Category Archives: Teaching

And another week bites the dust

These weeks. They fly by.

It’s so easy to get angry about things you see, and so easy to expend energy being angry. And maybe being angry is worth it, but mostly just living my life and doing my best and staying out of it makes me calmer and happier. (I’m referring to both politically and a professional situation.)

I remind myself this is why I’m happy teaching at home. I teach the way I want to, and don’t need to let anybody else tell me how or what to teach. It’s freeing, and I love that aspect of it. I also get to charge what I want (within reason, of course) and don’t have to give anybody any of my pay (except taxes, of course). It’s pretty great! And now I can also have good health insurance, and go to the doctor when I need to and get things covered by this health insurance. I’ve never been healthier or happier, or had more money in the bank.

And that’s why I have to just keep plugging away. I can’t worry about other stuff. I can’t worry about what people think. This is my life. I love playing the violin, I like teaching (I don’t love it, it’s not my favorite thing, but I like it a lot!), I love traveling and taking pictures and reading, I like getting out and hiking, I love food, I love music, I love doing races and events with friends.

Anyway. Now that I have that off my chest! I am SO glad I did the Festival for my students. I got a wonderful note from one of the moms that just made me smile, and I am looking forward to even more students playing next year! We have a recital coming up that I’m trying to get organized—it’ll be right before Louie and go to Arizona for a week—so there’s a fair amount of organization required. (And packing lists! What to bring to visit Leslie, attend a symphony concert, and hiking/camping?)

My thoughts are scattered.

On deck for this weekend: a Passover dinner (Seder?) tonight, Farmer’s Market and perhaps Yoga outside tomorrow, Symphony tomorrow night. Probably we want to get a hike in to prepare for our vacation in May. The weather is beautiful today and the weekend looks amazing. After this weekend I’ll have a few weekends with work so I want to take full advantage of this one!

Thoughts on Self-Doubt

This cold has really knocked me out. I’m assuming it’s a cold because it’s all been in my head, but I’ve been dealing with it now for weeks (unless part of it still was allergies, I’m not a doctor…) and am finally (I hope) on the mend. However, this past week has been tough, and then the weekend too, especially on Sunday when I suffered from a terrible cough all day. And then at night and in the mornings it’s tough too. ANYWAY.

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So that’s why I haven’t been doing a whole lot of interesting stuff, mostly, wake up, try to clear up a bit, maybe do a tiny bit of practice, teach as much as possible, go to bed. But finally, the sun is out, and I’m moving into the “get other things done too” part of it.

Over the weekend some of my students were playing for the Music Club Federation Festival. For that they had to memorize two pieces (in some cases only one, but those were concertos) to play with a pianist in front of a judge for a score and comments. You can get up to 5 points for the highest score, and if, over the course of several years, you accumulate 15 points you can get a trophy…for the next 15 you get a bigger trophy, and so on. In high school there are ways to get more than 5 points per year. In any case, I ended up getting completely stressed out over this (the night before) and basically having a total freak-out over a minor detail I had messed up (which ended up not mattering at all) and I am thankful for Louie for talking me down and telling me that no, I am not a terrible teacher if my students haven’t practiced enough and that no one is judging me on how they play. Sometimes I get these moments of self-doubt where I think of how this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing, this isn’t why I went to conservatory, and that I am a total failure as a musician.

As it turned out all my students played quite well, and I’m waiting to get all the comments back later today and find out everything, but I look forward to convincing even more students to play next year and hope the same ones will do again, and by golly, the way to ruin everything is to worry about what you were supposed to be doing rather than just focus on where you are now and where you are going. I am not a failure, and just because I’m on a different path than many I went to school with…I’m not a failure. In all honesty, I’m on the same path as many others I went to school with and I don’t consider them failures ever! I think being sick for a few weeks now really started to make me feel useless, and taking cold medicine really can mess with your brain and make you forgetful.

