, different, instrument.

I live in a pretty competitive parenting environment, grew up in one, went to an Ivy League school, currently work in yet another intense, highly competitive, academic environment, and am finding it close to impossible to muster up enthusiasm for any more achievement-oriented goal-setting, in any aspect of life. In fact, in darker frames of mind, sometimes I wonder if it's even worth exposing my kids to music lessons at all, given how contaminated it seems to be in our society with all that achievement and competition stuff.

Instead I'm still looking for that elusive balance to model for my kids so that they can enjoy music (and the rest of life) for its own sake and be happy with it.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 12:43 PM
Karen, if your girl is happy with the piano, then, as the Emperor said, "There It Is". Music is beautiful and necessary. She is finding her way. That is good.

Also, I find the words "Competitive Parenting Environment" just terribly sad. I am so glad I have cats.

From Terry Hsu
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 3:01 PM
The piano is a wonderful instrument. Your daughter may simply be more inclined to play it rather than the violin. Seems to me that's not so bad. :)
From Terry Hsu
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 3:05 PM
I'll second the competitive parenting environment as being sad as well. Something I need to think about for my 1-year old daughter...
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 3:11 PM
I third the idea of the "competitive parenting environment" as being sad. I was feeling a bit sad this morning.

Maybe because I'm back from a wonderful vacation and don't really want to be back. When you go away for a week, the work doesn't go away, it just piles up. My daughter was saying the same thing, that she didn't want to go back to school. The weather has gotten beautiful and maybe we would just all rather be outside.

It's certainly possible to stay out of the competitive parenting environment by making careful choices for your own family, but I do find that doing that requires a lot of thoughtfulness and care, sometimes more than I feel capable of.

I agree that piano is a beautiful instrument. I always wanted piano lessons too, and never had any except very briefly for a semester in college. I taught myself a little piano before that, based on knowing how to read treble clef from violin and then learning to read bass clef in a music theory class. I still find it a good way to relax and recharge, to just play through some hymns or the Moonlight Sonata 1st movement. My level on piano is very elementary, but somehow it's still pleasing to listen to, even then.

From Bruce Berg
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 4:58 PM
I had a similar experience with my daughter. She got tired of having to relearn all the Suzuki pieces and standing for an hour at a time. So we took her out and started her on piano. I took over the violin teaching. However, it soon became clear that she enjoyed playing the piano much more than the violin. So she stopped violin. This was about 5 years ago. She is still happily playing piano at the age of 15, and lo and behold, likes to listen to classical music (as well as the normal pop stuff) and likes going to concerts. She will not become a professional musician in all likelihood, but will be a supporter of classical music in her adulthood.
From al ku
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 4:57 PM
unfortunately, more often than not, we cannot eat the cake and have it too. (well, have it inside the stomach does not count:)

if the parents are caring enough, the issue will be how hard to push the kids. pushing the kids is no crime. leaving them unattended to the wolves is, but that is my opinion.

friend of ours is a well known action movie guy from asia. because he has had a very tough life growing up in an extremely tough environment to learn his craft (practicing through fractures), now his kids are spoiled on purpose, as a revenge to life? to do anything that daddy did not have the chance to do. what will become of the kids? dunno, but at least during their childhood, they have had a good time:) they never have to do anything they do not like, with the parents' applause. one generation work hard and the next one live it up. hey.

on the other hand, like most folks, if you dream, you have to work for it. when others have similar dreams, you have to compete. some thrive under this pressure, some wilt. if the kid likes piano, then forcing violin sems unwise, and vice versa. but what to do if the kid hates music but the parents think otherwise?

karen has been on a very high level intellectual road from early on. not sure if she had a choice as a kid, or bothered to choose the ivy league vs community college, knowing full well the former will be more competitive, more stress, more pressure, but, better and deeper and broader exposure and experience. can you want more but do not have to give more?

i think the whole issue is a no brainer. take a deep, honest look of your kid, and yourself, and you will know the level of competition your kid should face based on born talent and reaction to nurture. the rest is simply topics of conversation which are good to know but not necessarily good to use. every kid is so different, even if they share most of the chromosomes.

