I have wrapped up day 2 of my three-day training seminar of the fabulous O’Connor violin method, and I think I’m officially a convert. A convert from what, I’m not sure, as my teaching up to this point has been just a mesh of what I have learned from all my teachers before me. (That would make it the Townsend-Bodnar-Lehnert-Cawelti-Wippler-Guyver-Fuchs-Ribeiro method, but I haven’t been able to make that title sell as much as you would think.) It’s already proved, through its very young existence, that children can respond to and learn from to feel the music. I’ve learned a lot about how to teach the actual feeling of music, and not just how to play the notes on the page, which is worth the price of admission in itself. But the more I sit there and think about the foundation of the method, I think I’m realizing a big hurdle I have faced and will continue to face as a teacher.
As a very young kid, feeling music was a no-brainer. My parents are both musical. I sang hymns in church every Sunday and learned how to harmonize before I really had a handle on reading music. My mom and dad were indeed my very first teachers, and I learned fundamentals of music on the upright piano we had in the designated “music corner” of the house. My dad would make up goofy songs to the tune of whatever he had in his head, and although he wouldn’t think so, he’s got really close to perfect pitch. So I grew up with these people who made music a part of their daily lives, and it seemed natural. You get up, go to work, do your chores, play music, cook dinner, and relax.
When I chose the violin as my instrument, I don’t think any of my family, myself included, expected it to turn into a career. But at the same time, we all expected I would love it. And I really did. Even through all the tough lessons and practice sessions I had, I never once asked my parents if I could quit. This instrument was here to stay. Putting it down to pursue something else didn’t make sense to me. In fact, I don’t know why everyone who picked up an instrument isn’t pursuing a career in music. I know factually that it’s not for everyone, but it’s very hard for me to understand. I’m just built to be one.
Every musician reaches this point where they change their mindset dramatically. I had started out as someone who played the violin, and am now a violinist. I have seen the change happen in my colleagues during high school, college, and even grad school. In fact, I graduated witnessing some of my fellow students never fully making that transition. For many, it’s being able to direct that fully fueled passion through your instrument, and to discovering your love for the art. I knew I loved the art from a very young age, and I was a pretty passionate player from the get-go. My pivotal point was when I began to approach the instrument at an intellectual level. I started not just feeling, but really thinking about everything I did, and it wasn’t until I turned on my thinking part of my brain 100% of the time that I started to get really good.
Now I feel as though I may have approached that backwards. I take the feeling part for granted sometimes, and I focus very much on the intellectual side of music with my students – even the young ones. Our teacher today really tried to drive home the point of showing the students how they should feel, and not trying to “teach music” all that much, implying that the intellectualism can drain the musicality out of it. But for my personal situation the intellectualism is exactly what made the violin so enjoyable for me. When I’m struggling with a part of my music, I try to think about what I could do technically better – perhaps it’s a bit out of tune, or maybe I could choose a better contact point of the bow. I ONLY go to those resources. I can trust that my musicality will always be there when I need it to be. I am only now getting it through my brain that not everyone – in fact, very few – operate the same way I do in that sense.
It really is epiphanies like these that make teaching so exciting and daunting all at once. I take my responsibility of nurturing my students very seriously. I’m starting to find out that it’s just so important to understand who they are as human beings. What has their upbringing been like so far? What else do they like to do with their time? How do they react to criticism? What are their insecurities, especially the ones they won’t tell you about? All of this can suddenly be converted into useful information that can allow me to customize my teaching even more. It’s a better philosophy and approach to music, and most likely a necessary one.