So much of what I read about teaching is from confident people who always write as if they know everything and if you just do it their way it will work. I’m here to say that sometimes I try a million things and none of them work, and sometimes I think none of them work and suddenly something works, and sometimes I feel like I’m the worst teacher ever, and other days I think that all my students are amazing and I must be the best. But I usually feel like everybody knows more than me and I have a lot to learn…and I’d honestly rather be like me than overly confident and acting like I know everything! I’m constantly trying to improve and figure out how to do things better, and since every student is a unique individual, there are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions! Maybe in twenty years I’ll feel differently, but I’ve been teaching for 20 years already…

I think music lessons are important, I think that one on one attention for the kids can be so important, and I think that I need to remember that my students don’t have to play like child prodigies to do a great job, they just have to try to be the best version of themselves, at that time, in that room, and that is good enough. I learned a lot about myself and my teaching over the weekend, and I’m proud of all the students who participated (so so proud, for their hard work for months, for doing something that scared them—their nervous faces beforehand, the relief afterwards, the glee when they found out their scores—for doing something that scared them and finding out they could and that they were stronger for it) and we’ll be doing it again next year. Oh, and I found out that several students didn’t hear me say “the judge” and assumed there would be a panel of judges, perhaps three, I’m thinking, like American Idol or something. One said that it was much less scary than it was in her head.

It was much less scary for me too. I’m stronger for having my students play, and I think that maybe I’m doing some things right. Either way, it was all worth it—the best part so far was seeing one of my students at his lesson yesterday. I’d found out he got the highest score and when I told him, he got the biggest grin on his face, and I don’t think it went away for over 5 minutes.

Pet people are the best people

I’ve found so much wonderful support over the past few weeks from all different people. We humans sure do love our pets! I’m settling back into my schedule of teaching and playing and missing the fatness but not too much. (I do miss her! And gleefully look forward to each day’s timehop to see if she is featured!)

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For instance, there she is today. What a sweetie. I can picture how it feels to pet her Smile

Do you ever feel like your emotions are a roller coaster? For me, some days I’m loving life and feeling good and connected to the world, other days I feel stressed and annoyed and that nobody understands me. I’m going to assume that’s pretty normal, but it’s rough on occasion. I heard a bit on NPR today about meditation and relaxation and thought maybe I should work on that. There are a fair amount of work-related things that get me riled up and I just want to be more calm and less stressed over them. On the one hand, I want to make the world I live in better, but on the other hand, maybe I should just try to relax and accept the things I cannot change.

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Mackenzie certainly never worries about whether she is fitting it or whether she is being paid fairly.

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Chloe doesn’t worry whether her playing is valued or whether she lacks confidence. She also never worries about smiling enough or whether her personality is too strong.

So, the snow from last week was thawing by the weekend and Louie and I had a lovely time walking about Forest Park. My new iPhone has a feature where it counts your steps, so I usually try to keep it in my pocket, even walking around the house. Saturday was one of the few days I got over 10,000 steps. Even on days when I run for a couple miles I only tend to end up with 8000/9000 steps. I guess I sit too much? But!

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There were so many geese sitting on the ice. I thought maybe they had a guest speaker.

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I never noticed this rock before. I like the shadows.

Earlier in the week I’d taken Mackenzie up to a nearby park.

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Sticks are one of her favorite things!

Besides walking around, we went to Farmhaus on Saturday night (had a gift certificate from a fried) and had dim sum at Lu Lu’s on Sunday.  Both were relatively easy to do eating pescatarian which was very nice. Farmhaus didn’t have too many listed menu options without bacon but the server was very nice and the kitchen was very accommodating. For dim sum we just had to ask about stuff, but again, it wasn’t too hard. I think the further I get into this the more I want to continue—I don’t really miss meat and I feel like little steps are a good thing.

This week is crunch week for the Perseid Quartet as we are playing a concert in Edwardsville on Sunday. I’m really looking forward to it—I’m so happy to play chamber music and have really enjoyed my quartet time. I feel I’m learning so much from the other players and I’m continually being challenged. It’s really awesome and helps me feel happy and appreciated as well. My students have been wonderful this month as well, and I have never regretted branching out and turning into a full time at-home violin teacher! Being my own boss is really the best. Even though there is often loads of paperwork and so many records to keep (and taxes to pay, so many taxes!), I think it gives me the best chance at success.

Last picture before I leave you to go feed Mackenzie and practice until my next student arrives. Leslie sent this. Can you spot the real cat amongst the stuffed animals (do I need to restart Caturday??)?

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Catalunya doesn’t wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep.

