Sorting through boxes of childhood things can yield quite a few memories. A couple of years ago, I was visiting my parents and uncovered a few of these boxes in their basement. One of these boxes held a bunch of craft projects and drawings—all of which definitely required some effort to create from my younger self. Incidentally, these drawings are usually harder for my parents to purge from the storage room. For me they all yield memories, but they are not important to keep—except for this one drawing.
This drawing was part of a first grade in-class project. We were all instructed to create individual drawings of what we wanted to be when we grew up. Once finished, these drawings decorated the classroom’s central bulletin board. If the drawings were to be believed, we had quite the number of future doctors, firemen, policemen, and astronauts—interspersed with a ballerina and a veterinarian. My choice was rare: no one else wanted to be a violin teacher!
What caused my six-year-old self to want to become a violin teacher? In hindsight, I believe it’s due to being exposed to a specific sector of a music career. I had started violin in the local Suzuki program two years previously. This program included a weekly private lesson and a weekly group repertoire class. While my parents did take me to the local symphony concerts several times a year, the Suzuki program remained my main musical activity. I simply thought that all violinists became violin teachers and failed to completely connect the other options.
Fast forwarding to present day, I obviously became a violin teacher—in addition to a performer. In fact, so far I have consciously balanced my career more toward teaching—not that I would want to give up performing. I firmly believe that teaching and performing inform each other—but that is a topic for a different post. So how did my first grade choice become my adult choice?
As I grew and advanced, I noticed that all students learned differently and advanced differently. Clearly learning, and therefore teaching, was not a one-size-fits-all enterprise. Teachers assigned different repertoire and etudes to each student to fit their strengths and to help overcome their weaknesses. Or students did the same repertoire, but in a slightly different order. Some students advanced quickly and others got stuck at one point before advancing. And some students were great at playing by ear and terrible at reading music (this was me in primary school). From these few examples, there was clearly a variety of learning styles and instruction at play. This job looked like a challenging and interesting one—not boring at all.
Through my actual teaching experience, I find that my childhood expectation was correct regarding the challenge and interest in teaching. As everyone clearly learns differently, the teacher will have to explain things differently to every student. Some analogies work well for one student and not as well for the next student. This means that not only do I have to be a very attentive problem-solving coach for a student, but I also have to be attentive to my explanation. I want the student to really be able to identify the difference made in his/her playing so he can practice well outside the lesson time—and, more importantly, apply the same solution in the future as needed.
Luckily, I’ve always had a curiosity about how things work on the instrument to aid in my varied explanations. In my middle and high school years I especially loved spending hours putting together various bowing exercises and learning the left hand positions—organizing everything in my mind. Even now, a breakthrough on some technical aspect is thrilling to me. I like to really understand how to make things happen, rather than simply playing by instinct. I feel this serves me well in assisting students.
While I can’t pinpoint what drove me to violin in particular, I can understand why I went into teaching violin. Was it the only interest of my first grade self? No. But it was the key interest. I could have gone on to become a doctor, journalist, or even tornado chaser, but the violin still remained as the main interest. Did I question this choice every so often as I grew? Yes, definitely. But I always came back to making the same decision.
After finding this drawing and, due to COVID-19, claiming a corner of the living room as my office space, I plan to hang this drawing on my wall by my desk in lieu of the typical college degree displays. It is a great reminder of a childhood dream come true—just without the long Disney-style dresses!
Hi, I'm Deborah and you probably saw my fancier professional bio on the "About" page. As mentioned in that bio, I have played violin for the majority of my life--starting in a local Suzuki program, growing through youth symphonies, studying in college, and finally becoming a professional (lots of practice hours later...and counting.)