but, to sound like and be regarded as a caring, nice, considerate, thoughtful parent, i am going to say that i will do everything just right so that both the kids and we the parents can look back 30 years from now and say: no pain, all gain!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 6:44 PM
Al, I guess I don't really think it's helpful to think in those either-or terms. Like your friend and his kids that you described, you end up trapped at one extreme or the other. Either push kids or leave them unattended to the wolves. Either practice your violin every day to a VERY high standard or you might as well quit. Either get into the Ivy League or you're at a community college. Don't you think it's kind of insulting to kids (and adults) to present them with these kinds of bogus all-or-nothing "choices?" They know the world is more complicated (and more wonderful) than that.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 6:43 PM
It's very difficult, though. Not really as easy as just taking a good, long look into your child's face. My daughter was on and off with the violin for some time, and finally we decided not to pursue it. She plays the guitar (this, I never would have come up with!) and it really seems to suit her. I love listening to it, as well.

From my current vantage, it seems that parents are most competitive when their children are quite young; when it is still possible to believe they have a "blank slate" to work with. In time, one sees how much nature comes up against nurture, at least if nurture is pushing an agenda (even an agenda that seems right to the parent).

Parenting is very humbling. The older and wiser parents I know...they tend to sit back more on certain things, while efficiently tending to the very most important ones (is my child learning to read? understanding math? healthy? in a comfortable environment? living a balanced life? learning basic life skills?)

They also are a LOT less judgmental and competitive.

From Carolyn Berger
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 8:31 PM
Karen, thanks for the useful and encouraging comments (regarding practice), and I love reading your posts!
From al ku
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 9:05 PM
karen, my friend is one extreme, schooling in very competitive school after school can be the other, and therefore, i concluded "take a deep, honest look of your kid, and yourself, and you will know the level of competition your kid should face based on born talent and reaction to nurture."

it will be silly to choose either competition or no competition. it is simply not realistic. starting grade schools kids are divided into groups based on performance. how many parents out there opt out their kids into the slower, less competitive group after the teacher inform the parents that the kid seem to be ready to take on more challenge in a more advanced group?

pushing kids too hard against their will is not good. however, what is equally not advisable is to push too soft.

look at the general performance of kids in the USA vs kids in other developed countries (or not). take math for example: why are the USA kids lagging behind so bad when USA is a country with all the resources?

pushing too soft!

From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 24, 2007 at 11:40 PM
Pushing doesn't help people learn; teaching does.

Not that I don't see your point, Al. Have standards and persist in them. Teach children discipline; be there to support them in doing their best.

But if they aren't meeting your expectations, it's usually not that they need a push. It usually has to do with either unreasonable expectations or a lack of true support.

From al ku
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 12:42 AM
hehe, by "push" i mean a very broad spectrum of action words:)

encourage, inspire, lead by example, expect responsibility and accountability, show interest in the kids, be there for the kids. most important of all, show respect to the kids as a person.

one time, my kid was competing in golf against a very good player from china. the kid was superb, with a pro career written all over her. during one hole, she missed an easy putt. her father, the caddy, went up to her and slapped her in the front of everyone. now that is not what i advocate. i cringe every time i think about the cost of her "achievement".

From Laurie Niles
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 2:38 AM
From Albert Justice
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 3:04 AM
Karen, the most important thing you can leave your child with is confidence, caring, and wonderment for discovery and expression.

There's several qualities of being a winner in life, very far removed from Ivy League I think. Self control, self discipline, self awareness, self dimension(giving without getting or doing it to fulfill the community service slot) are only a few of the things that would allow her to not only persist but excel in a recipe of life rather than to try and find some proverbial niche.

I'm personally not the master of anything, but very very good at many things--and I like that outcome--indeed feel thankful. The fact that she successfully moved from violin to piano (not an uncommon direction), says that she is not a little Nicoli, and is a precursor to healthy flexibility. Nor were you I bet, nor 99.99 percent of the people here I'd bet (Buri excluded), a Nicoli...

