All posts by hannahviolin

I am a violinist. I also enjoy running, working out, reading, and hanging with my friends and cat.

A few frequently asked questions

I was browsing online today, looking for more sheet music to add to my collection.  I’m always on the lookout for free sheet music, and that was the subject of today’s searches.  I ran across a website devoted to music for weddings, and I was reading the frequently asked questions to see what was said about hiring musicians for your ceremony.

One of the questions had to do with whether or not musicians came to the rehearsal.  As a rule, we do not attend rehearsals.   Why?  We don’t need to (and rarely do we have the time.)  All the musicians need to know is how many people are walking down the aisle to each song, and what words are being said right before we start a song.   If we have any questions regarding when to play, we will have a two to three minute discussion with the person in charge upon our arrival.  The only people at the wedding who might have seen more ceremonies than the musicians are the minister or officiant, and perhaps the wedding planner–meaning, don’t worry, no matter what happens, we’ve got it under control.  (And things do happen–rarely does a processional actually happen exactly the way we are told it will!)

Another frequently asked question is “Do you play the whole song or do you stop partway through?”  We rarely play the whole song (during a processional or the ceremony), unless specifically requested.  We are experts at coming to a stop in any song when the situation calls for it.  If we are playing three songs for the processional, chances are we will only play a tiny bit of each song.  We might not start at the beginning if we feel that there is a part later in the song that is more appropriate or beautiful.  If you ever have a specific part of the song that you love, do let us know so we can take that into account when deciding on cuts.

Another question on the website involved whether or not you should invite the wedding musicians to the reception or dinner.  If we are only playing at your ceremony, there is no reason to do so.  If we are playing for your dinner, we are always thrilled when we are offered food, as generally we don’t get to eat until after we leave, and sometimes the smell of the food is almost torturous!  However, we know that food can be expensive, so we do understand.  Water, however, is always welcome.

Those are just a few of my thoughts regarding a few frequently asked questions.  I’ll try to think of more questions to answer in the future!

Struggling for balance

Somebody asked me recently if I taught or if I performed.  I answered that I do about half of each.  That’s really my goal right now.  I love teaching and I love performing, and for the past few years that balance has been reflected, both in my schedule and in my tax returns.

It’s funny.  I think most people struggle to achieve balance between their career and home life.  I am struggling to achieve balance in my career.  My home life has always been the time left over, and sometimes that balance is very much off (especially once you include practicing and lesson planning).  But that’s a story for another day!

When my work goes out of balance, I feel it.  For instance, there were many times last year when I was doing hardly any teaching.  I would talk to teaching colleagues who were full of stories about their students, and I felt left out, and frankly, sad.  I had just left about 20 students in Cleveland, and missed seeing them every week.  Lately I have been fortunate enough to have several new students (10 private, plus two small classes), and the teaching aspect of my life is feeling very much in balance.  Or has it?  Am I devoting too much of my recent time to teaching?

Last week I played with my orchestra in Columbus, ProMusica Chamber Orchestra for the first time this semester.  As we started rehearsing, I realized I had missed playing in orchestra.  I used to play a concert almost every week until I moved to St. Louis, and now I only play occasionally.  I do play many weddings and receptions, but its not the same feeling as orchestral playing.  My orchestral balance has been off.  Perhaps I need to make sure that at least half of my performing is through orchestra…so that would be at least 25 percent of my total work time.  Balance is a tricky thing, and the orchestral opportunities here (unless you are a symphony member) are few and far between.

I am a substitute player with the Columbus Symphony, but so far this fall I haven’t been able to play any of their concerts.  I love playing with the group, but it’s a trek from here to there, and it means canceling/missing everything I am doing here.  Between teaching, my pedagogy class, weddings, and other commitments in town, I just can’t make a trip out of town at this point (other than my already scheduled ProMusica concerts, of course).  I’m hoping in the spring that might be more possible.  Perhaps other orchestral opportunities closer to home will appear!
On a similar note, I recently was appointed Concertmaster of New Opera St. Louis (Winter Opera St. Louis) and I look forward to the season beginning in November.  It’s a very small orchestra, but I relish the thought that even in this economy,  new arts groups can survive, and hopefully thrive and grow.

Being myself

I’ve been observing quite a few other teachers recently, (and also taking a Suzuki pedagogy class) and have gotten so many great ideas.  The more I see other people teaching, the more I start to doubt myself and feel that I have been doing things wrong.  After all, these other teachers seem to be so much more organized, seem to know exactly what they want their students to do, and it seems that their students actually follow their directions and practice what they ask them to.

I definitely could be more organized.  I am working on putting together some practice charts or at least truly insisting that my students bring notebooks to lessons, rather than crudely scribbling things in the margins.

I also could be more insistent on control in the lessons.  I have a hard time getting some of my students to follow my directions, sometimes even a direction so simple as, “listen to me play, then repeat.”  I need to make more of an effort to train them to stop when I want them to so that we don’t waste as much time in the lessons.

However, as I was reading my notes tonight (and naturally beating myself up over what I didn’t think of), I realized that I am my own teacher, and my own person.  No matter what I observe other teachers doing, or other teachers’ students doing, I will be who I am in the lessons, and I’m sure I’ve been doing many things correct.  I need to take what I am learning and use it to complement what I have been doing rather than trying to start all over.  I need to stop second guessing myself and keep moving, and trust that I do know what I am doing at least, oh, 75 percent of the time.  And perhaps the next 25 percent will come, either this year, or in the next few decades.

