Identifying A Great (But Not Well Known) Teacher

August 31, 2022, 8:33 PM · My daughter is 20 and was probably the stereotypical devoted violin player with all-in parents. She was a "star" in her world from about 10 to 15 years old. Then she went to the IU summer strings camp after 10th grade and realized there how far she was behind many players -- younger and older.

She thrived at the camp but it was a defining time that let her know she didn't want to be a professional musician. She didn't want to jump into a career track with what she considered inferior talent and youth training. (On a happy note, she's very happy in her university orchestra while majoring in marketing.)

I thought I had exited the violin parent world successfully until a co-worker asked if I'd talk to her friend. The friend, I was told, had a super talented 10-year-old violinist and was seeking guidance.

To my surprise, the young girl is fantastic, more advanced than I've ever seen (in person) a child of that age. And she clearly loves playing, has musicality and produces strong tone from her 3/4 size violin. Her parents say her current teacher is 25 years old has no experience with a gifted young player like this, and the teacher suggested they start the process of looking for a replacement.

My first reaction was to tell the parent to relocate to Chicago or to email Mimi Zweig at IU (they live in western Michigan). But I realized how unrealistic and misguided that probably is knowing the parents' life situation. The feedback I'm seeking is for how they might go about finding a new teacher who may be a diamond in the rough, someone who can really keep their child progressing without having the experience of an established great teacher?

And is it possible for a kid to learn online successfully for the long-term? Or is that just misguided? I see some accomplished teachers of gifted kids give online lessons.

Thanks in advance.

Replies (26)

August 31, 2022, 8:37 PM · Would it be possible for their daughter to get one lesson a month in person with a first class teacher in Chicago, with her current teacher acting as the Chicago teacher’s assistant for the other three weeks?
August 31, 2022, 9:02 PM · If Chicago is possible- Almita Vamos. Worth an hour or more drive each way a week if they are in Western MI
I would gladly drive 2 each way for her. Or her studio. And likely could alternate in-person with online.
Local colleges? Local orchestras?
August 31, 2022, 9:41 PM · We were very much in this situation with my son, and for a variety of personal reasons (his older sister was very sick for years and then passed away) we were unable to take him to a top-notch teacher until he was 12. He unfortunately lost a lot of time, though admittedly he is doing pretty well nonetheless. But I wouldn't recommend it if the family is able in any way to get to a better teacher. Appropriate pedagogy from someone who knows how to prepare kids with motivation and talent is critical.

My kids are in the top Chicago program referenced above, one in the community division and one in the pre-college Academy program. I would highly recommend it. Kids drive in weekly from all over the midwest and sometimes even further. We've had kids from Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Minnesota, and even Canada who come in weekly. There are also some that are unable to come in regularly and instead do mostly remote lessons and come in maybe once a month for an in-person lesson and studio class.

I am happy to provide more information about the teachers here and who might be best for this child. You can email me by clicking on my profile.

Edited: August 31, 2022, 9:59 PM · Try Ara Sarkissian, who is on the faculty at Interlochen (which is located by Traverse City, western MI). He's experienced and, as far as I know, very good.

https://www.interlochen.org/person/ara-sarkissian

Edited: August 31, 2022, 10:27 PM · Well, if you can't relocate your whole family to Chicago or New York on a dime, and you can't commute weekly from western Michigan around the lake to Chicago, may I suggest that Dylana Jensen (located in Grand Rapids) could be a resource to this family. Western Michigan is a big place -- one can be closer to Traverse City or closer to Grand Rapids. I am somewhat familiar with the geography having earned my BS degree in the town of Holland.
Edited: September 1, 2022, 8:13 AM · Western Michigan covers a lot of territory. Could be a half hour from Chicago, could be 5 hours. Michigan State has Berlinsky. Having her play from someone at a college might lead you to someone young and gifted at teaching. Just looking online there is a Delay student, Juilliard graduate at Andrews University.
But I would put the family in touch with Susan as her situation in Chicago is something special.
And showing them a video of her son might make them willing to drive a long, long way.:)
In our own situation, we have found camps, and other institutions willing to be helpful with financial aid, if that is an issue. They shouldn't close down any path without asking.
Having a great teacher at this age for a talented, motivated kid like she sounds is vital.
If they are going to take on stepping up to their kids talent and desires, driving a couple hours a week is the least of their concerns.
September 1, 2022, 10:41 AM · Also they can look up "Violin Breakfast", Amy Beth Horman, a great online scales and fundamentals class.
September 1, 2022, 10:19 PM · Thank you, all.
Paul, the family is actualy just north of Grand Rapids. I'm going to pass on Dylana Jensen's name.
Mary Ellen, the monthly lesson in Chicago with a local teacher assisting/supplementing might be the best fit for the family. I don't think they're in a position at this time for a weekly commitment.
September 1, 2022, 11:32 PM · Some high profile teachers are willing to teach on a sliding scale too.