Past and present

Somehow the other night I ended up reading through a few months of old blog entries. It was interesting, because they were from several years ago. I wrote a lot more often, but shorter and with less pictures, and while I was basically no more neurotic than I am now, I was overly concerned with my diet and exercise…now I’m eating well and exercising but not stressing over it (it’s delightful!) and mostly trying to enjoy being active and healthy! I wrote a lot about class teaching—at the time I was teaching at a variety of different places and totally stressed out, but still creatively full of ideas, which sometimes I feel like I lack today—I have spent this week so far trying to be fully committed to my students in their lessons (I’ll explain more in a bit). And lastly, I baked more often than I do now, which I really should change…I have a few old bananas in the freezer to make banana muffins with and I should just do it.

Being fully committed to my students: after teaching a student for awhile it’s easy to get a little lazy about technique points or allowing them to get away with things that at first I might have been very picky with. Part of that is how the students SIGH and roll their eyes, or worse, get upset, when I correct them. Sometimes after correcting the same thing (i.e. bow hold issue) over and over without it really getting fixed I feel like I need to give the student a break or they might murder me. But then sometimes that break becomes more than one lesson, or two lessons, and I realize wow, I haven’t bugged so-and-so about his-or-her bowhold for a long time, and it’s really holding them back, but I’m hesitating to do it because I know that it won’t be fun for them in the moment, or even for the next few weeks or months. But in the long run, it WILL make them a better violinist. And so this week (and last, too, and for many in the future) I’ve been really dedicating lessons to do those painful things, making the students work on their difficulties, and I will continue to do so, to be a more annoying teacher than perhaps I have been.  I’ve been thinking long and hard about my long-term teaching and studio goals, and while I appreciate that most of my students enjoy their lessons and enjoy the violin, I want them to enjoy it more the way I do. The better you can play, the MORE enjoyment you get from it!

Outside of teaching, this has been an excellent week musically. My quartet is busy rehearsing Beethoven Op. 59 #1 and that’s been wonderful, and the past two evenings have been full of Bach for this weekend’s concert with Bach at the Sem. It’s so wonderful to play such beautiful music, and I love playing with the Bach group because the conductor is very demanding and insists on very particular phrasing. I enjoy the challenge! (Things to remember while teaching.)

Though…part of my ongoing blog theme is writing these posts acting like I’m opening some new door or doing something different, when I really just keep doing the same things! Life goes in phases, and when I’m in a new phase things seem fresh and new. That being said, I feel like I’ve been in a little bit of teaching rut, so I’m trying some new things to get out of it. My other thought is that I really should try to do some writing and get something else published in one of my association journals. Or work towards becoming an MTNA certified teacher? I know, I’m always pondering things to do to make myself busier and less stressed out, but I don’t want to be stagnant in my career.

I know, reading about me pondering my life goals and decisions is probably not the most interesting…but it’s interesting to me, and perhaps to you if you are a musician or simply spend too much time pondering and wonder if you are abnormal. In my opinion, you are totally normal!

I miss being in the woods. Is that weird? And honestly, my current mattress is so terrible that sleeping on a camping pad isn’t that much worse…plus I just really loved going to sleep and waking up hearing all the outdoor sounds. I don’t even recognize myself since evidently I’ve become one of those outdoorsy people, but I’m embracing it, and having gotten out of town for a bit of the weekend is definitely helping my mood, my ambition, and my mindset. (Maybe I’ve changed more in the past few years than rereading old blog posts made me realize?)

So tell me about your life. How have you changed in the past few years? Is there anything you can look at and say, yes, this has stayed the same, but this has changed? Am I asking you questions in summary as if this blog post made cohesive sense, when we all know that isn’t true? Leave your answers in the comments 😉

Who else feels exhausted and run down?

Every since getting back from Spring Break I’ve been running myself ragged. I worked straight through the weekend with teaching, rehearsals, practicing, and performances, and this morning was the first time I was able to relax a little. In fact, more than a little since I woke up aching all over from yesterday’s 13 hour day (and 6 plus hours of playing, yikes!) so I’ve just done some paperwork (I count emailing, bill paying, check depositing, phone call returning all as paperwork as I don’t know how else to really explain it?), went for a little run (BEAUTIFUL weather!) and now I’m considering what I want for lunch before it’s time for “only” six hours of teaching.