The other thing that came to my mind, is that in a world that is truly competitive, one of the things I'm most thankful of is I learned to compete only with myself many years ago. It makes things a little lonely at times when everyone else is trained and blessed for playing one upmanship as a majority view (not that I won't bite back when bitten), but generally people who learn to motivate themselves patiently go much further. Or at least those self contained persist better, than those kept on the treadmill of life exclusively.

My parents simply set good examples for us and let us discover our own paths--a rare thing today, and we all are accomplished in our own ways. Kinda like the rock song lyric: "whaddya gonna do now little Johnny", or Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days".

All she really needs is love, acceptance, and encouragement. She'll find her thing; and, a little music is better than no music--not that she won't persist over time--I did.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 3:21 AM
Al, I liked that part of what you said. I also really liked those quotes you posted on Carolyn's practice thread, especially the one on excellence vs. perfection. I think we mostly agree . . . but as for pushing too hard or too soft, I don't think it's really possible to make generalizations (except in egregious cases like that one you mentioned with the golfer--eeek is right!). I've seen both too hard and too soft (and probably done both myself, even on the same day). I'm not sure the question of how hard to push ever has a satisfactory answer.

I'm too tired to be very coherent about my theories as to why the US lags behind in math, but in a nutshell I actually think it has more to do with all-or-none extreme thinking than it does with pushing too soft. In my field the phenomenon is called the "paradox of scientific elites and scientific illiterates." The US has the most Nobel laureates of any country, coupled with widespread scientific illiteracy among the general public. Even if you count the few dozen Nobel laureates and few hundred thousand science and technology PhD's, the average scientific literacy, nation-wide, is still pretty appalling when you also factor in the millions who think the sun revolves around the earth. All the attention is lavished on building the elite into the best it can be and everybody else gets the message that since they aren't part of that elite, they "might as well stop."

From al ku
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 3:47 AM
karen, it is weird that you would mention the nobel/literacy... as i was reading the beginning of your 2nd paragraph i was starting to think about that (i used to contrast usa vs japan in the past) and then boom, i saw it right there, spelled it out by you. hmmm, competitive reading?:)

i was talking to someone who knows the school system pretty well and her impression is that they try to give a helping hand to kids at the bottom, also help to promote those at the top, and meanwhile, may have overlooked the vast middle tier.

al, i agree with the values you have shared. although not sexy or trendy, to me at least those qualities never go out of style. some country living, to get the hands dirty,,,is good for the soul.

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 4:24 AM
Without reading so many other responses, I just want to put my two cents worth on the issue of achievement and competition.

I think they cause damage to us because we are always taught to achieve according to other people’s standard and to compete against other people, as though everything is competitive sports of some sort.

All my life I didn’t handle failure very well. I was expected to always be the best among others, and if I failed this expectation, to my parents, that was inconceivable thing. In universities as you all know, among other things, profs and TAs use bell-curve to create this type of divisive competition. The movie Paper Chaser is not far from the reality of today’s law schools in Canada for instance. When was in my grad school studying analytical philosophy, an entirely English language-laden subject, I was competing against a bunch of brilliant English native speakers, who not only could think but also read and write brilliantly, elegantly and much faster than I could. One prof of mine kept saying to us that if one could’t produce good work, as far as he went, this student was garbage. But I ended up doing fine and enjoyed the entire program because my thesis supervisor helped to me realizes what it meant for ME to achieve something, and how to compete against myself.

Achievement meant meeting my own goals rather than some ‘objective standard’ set by the others. Competition meant me to compete against my own enemies (technical problems and unhealthy thinking habits, etc). Once the goal of achievement was clear and once I stopped comparing myself against other people and their work, things just got easier and easier. I also find it helpful to be able to view a grade as one prof’s evaluation for a piece of my work at one point of time and no more, as opposed to treating it as something about my intelligence or potential.