BTW, we recently had a couple lessons with an amazing teacher and while she is still "young," her lessons were life-changing. She actually fixed a lot of my daughter's major issues in 2 hours (posture & bowing). In her, we definitely found a great but not well-known teacher but her fees are not insignificant.

September 2, 2022, 8:10 AM · Having a sample lesson with an "ideal" teacher like Vamos might open many options. Recommendations for other teachers who are closer, online lessons. Worst case, they just have one lesson, which would be a great experience in itself. Somewhere here, I posted a link to the list of Indianapolis competitors and their bios and repertoire. The number of Vamos studio 20 somethings was impressive.
As I said, our own experience is that if the kid is talented, teachers and organizations will often be supportive financially.
I would love to be able to rewind the clock to make more ideal choices when my daughter was 10, so that's where my persistence in this thread is coming from. I would have loved to be within 2 hours of this kind of opportunity for my kid.
Susan has made a great offer of info, I hope it is passed on.
Edited: September 2, 2022, 9:39 AM · Dylana Jenson ('not' Jensen....) has a facebook profile and a website, 'do' contact her, she is ABSOLUTELY fantastic, top notch teacher (ex student of Milstein/Gingold) who is well suited for this in my opinion, I can't recommend her enough!
https://www.dylanajenson.com/

sorry I do not know how to make it a 'clickable' link
also do send her a 'facebook message' if you prefer.

September 2, 2022, 10:11 AM · Along with a great teacher, community matters. Chamber, theory, performance deadlines and opportunities.
Finding a tribe of kids who care about music and inspire each other.
September 2, 2022, 2:53 PM · I second trying to find a musical community. The ability to be surrounded by similar students, play in studio classes, participate in chamber music, and become a well rounded musician is critical.

As for the Chicago studios, Mrs. Vamos hasn’t taken many students, especially this young, in the past few years due to her and her husband’s health, among other circumstances. Most of the younger students are studying with her assistant or one of her former assistants (like my son’s teacher).

September 4, 2022, 9:56 AM · I might have agreed about Vamos….years ago. I had a lesson with her almost 30 years ago, and she wasn’t exactly young back then. I wouldn’t start a young student off with an elderly and ailing teacher.

Find someone young and energetic.

September 4, 2022, 12:59 PM · My daughter had a masterclass online and then a lesson with her last year when she was in our area. Seemed sharp as a razor.:)
But I don't disagree. My daughter has her first lesson today with her new teacher who is in her 20's.
The system Susan's son is involved seems a rare and unique opportunity.
September 4, 2022, 1:34 PM · The OP wrote:
"I thought I had exited the violin parent world successfully until a co-worker asked if I'd talk to her friend. The friend, I was told, had a super talented 10-year-old violinist and was seeking guidance.

To my surprise, the young girl is fantastic, more advanced than I've ever seen (in person) a child of that age. And she clearly loves playing, has musicality and produces strong tone from her 3/4 size violin."

OP, in the professional violin-playing business, these are the sorts of people your daughter would be competing with. Some of them are just gobsmackingly good. Is this really what you want your daughter to take on?

September 4, 2022, 1:43 PM · I don't know, David. The pro violin world is undeniably competitive, but if we frame our journey through it in competitive terms, then we are always covered in the failure of someone being better than us.

A child specializing so early has certain opportunity costs, but there's nothing that precludes a young talent from choosing to not pursue the world of pro violin when she is at the threshold of choosing her career path. Hopefully her love of music is her north star at the age of 10 years old, even if adults often start making plans for talent without consulting with the talented youth.

Edited: September 4, 2022, 2:34 PM · Christian, the OP stated that her daughter is 20 (not 10), and that it is her daughter who seems to be happy pursuing a career path other than music, while still playing in the university orchestra.

It is this mother who is being asked to suggest a violinist career-training path for a talented 10-year-old.

Edited: September 4, 2022, 2:33 PM · I don't know if I'm misunderstanding something, David. The OP does mention their 20 year old daughter, who has already chosen a different path, as background for their own interaction with the fiddle-training world.

But the OP's question is about getting additional training for a (unrelated) talented 10 year old, which I take you to be responding to when questioning introducing a young child to this very competitive world. It's a legitimate concern. I was responding to that concern for this 10 year old, and trying to point out that if parents are keeping the kid's needs in mind, they can protect the kid from the more toxic tendencies of the world of violin hot-housing.

I read your post as accidentally combining the characters in the story, but I may simply have misunderstood what you wrote.