And I really will print out some practice charts and give that a whirl.  I think that will be my goal for the next month–to be more specific with my students, whether that includes more specific practice assignments, or more specific within their piece.  That seems doable!  If any of my students are reading this, ask me about your chart next week, I’ll have a pile of them 🙂

New Year, New Students, New Hopes!

Each school year starts with a wonderful feeling of freshness and hope.  This year is no different.

I look at the calendar, filled with promises of new and more interesting jobs, and new students!  I will have two classes at St. Margaret’s, and I started teaching violin at the St. Louis School for Ballet, in addition to having some new private students.  So far all my new students are wonderful people and I look forward to our time together. I will be making an effort to stay more organized than in the past and be more methodical (in a good way, not in a plodding way) in my approach to teaching.

I am also taking a class on Suzuki Pedagogy.  So far each class has shown me how much more I have to learn about teaching.  I keep feeling like I have been teaching wrong all these years (my constant fear!) but I certainly hope that isn’t the case.   I will be teaching some Suzuki group classes in the near future, and know that that will be a huge learning experience as well.  Learning the violin is such a complex thing, and it is a constant challenge to make sure I am telling my students all I need to for them to thrive and grow.

Today I thought of some of my past students from Cleveland, and I really missed some of them.  I hope they are all doing well and continuing to enjoy their violin lessons and grow as musicians and people.  I can’t believe it has been over a year since I moved.  Some of them I taught for close to five years.  Someday I hope to have students I have taught for even longer, but for now, that is such a long time…

I have some interesting gigs ahead of me as well.  I will be branching out more into “non-classical” performances and I am eager for the challenge. I also hope to play more chamber music than I did last year!  And of course the usual orchestra performances, with a few Concertmaster opportunities as well, which should be great fun.

I wonder what else life will bring this year?  I hope I will continue to learn and grow, to be a better musician, teacher, and friend.

(This post turned a bit more soul-search-y than I usually feel.  Evidently I am becoming more introspective?)

Last two notes:  1) On the advice of a friend, I now possess Gaylord Yost’s Shifting Exercises.  20 pages of nothing but pure shifting…what a great exercise!  2) I just finished a marvelous book.  “Mindset” by Carol Dweck.  Very interesting, easy read about the “fixed mindset” versus the “growth mindset.”  I highly recommend it.

Beautiful outdoor wedding

I played at a wedding over the weekend, outdoor at a beautiful garden.  It was the perfect outdoor wedding!  I have to say, when the weather works out just right…it can be so beautiful!  It was about 75 degrees, partly cloudy–blue skies with big fluffy white clouds.  Such a welcome relief!  It was my third wedding this summer at this particular location–the first was ridiculously hot and humid (close to 100 degrees), the second was in the aftermath of a thunderstorm, not so much hot, but so humid and the rain was still dripping until about five minutes before the ceremony began.  So last Saturday was the first time I truly appreciated the beauty of the location, versus cursing it.

Let’s hope the luck holds through the next few weekends–we have been having unseasonably cool weather here in St. Louis, not cold, just lovely and in the 70’s and 80’s…

Aftermath of the Columbus Suzuki Institute

I had such a wonderful time at the Institute!  It was more inspiring than I could have imagined, and I look forward to attending it, or another Institute, next summer.  Carol Smith from Vanderbilt University was my teacher trainer, and I thought she was just fantastic.  In the past, I have had many experiences with the Suzuki method.  I grew up as a Suzuki student, and had also had training in the past, but it never really hit me what it was really about until this week.  I had had many preconceived notions about the Suzuki method, and I had worried being a Suzuki teacher would put me into a box and stifle my own creativity.  I was wrong.  I now feel that I want to be a true Suzuki teacher, and help parents and students learn together the joys of violin playing, and that within the philosophy and any program, I can still have my own individuality and creativity in teaching.

I learned so many specific things too, ways to improve my teaching, things I should have been teaching that I wasn’t, ways to inspire my students, ways to make things easier for them to learn…the whole week really made my head spin with all the new ideas I was learning!  I came home bursting at the seams, ready to go.  Unfortunately, I don’t have that many students at this time , but I am sure I will be able to keep these ideas with me for the future (also I took copious notes).

I also just had the privilege to observe at a small camp at SIUE.  After getting back from Columbus, Carol had encouraged me to get in touch with a variety of people in the area, and I was able to talk with Vera McCoy-Sulentic, who is the director of the Suzuki program there.  I might be teaching in the program in the future, and with this in mind, I observed the classes not only to learn hypothetically, but to really think about how I might run my own group classes, which is something I have never done in the past.  There are some other Suzuki teachers in the area that I hope to observe as well.

To sum it all up–I feel now like I am a better teacher than I have been in the past, and I look forward to learning more in the future, whether as a Suzuki teacher, or through my private studio.   My goal is to always grow and improve in my teaching so that my students will be able to learn as much as they can.  My main goal for my students is still the same–for them to become the best people they can, and to have music be a wonderful part of their lives.