TRFC Part 1, Sweet Child of Mine

January 19, 2011, 8:15 AM ·

Even if you know deep down that the only way to really survive and thrive in a New England winter is to embrace it, the reality of learning winter sports is not always what it’s cracked up to be. I enjoyed reading Laurie’s blog, “Falling Down”.  I used to live in Pasadena, and I remember when that kind of thing was a choice.  But here in New England, or for that matter in Western NY where I grew up, you don’t have to drive to the snow and pay for the opportunity to fall down.  Old Man Winter comes to you.

My husband, who grew up in Germany, had an experience with skiing that sounds like something out of Amy Chua’s new book.  After being forced, on a school trip, to learn and compete in a ski race that he was unable to really do, he never touched a ski again for 25 years.  And when he generously agreed to come skiing with me and our kids a few years ago, and give it another try, he still didn’t want to deal with another lesson and another instructor.  “Can’t you just show me if I need help?” he asked. Now that I think about it, my daughter also had a “Battle Hymn” experience with a Suzuki violin teacher who made her cry.  She was close to quitting violin altogether, but we did it ourselves for about a year until her school music program started.

This “can’t I just do it myself” refrain has been echoed by our son, who is learning to ice skate.  Here in 21st-century America, we have classes now that are supposed to be far removed from the bad old days in Old Europe or Imperial China.  Herds of kids are chauffeured to the local ice rink on Saturday mornings by their doting parents, where, helmeted and padded to the hilt, they joyously and raucously hurl themselves around the ice.  My son—sweet, quiet, serious little guy that he is—doesn’t want any part of that either. I ask him if he wants lessons. “No, I just want to do it myself.”  And do it himself he does.  The first time we go skating, on a slow Saturday afternoon when he won’t see anyone he knows (such as the kid who lives around the corner who plays about 16 sports, plus the violin, and at least according to him, does them all very well) he can barely take two steps before he falls.  But he gets up again and again.  He laughs.  “This is fun, can we do it again?”  The next time he stays up longer, he starts to learn to glide.  As he puts it, his butt doesn’t get as sore. 

So they’re learning.  And even though my son is not, strictly speaking, good at skating yet, he’s having fun and getting exercise, isn’t that what counts? Do we really have to bring up hockey and teamwork and competition and the Olympics and having just the right equipment and global competitiveness and shooting for the moon and all that?  Yet especially as I watch them struggle, and especially as they turn to me for help that I don’t really feel qualified to provide (I’m not a trained string teacher, or ski instructor, and I can barely get myself around the rink on skates), I admit in the back of my mind that sometimes I wish my kids were more like that kid who lives around the corner:  kids I could drop off with a good teacher and just trust they would get it, would learn the skill, whether it was ice skating, skiing, or violin, and not be traumatized by the process.  

But, they are my kids.  And, I must admit, I’m the same way.  While they’ve been learning to ski and skate, what I have I been doing?  Trying to learn “Sweet Child O’ Mine” on acoustic violin for The Rockin’ Fiddle Challenge, an insanely difficult arrangement that is way above my skill level.  And trying to do it myself.  My teacher has been enthusiastic and supportive.  But this isn’t her music--like most violin teachers, she’s classically conservatory trained, and she plays a different type of music for her livelihood. And, for several months in the fall I put TRFC away entirely, to work on a Tchaikovsky solo that I was performing with the orchestra.  So, in lessons, which only come every two weeks, I had to strike a balance between orchestra and chamber music, only getting the occasional fiddle tips.  I started in the summer, finished the “mini-challenge” consisting of measures 1-24, and moved on to other things.

When the dust cleared after the solo and the holidays were over, I realized that TRFC was still going on, and I still had a chance to do more. I had only worked on the first page (of 4 and a half) before I stopped.  The next pages were, at first glance, a bewildering array of 16th note double stops mixed with virtuosic passages, “grabs” and “wammys”.  This looked scarier than the Tchaikovsky, which was already a double black diamond. And when I browsed the other TRFC entries on YouTube, it seemed that while there were a handful of amazing entries, many other players had also reached the edge of that particular cliff and turned back, or taken the green circle down instead.  But I think about my son and skating.  The last time we went, he only fell a couple of times.  We played tag.  It won’t be long before he catches me. He’s really proud of himself, has a sense of accomplishment that no one can take away from him.  

Now it’s my son’s turn to watch me struggle, and fall down, and get back up. He’s got the right idea:  enjoy the trip anyway!



January 19, 2011 at 05:58 PM ·

Thank you for this, Karen.

Your son's future won't be compromised if other kids in the 'hood with their coaches and lessons are better ice skaters than he is!  By just going out and messing around learning, maybe he'll also notice how gorgeous the silhouettes of bare winter trees against the late afternoon sky are, and how the snow turns lavender and orange as the sun sets.  Maybe he'll learn what a joy hot cocoa and clothes just out of the dryer are when he's come in for the day.  Maybe in a few years he and a young lady friend will sneak onto a rink to skate together under a midnight full moon.

Maybe he'll learn to find joy and meaning in learning something for himself, for no reason other than to just have the experience.  Kind of like the concertmaster spending the time to learn a complex fiddle tune?

January 19, 2011 at 09:20 PM ·

If that video is your idea of falling down, I am flat on my face permanently.  That was good.  But, as your experience shows, an important part of child-rearing is letting the kids learn for themselves, make mistakes, pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and have another go at it.  It's also an important part of life for adults, particularly as they set an example for their kids.  Bravo for being able to see all that and appreciate that your kids see it and learn from it. 

January 19, 2011 at 10:20 PM ·

Nice playing!  You're always getting better... so I would not call that falling down!  Good luck!

Nice dance from your son at the end ; )

I'm very happy to see that you are not in that "become a sports star or a doctor my kid..." thing.

I know a few families around me who push or pushed their kids very hard... in the end, when the kid becomes adolescent and young adult, it all boils down to

- The kid's natural talent

- If he or she likes or not what was imposed on them  (if not, 100% the kid will quit in his teens and you'll know it fast ennough!)

Kids usually kick their own "butt" when they are truely passionated about something...

In the worst cases, it can cause a big revolt and protestation from the kid who will do on purpose to do the exact contrary to what he has been told to do... (I haven't seen this though)


While it's not good to cultivate laziness and spoiled kids,  one should not be a tirant with his kids either!   Sure, it can be a good thing to train a kid to work hard in something they dislike or are not that good to learn them hard work and humility but not for a long period or one will have to cope with self esteem problems and a demolished child!  Kids need suceess and failure to develop normally. (in my opinion)  To have a not too big but not too small ego either (just in the healthy zone)

Good luck to both of you!  Bravo for that nice balance of ideas between play and serious!      






January 20, 2011 at 06:31 PM ·

Thanks for the nice words on the video.  I posted that one because my son came in at the end, spontaneously, it wasn't planned. 

In a short excerpt like this, it's easier to sustain and just keep going, and not "fall down".  In the complete piece, though, by the time I get to this part, I'm pretty tired.  Even Adam deGraff (who is running the contest, wrote the arrangement for solo violin and performs the piece in clubs and on his CD) says on his teaching video that his fingers can get tired by this point in the piece.  My entry of the complete piece, played at about this tempo, was a little over 7 minutes long.  Adam's recording, by contrast, is a little over 5 minutes long.  It goes a lot faster--but, you've gotta walk before you can run!


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