Edited: September 4, 2022, 4:57 PM · Matthew, Mrs. Vamos is definitely still sharp as a tack, but she has had to back off a bit from her usual ridiculously hectic pace. Virtually all of her students now have a second teacher who does all of their technique work, as well as some repertoire work, though to be fair, back when Mr. Vamos was teaching he often took on that role.
September 4, 2022, 5:49 PM · Edited: September 4, 2022, 7:56 PM · Almita Vamos in concert May 28, 2022:


https://youtu.be/z0sxPZ51APY?t=1025

Edited: September 5, 2022, 8:18 AM · Thank you, Jo, for correcting me on the spelling of Dylana Jenson's name. I do like to get that kind of stuff right. And yes, there's no question about her pedigree or her reputation. Top-notch.

P.S. someone blew out the HTML. If you have codes in your post, please check them. (I have notified Laurie to fix it.)

September 5, 2022, 7:15 AM · David, you said....
OP, in the professional violin-playing business, these are the sorts of people your daughter would be competing with. Some of them are just gobsmackingly good. Is this really what you want your daughter to take on?

I was wondering whether you think about competition when you make? Or are you just trying to reach an ideal you have in your mind, and bring your skills to a new level? I also wonder how many people tried to sway you when you were younger from the equally insecure path of being a maker? Now you are the bar which a young luthier would likely be trying to reach.
I do wish (maybe I said this before) that someone in Sander's business would do a study of kids who pursue this at a high level. What the outcomes are in terms of future career, in music or out, satisfaction, academic achievement if they switch focus, etc.. And do we think differently about a kid pursuing at an early age soccer, an olympic sport, something more culturally supported than classical music. The odds of financial success seem similar.
None of this is challenge. I am 61 and chose a one of these paths in my own obscure field. I have done alright, have work in museums, am collected by people that collect such things. But I am not always sure, even now, about the choices financially and security wise.

September 5, 2022, 8:16 AM · What I have seen is that the ones who reach a very high level but do not cross the threshold into the careers that they envisioned as teenagers do pretty well in some other field (medicine, for example). Getting to the Curtis Level (which anyone would agree is a few notches higher than the Bruch Level) on the violin requires concentration, native intelligence, determination, and discipline -- all qualities that will serve one very well in the operating room or the courtroom or the trading floor.

We have also read plenty about those who (in hindsight, of course) maybe waited too long to make that transition, long after their reserves of motivation and confidence were tapped out, leaving them understandably bitter and frustrated. These kinds of life/career decisions are easy for some (they were easy for me, for example, because I was lucky), but they're agonizing for many because there are so many complicated and often competing factors in play.

The thing is that nobody knows where those boundaries are for any other individual. It's easy to open up "violinist.com" and shoot down the ones who are playing Accolay in their mid-teens. At the other end of the spectrum, the ones winning "Junior Menuhin" and entering Juilliard at age 13 aren't really posting here. The most talented kids associated with this site seem largely to be represented by their parents -- parents who are encouraging and supporting their kids' dreams. It's really not my place to say they're right or wrong to do that. That's a choice that's made by an individual and -- for a young person -- by a family. Violin is not unique in this regard. As Matthew wrote, sports are the same way. I chose a career path that many consider glamorous; I ended up doing okay but not great, and it shows in my not-so-glamorous salary. But with tenure I'm definitely financially secure and I'm very happy about that. The flip side is that I have not had to ignore music.

Edited: September 5, 2022, 5:13 PM · Matthew wrote the following:
"I was wondering whether you think about competition when you make? Or are you just trying to reach an ideal you have in your mind, and bring your skills to a new level? I also wonder how many people tried to sway you when you were younger from the equally insecure path of being a maker? Now you are the bar which a young luthier would likely be trying to reach."

Matthew, these are not easy questions to answer, so I'll do the best I can.
I had no expectations of making a lot of money in either the making or restoration profession. But I had the advantage that both my parents, though well-degreed, did not do so with the expectation of getting rich. Nor did they try to impose that expectation on me. The main motivation for both was to put themselves into a position to contribute as best they could. To many people, degrees are indicative of viability or knowledge, and they weren't unaware of that.

I am always aware of competition, and hope to never stop learning from others, even if they happen to be professionals in another field and are only amateurs in the fiddlemaking world. This doesn't exclude them from having great ideas. In my experience, if one believes that they already know everything there is to know, or self-imposes a point at which they no longer need to learn, this is one of the best recipes for failure.

I do not recommend that aspiring violin makers try to become professional makers, if they want to make a decent living from that alone. Those who do are rather few and far between. Most who make violins supplement their income from other sources or endeavors.

Even Stradivari had other business ventures. And he married already-wealthy women, twice!

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