It’s been a mess this month and a bit next month too with performances. It’s hard teaching so many students while trying to maintain a performing career too, because that means evening rehearsals on occasion, and lately that “on occasion” has been more often than I like, but I am playing so many fun concerts too, so it’s just a crazy time. I’ve been teaching 6 days a week, and some weeks ahead might be 7, just to keep up. On the bright side, I’ve gotten my taxes filed and paid, and my bank account is very happy even though my mind and body are less so. I have 5 performances in April, and 3 right at the beginning of May, so next month doesn’t really let up, though I have less evening responsibilities, luckily.

Here’s something that delighted and frightened me the other day: the mother of one of my students told me that my student wanted to be “just like me”. To be a teacher and play violin with different groups and play concerts. I was completely flattered and honored, and terrified that it’s a challenging life! But mostly I was touched that I seem like somebody that a middle school student wants to be like. I had a student earlier in the month tell me that I was a very nice but really picky teacher. I try to make violin FUN first off, because it is, but I also try to make sure they are doing their best and playing things properly with good technique. Practicing and learning violin is hard, honestly, but music is fun. It’s a challenge to insist that students are doing things properly without taking away the joy they have! Sometimes I fail and land more on the side of “fun” with some of them, and with others I’ll land more on the side of “tedious”, but I do try to strike the appropriate balance with each student. (Emphasis on try! But that’s all we can do, right!)

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I don’t feel like uploading pictures from my phone today, so here’s an older one before Spring Break. Imagine that’s the world’s biggest suitcase 😉

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And here’s a pile of animals. Who can even tell what’s going on??

I believe the children are our future

One of my students showed up with a 2 by 2 Rubik’s Cube. I didn’t even know that was a thing. He showed me how to solve it in about two seconds. By that I mean, he attempted to show me how to solve it, but I still didn’t get it. Maybe with practice. But he solved it, repeatedly, in about two seconds. Maybe next week he’ll bring the bigger one!

My first student’s sister gave me a violin book that was evidently on my front steps. At first I thought, wow, that’s been there all night, but then I remembered that I did indeed leave the house to run errands earlier in the day. And didn’t remember seeing it. The book in question: I know the student who it belongs too, and she had thought she’d forgotten it the night before. Evidently she’d dropped it, but I wonder if she dropped it down the street and somebody saw it and knew I taught violin and that it might be mine, and dropped it on the steps for us? Either way, lucky it didn’t rain overnight!

My other students were fabulous in their own ways. My last student had a great lesson involving playing duets by Hindemith from the Doflein books (I’m trying them out on him and having a great time with them…I’m not sure he is, but I think it’s wonderful all the “modern” music in them…by “modern” we are talking early to mid-1900’s) and then a fun time with Brahms Hungarian Dance doing lots of “DRAMA.” I love when you get a student to the point that they can start making real music and teaching them how to show emotion in their playing. Not that you can’t do that, kind of, from the beginning, but there are SO many technical things to worry about.

Music is fun. And while I actually enjoy nerdy technical things while I’m playing and actually enjoy (sometimes!) practicing technique and thinking about all those amazing things in the Basics book especially in regards to bow technique, it’s especially fun to teach a student about rubato, and timing, and expressing emotion ( not necessarily YOUR emotion, but just emotion in general, like acting) in the pieces. That’s the most fun. Teaching beginners is so much harder for me!

My youngest student today kept requesting activities during her lesson. Granted, they were different activities than the ones I was suggesting, and probably easier, but I love when they suggest their own activities. It also reminded me that I need to do the easy fun activities more often with other students. Sometimes I forget and worry that they are going to want to learn more new stuff and get bored…when I need to focus on continuing to improve what they already know. Another student worked diligently on a c sharp minor scale and didn’t even complain it was too hard, which was amazing.

I should write more about the good stuff. Teaching is exhausting many days, but today I feel invigorated. Of course, I had two day off cancellations and my last student wasn’t coming either, so it was a shorter day…maybe that’s why I feel better about it. But maybe it was just a good day, where I feel like, yeah, these kids are all right. People like to complain about kids these days and how they aren’t as smart, or strong, or hard-working as “we” used to be. I would disagree. My students are generally remarkable and give me hope for the future. And they are, as far as I can tell, pretty normal kids.

This article from the Washington Post was going around the web the other week. Nothing in it surprises me in the least, but maybe it would be of interest to you. I like the line, “We shouldn’t be surprised we can train the brain.”