Frustration with parents and instrument maintenance

March 21, 2018, 2:40 PM · I'm getting a bit frustrated with some of the parents of the young musicians in the orchestra where I assist by tuning and making some small adjustments (primarily bridge alignment) to about 60 violins and violas each week. Occasionally I find problems I cannot fix such as dropped sound-posts, broken fine tuners, frozen pegs, et cetera.

I've given notes to the young musicians to give to their parents telling them about the problem that needs to be fixed and sometimes directly spoken to the parents who stay for the rehearsals. Unfortunately, week-after-week the same instruments return with the same problem unaddressed.

Any suggestions on what to do to get the parents to take care of these instruments?

Replies (19)

Edited: March 21, 2018, 4:23 PM · Hi George,
maybe you could try to figure out a solution together with the people that organize the orchestra. After all, they're the ones that should be concerned the most about this. An official written note to all parents that children can only participate with a functioning instrument could be a way to go. That would keep you out of the line of fire when reminding parents about fixing things; You can always say you're merely following instructions.
March 21, 2018, 4:50 PM · Perhaps there are other issues that need to be addressed to the student themselves? What comes to my mind is that if the bridge is continually getting knocked out of alignment, week after week perhaps the student lays the instrument face down on a surface when installing the shoulder rest? Things like that.
March 21, 2018, 4:57 PM · I agree that this should be addressed by the youth orchestra's leadership, and that arriving with a problematic instrument is equal to an unexcused absence from rehearsal.
March 21, 2018, 7:01 PM · Call me when one of your parents insists on using homemade rosin collected from the pine tree in their yard. (true story)
March 21, 2018, 7:22 PM · Not having idea what is behind a symptom, restrain from group approach. Always treat every child / parent on case by case basis. There are so many dysfunctional families, violence, addiction, etc... when violin and possibly that orchestra is the only bright spot in young person's life. Taking that away may be the last straw... there are way more important things than the state of a piece of wood.
March 21, 2018, 7:42 PM · I bet if you went to their homes you would find that many things are maintained just as abominably -- cars, furniture, plumbing, even their kids' health.

I agree with the idea that being "present" means being "present" with:

(1) Your instrument in good working order including SR if used,
(2) Your music in a folder with the measures numbered,
(3) A pencil.

On the other hand -- are luthier services readily available in your locality?

March 21, 2018, 8:59 PM · Nothing you really can do. That's just how it is. Some people do, and some people don't. You can't force donters to be doers.

March 22, 2018, 4:17 AM · This problem isn't particular to violinists. My wife is a flute teacher and some students will continue playing on a broken instrument for weeks in spite of being told to get it fixed. She finds she often has to make the repair appointment for the parent before anything gets done.

But consider that the kid in orchestra might not be the only kid in the family, and the parents are dealing with jobs, getting one kid to orchestra rehearsal before volleyball practice while their siblings are going to basketball tryouts and math camp. Then consider some luthiers (like a couple of local ones here) are only open M-F 10-6, so simply getting the instrument repaired is more of a scheduling issue than simply not caring. And often the parents know nothing about the instruments their children are playing - they wouldn't know how a malfunctioning instrument affects their playing, or even where to take it to get it fixed.

Perhaps it would be possible to arrange for a luthier (or even an apprentice) to be around before/after rehearsal every few months. Notify the parents ahead of time, and they can setup appointments for minor adjustments or perhaps drop off the instrument and pick it up at the next rehearsal.

March 22, 2018, 5:34 AM · They are not the only child in family, parents have limited free time distributing upon each child. They do not consider learning an instrument seriously, and someday many of them will drop off the routine. In fact, I think many families do not qualify the condition for supporting their children playing an instrument in many countries, unless their children are extremely self-disciplined. The very ideal and suitable family is which having one or both parents with strong desire for dominance, command and control over the their only one child, they will devote all their time and effort on the unique child and prepare all detailed trifles.
March 22, 2018, 6:27 AM · There are always going to be parents who don't give a damn , but I think that most want to be supportive if they know what or how.Parents like to feel helpful to the kids, but often when they are not knowledgeable of the topic, they distance themselves...
I think a workshop addressed to all parents about regular maintenance that they can can do themselves will be welcome. It will not end the problem, but I think it will be worth the effort. How to clean the strings, straighten the bridge, check for problems... What they can do themselves and what needs to be done by a pro. And in that case where to take it and how much should cost...
Nobody likes to do what they are told, but we all like to feel that we know what we are doing.
March 22, 2018, 6:54 AM ·
I do a lot of minor repairs to my students violins; basically if I didn't I would be spending far more wasted time dealing with these minor problems that would never get repaired. Have them stay late to repair the instruments or remind them constantly to show up early so it can be repaired.

Procrastination, gotta luv it

March 22, 2018, 7:26 AM · In some households the cost of instrument repairs/maintenance would be quite low on the list of financial priorities, especially if the parents have little real interest in the child's musical development.
March 22, 2018, 8:22 AM · As someone whose parents didn't know that you have to have your piano tuned :-) I expect a certain amount of this is a benign lack of awareness by parents who didn't play an instrument as kids. (It's partly why I overcompensate with my kids' gear.)
March 22, 2018, 8:27 AM · "Nothing you really can do. That's just how it is. Some people do, and some people don't. You can't force donters to be doers."

Pretty much says it all. When I was coaching the local youth orchestra, they would be told time and again to bring their folding stands....

They didn't.

March 22, 2018, 11:17 AM · If you are spending their lesson time fixing their instruments instead of teaching them, the parents are already paying for the repairs by way of wasted lesson time. Perhaps if you pointed this out to them, they may become more interested in instrument maintenance themselves.

Or they may remain happy to simply pay you to continue to do it.

Edited: March 22, 2018, 12:08 PM · Thank you everyone. The idea Madeye presented, having a luthier present at some rehearsal sessions would probably work the best. I guess, as an alternate, and seeing that I'm retired I could take the instruments to the shop for the parents and arrange to get them back by the next rehearsal. Of course I'm not sure all the parents would be prepared for the cost of repairs.

I can say that the majority of parents don't skimp on their cars given that I see them arrive and depart every week. Priorities are what they are.

Great ideas and comments.

March 22, 2018, 1:14 PM · The main problem that any violin teacher/tutor/assistant is going to run into (whether group or private) is that 95% of students and parents won't care about violin as much as the teacher does. To them, it's just a hobby (like soccer, or playing Magic the Gathering), and it takes many years of convincing to show people how positive the impact can be compared to other pursuits, to where they start to adopt the same level of importance as the teacher does.

I've found that by becoming a wild eccentric and spouting off to both children and parents alike about how magical the violin is and how making good music is about the closest thing we can get to casting a spell on someone (in terms of our ability to dramatically affect someone with only a few seconds of time), we can quickly filter out the doers from the donters. Intense gesticulations are recommended for maximum effect.

March 22, 2018, 2:07 PM · Erik, et al.,

For a lot of parents music lessons, particularly strings, is about brain stimulation that theoretically leads to near-genius level access to college and career.

I personally saw that kill a multi-generational community orchestra that I once played in. The "Tiger-Moms" took over, got rid of the adults (more room for their children) amped up the audition standards and have the leaders prepare letters for addition to college applications. The orchestra I volunteer at is considered second rate by comparison because we're only trying to get young musicians to actually like music and playing together.

I also agree that I care about the instruments a lot more than the young musicians and their parents. Perhaps, in the end, the real problem is me and my passion for the instrument.

March 22, 2018, 4:55 PM · As stated by many here, generally music is not seem as important in the long run, so why bother about keeping the instrumwnt top notch?

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