I hope what I said doesn’t sound strange to you guys and I hope kids will be taught at an early age and be reminded later again and again what achievement means and against whom they are competing.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 10:56 AM
Yixi, What you wrote doesn't sound strange to me and I agree with you 100%. I definitely feel the way you do about playing viola--I'm happy about learning new pieces up to my own standards and I feel like I can satisfactorily assess my own progress and achievement by looking at my practice logs and just listening to myself. For now. I think it might be one reason I haven't been in a big hurry to find a teacher again, although I do want to someday. I just don't feel quite ready (yet) for external standards, and I'm just happy with competing with myself and achieving a new movement of the Bach cello suites.

It just seems to me that the way society is structured, people aren't really able to come to the realization of what you express until they are adults, until they are out of school and largely responsible for their own learning. But they have to go through years to get to that point, by which time a lot of damage has been done. That may be just "part of life" or "part of growing up" or whatever--growing up has never been easy, but it seems to me we as a society make it unnecessarily hard for people to get there. We create all these hoops for people to jump through, as if life itself didn't have enough of them already.

It's interesting what Laurie wrote that in her observation parents are the most competitive when their kids are young and they think they have a "blank slate." My recollection is different--when I was growing up, elementary school was close to paradise, and then things got bad in high school, around college admissions time. My own parents didn't get into it especially, but my stand partner in high school orchestra had a terrible time with her parents. They were always making her challenge to move up in the section (she lost and continued to be stuck with the likes of me as a stand partner the whole year), and she would bring home a 94 average and it wouldn't be good enough for them. They would ask her how she expected to be a success with grades like that. She and I were friends but it was an uneasy friendship. She ended up leaving home in the middle of high school. And, last I heard from her, she had become a millionaire :)

From Laura Madden
Posted on April 25, 2007 at 7:12 PM
Hi Karen, What I find most interesting is the turn this thread took toward pushing too hard or too soft. Quite a while ago I was watching a documentary on Bruce Lee, the commentator was interviewing Bruce's childhood Sensei, the interview ran along the same lines we have been pursuing and I remember the instructors' very matter of fact question: "If you gave a child the choice between 50 push-ups or 250 push-ups which number would he pick?" I would compare violin to the 250 push-ups even child prodigies do not like to practice violin. Have you ever seen the video "How They Play"? Interesting comments from Mr. Perlman about youngsters and playing the violin.
The hardest thing for everybody involved is that expectation of immediate gratification. Taking piano though can bring quicker satisfaction and it is almost a must anyway for early violin students (being a better instrument to learn theory and solfege on) so you can look at it as a confidence builder and basic trainer for violin (and really almost any instrument). Violin does not have to be a closed chapter in her life. Some ways you can keep violin in her mind ( if not her hands) might be by playing little duets with her or asking for her help while you tune. Keep the dialogue open and I would not be at all surprised if her interest in violin may be rekindled, I do not see anything wrong in stirring up the embers. There is an old saying" The parent can open the door but the child must walk through it", yet just how long are we willing to stand there holding the door?.
By all means keep competition out of it, I think it was Bartok who said "competition is for horses not musicians".
I'm also wondering in what way the Suzuki program failed? You might want to try a more traditional teacher before the string program in school begins.

- Vicki

From Yixi Zhang
Posted on April 26, 2007 at 12:26 AM
Karen, I agree with you that we are facing the complex and enormous social structure, and that the unnecessarily high pressure it imposes on us can be really harsh, especially on the young ones. But I also think society will always has its various forces on us, but we don’t have to wait to a later age to mitigate damage. Getting a more positive take on competition and achievement may just be something that can be done early on.

