MemberFebruary 11, 2020 at 6:11 pm
I am currently a second-year undergraduate student in a major completely unrelated to music (think STEM). Last week, I spoke to my teacher about concerns I still have regarding my progress during our lessons. The problem is that I feel like my teacher’s untroubled attitude towards me and how I play is not in sync with what I think about myself.
Here’s a little history about me. I started the violin in fifth grade (age 10) in my school’s orchestra and decided to start lessons a year after. Up until the eighth grade, I completed Suzuki book 5 and played Massenet’s Meditation from Thais for a local competition at a music school. Then, I took a five-year hiatus from playing the violin due to stress from competitions and other personal reasons. I will say that at that time, I knew I was not good enough to even consider making a decent living through music. There were kids around my age who blasted through the Sibelius and Mendelssohn at that competition.
My grave mistake was completely quitting all throughout high school and not realizing that I could still play music for enjoyment. I focused too much on progressing and comparing myself to others but not the music itself. Even though I stopped playing altogether, I still listened to many renditions of short Kreisler pieces played by Elman, Grimiaux, etc. During classes, I would daze off and practice various fingerings with vibrato for scales on my right forearm. It wasn’t until last summer when I decided to spend three hours every day practicing only 3 octave Flesch scales, arpeggios, and Schradieck for about a month that I was able to get right back on track to playing serious repertoire.
My goal right now is to no longer focus on auditions for youth orchestras or getting accepted into music schools I have no business of being a part of. No, I don’t want to ever become a soloist or a violinist in an orchestra; I simply want to play the violin to the best of my abilities until the day I die.
Now, I want to talk about my teacher. He teaches violin performance and music theory at a small college, coached and performed chamber music, and has been concertmaster of a few local symphony orchestras for the past 20 years. Also, he studied under Franco Gulli @ IU, so this all shows that he is a reputable musician. However, his teaching is a different story. I am aware that one’s pedigree may or may not correlate to their teaching ability, but I mesh very well with him during our lessons.
Looking back at our first lesson together, I made an ambitious decision, perhaps too ambitious. When I quit at the end of 8th grade, I was finishing up La Folia in Suzuki book 6. At that time, I had only practiced Flesch # 1 & 2 across two strings instead of one for my scale regime. 5 Years later, my short term teacher over the summer suddenly said I could start Flesch #3-6 (thirds,6th, parallel octaves I think) and I felt so accomplished yet simultaneously overwhelmed. Regardless, I continued to diligently persist with slowly practicing scales (now with double stops) for about a couple hours every day for a week until I finally went back to college. During our first lesson with my current teacher, I only played for him the first two pages of Schradieck along with a 3 octave a major scale. He said that from what he heard, he would be more than happy to hear my play Kreisler’s Praeludium & Allegro. That was also where I felt overjoyed because I had always loved and wanted to learn that piece since 6th grade. My blind excitement coupled with it being my first serious lesson involving repertoire since middle school has led me now to question whether or not this piece was right for me in the first place.
In terms of repertoire, I went from book 6 to P&A. Doesn’t that path strike you as an odd one? Again, I didn’t realize it at the time due to being excited, but I am now regretting not learning the Bach a minor before. I brought up the Bach e major concerto to him and he thinks it is more technically difficult than P&A.
He has been my teacher for the past 4 months. This is where I should finally bring up the concerns I have about my current teacher: in short, he’s too carefree towards my goal to improve. At every one of our lessons, he begins by asking me, “so what do you want to work on today?” If I want to work on a Kreutzer or a Dont op. 37 etude for one week, he will oblige. If I want to work on Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 3 for the next week, he will also oblige, and we will end up working on just that piece for the next hour. For the next week, I can completely ignore Mozart and assign myself a piece such as Vitali’s Chaconne, half-ass it for the lesson, and he would tell me what to improve on and pretend that I never worked on Mozart. There is no such thing as “you’re done with this piece. Move on to another piece” for him. I can “finish” an etude or a piece as much as I want and he wouldn’t care.
So, if I only work on pieces during our lessons, then how will I efficiently develop m, just like I once was in middle school.y technique? Well, he strongly believes that technique should be learned through music. He says that I can spend the rest of my life hammering through Sevcik to no avail because there is no music in Sevcik. “The music is in the music, but not Sevcik or Dounis. I know plenty of my colleagues who have severely injured themselves doing Dounis.” This is coming from a teacher who in their prime used to practice only scales for several hours a day. He has played every single etude minus Kayser and used to strongly prioritize scales and etudes over repertoire during his youth, yet he rarely assigns me any etudes or pieces.
At this point, I partially disagree with him because even after three months of careful practice, I still can’t properly do the first three lines in the Allegro section for P&A at full tempo. I practice every day for 2-3 hours with one hour solely devoted to scales for 5-6 days a week while managing through classes and projects. I tend to lose focus when the third hour approaches. Now, I’m taking a week off to focus on my midterms as well as to reconsider whether or not I should move on from Mozart no. 3 and inexpertly assign myself the Saint-Saens b minor concerto or if I should learn the bach e major concerto. Funny enough, my current teacher suggested that I learn the b minor before the bruch. He thinks I can handle it. In general, he regards the socially accepted standard repertoire as “bullshit” and does not believe in the “student concerto” as a label, as he stated that Viotti himself was a virtuoso violinist and that difficulty among pieces such as the Mendelssohn, Bruch, Tchaikovsky, etc. should not be measured. I cannot disregard any of what he is saying because I am not his only student, and he plays for a living.
The best comparison that I can make of my teacher’s personality is Alan Alda’s character in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. He looks like he is approaching his mid-60s, and he is very understanding of the stress I felt when I was performing in that competition in 8th grade. He knows that I am doing this not for any more auditions but for me and myself only. Because of that, he is not strict with assigning me anything partly because he knows I am doing this as a hobby.
However, last week, I finally discussed my concerns to him at the end of our lesson and found out that is not the only reason he is like this. He is not worried about me at all. He believed that from the first cold email that I sent to introduce myself to him that I am a mature, organized, and hardworking young man. He will work on whatever it is I want to work on because he knows I am not dumb enough to assign myself pieces such as the Sibelius concerto or Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso. According to him, I practice more than the music students at the college he teaches at, which is believable because that college does not have a reputable music program at all. Just like I once was in middle school, it appears that I am a big fish in a small pond yet again. He said that he could be stricter with me if that’s what I really want, but he doesn’t recommend it. He said that he is way more strict towards his other students and teaches them in a more rigid manner. With me, he feels that he doesn’t have to do the work to guide me because he knows that I am more than capable of guiding myself. He is impressed with not just the way I play but with how I practice difficult excerpts as well.
Maybe it’s just me having impostor syndrome, but I don’t really agree with what he thinks of me. Maybe it’s because I consider myself to be a perfectionist because I am never able to express myself through playing. I struggle with every piece because I am so obsessed with sounding “perfect” and getting the notes right.
I am currently unable to post a video of my playing. Perhaps I’ll show you all a video of me practicing Mozart 3 in the next few weeks. I know that there is a lot of information in this post, but I just wanted to inform you all of my confusion and where it stems from. I have one question for you guys: what should I do from here? If you have made it to this point, please let me know if I have left any important details out. No, I really don’t want to get a new teacher because I still believe that I can greatly benefit from continuing to study under this teacher. I just need to figure out what I really want in the short run and how to properly voice my concerns to him. He travels for an hour to my college campus every week just to teach me for Christ’s sake. Thank you for reading, and please feel free to include your impressions as well as your advice of course.
TLDR: Slightly disagree with music teacher, don’t know how to directly address this.