For instance, I believe we can help our children to figure our in a fairly early age what make them really, really proud. Figuring out what is the hardest thing for a kid to achieve at a specific stage, and when she achieves that, get this registered as a true achievement. We all know that one gets the greatest sense of achievement even if the society or others don’t care about it. To me, it’s the fact that I can do law and philosophy in an extremely difficult foreign tongue. To you, it may be the viola, or PhD in neuroscience, violin concertmaster after that PhD, raising your kids among all the above achievements, or the fact that you can achieve all these things in spite of ADD. Notice that the deepest satisfaction of accomplishment has to come from how hard it is for you to achieve but not what it is to achieve. I think both you and I know this very well. I also believe that this sense of accomplishment can be spelled out bits by bits to show others, young or old ones.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on April 26, 2007 at 10:43 AM
I think the Suzuki program failed for 4 main reasons:
1. She was bored by the repertoire. She got really bogged down in the Twinkle variations. She didn't want to listen to the CD either.
2. Back and leg pain. That one baffled me because I couldn't figure out if it had a physical or psychological cause. Sometimes she'd start crying in the middle of a practice session or lesson, after about 20 minutes, and all she said was that her back or her legs hurt and she wouldn't play anymore. It has never happened when she plays piano sitting down. I'm concluding from that it had something to do with the way she was standing or holding the violin.
3. She told me at the end of the year she thought her teacher was "mean" and was "always yelling at her." I didn't see that; I thought her teacher was a nice person. The teacher did repeat herself a lot about practicing and how my daughter should do more of it, every day. And she kept holding up performance as a "carrot" to entice the kids to practice, whereas my daughter viewed the threat of having to perform as a "stick" she didn't want to be hit with. The teacher had a pretty strong Chinese accent and her English was good but not perfect, and she sometimes did speak in short, loud sentences to make herself understood. That might have been what my daughter was referring to, but I just didn't think anything of it. I think it was just a bad personality fit, nobody's fault. But I do feel badly for not having noticed it sooner.
4. I failed with the parental involvement. That's probably why I am having so much trouble letting this go and why I get defensive sometimes when I read about the lengths some other parents go to for their kids' music lessons (and especially, Suzuki's own disparaging comments about American mothers in "Ability Development from Zero to Three"). I work full-time at a pretty intense job. I have another child besides my daughter, who is 3 and who requires a lot of basic attention himself. I'm involved in other activities with my kids, for example, I'm a Brownie leader this year. I also want a little time to practice my own instrument. And I just could not (and did not) put in the daily effort and aggravation to "push" her to play another round of Mississippi stop stop.
From Laura Madden
Posted on April 26, 2007 at 4:12 PM
Hi Karen
Your description of her violin teacher is somewhat what I expected. My daughter went through 4 teachers before we found the right one. Each teacher including the 5th (the one we stayed with for 7 years) had her repeat the Twinkle Twinkle (aaaaagh) I understand and sympathize with you completely!! Once we got finished with that Mississippi Mississippi and Twinkle Twinkle torture it did become more interesting.
The teacher is sooo important, one of the things I looked for was a non-competitive studio, which would come with a calm and patient teacher. It took some searching but eventually we found a studio that was perfect for us.
Incentive is also such a hugh factor,and you are quite right with the carrot and stick analogy we have to make it worth THEIR while. I would try to "Big Bird" the lessons (I know there are two schools of thought on making everything FUN), but it did seem to work, after a lesson during the drive home we would sing the particular song she was learning the only difference being I made up words to go along with it. Silly words (one about a cow who wanted to sit down and saying moo-ve) My daughter loved it she would laugh hysterically and sing it over and over and over, consequently she would play it much more often than she would have had it been a simple boring piece. Other games such as "Fool me" (was it her playing or the tape?) "Simon Says" or making shadow shapes on the wall (good for bow hold) were all games I could interact with that still left me free to cook dinner or get them ready for bed or do many simple tasks that would otherwise have been wasted time.
It sounds to me that you really need to resolve this issue in your own mind at least. Why not give it one more shot, find a teacher who is non-competitive and good with kids. Get creative, try and find unintrusive ways to incorporate the violin with your everyday tasks (maybe even get the little guy in on it). Then at least you'll know you have done everything you could think of and if she's still not interested I'm pretty sure you will feel a lot less guilt, though you shouldn't you are a very committed parent with a full plate and should not beat yourself up mentally. Good Luck!

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music: Check out our selection of Celtic music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

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

Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings
Thomastik-Infeld's Dynamo Strings

National Symphony Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra

Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Summer Music Programs Directory
Find a Summer Music Program Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

ARIA International Summer Academy

Borromeo Music Festival

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 in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine