So we finally got it finished! Our new EP is available now on CD Baby, and will soon also appear on iTunes and other music download sites.
We have learned so much from this project that we are already starting on the next one, which will be even better. But as conceptual artist John Baldessari said, “You have to try things out. You can’t sit around, terrified of being incorrect, saying, ‘I won’t do anything until I do a masterpiece.'” So its out there – check it out!
Brian Lewis led all the violin students and teachers in a “flashmob” at the traffic circle near the school. To see the video go to:
The million dollar lesson is designed to help young students learn what is and is not appropriate lesson behaviour. In my experience teaching, I have found that most young children eventually decide to “test the water” of lesson behaviour to see exactly what they can get away with. When this happens, the parent and teacher have the opportunity to teach the child that it is alright to manipulate the lesson, wasting everyone’s valuable time, and the parent’s money, or we can teach the child that inappropriate lesson behaviour is unacceptable.
First let’s define inappropriate lesson behaviour. Hiding under a desk, in the corner or under the piano is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Clinging to mother’s skirt with a thumb stuck in the mouth is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Acting bratty, and refusing to cooperate with the teacher is inappropriate lesson behaviour. Having an all out temper tantrum in the middle of the studio because you don’t want to play Lightly Row is inappropriate lesson behaviour.If we allow this type of activity to go on in our studios, the child will learn that he or she is able to control the lesson. I have had several who whined for 25 minutes until the next student showed up, then threw a temper tantrum because it was time to go and they couldn’t have a lesson. This type of thing never happens in my studio anymore. Years ago, I learned from my mentor, Jeanne Luedke, that we need to address this situation even before it happens. With every new parent that enters my studio, part of the parent education is to discuss exactly how we will handle any situation dealing with appropriate lesson behaviour. Our goal is to train the child quickly and easily to have a productive lesson. I tell the parent that eventually, the child will come to the lesson and be tired, or fussy, or just decide that today is the day to test the perimeters of my patience, and pull something that is inappropriate. When that happens, the parent and I have a plan. First the parent is asked to take the child outside of the studio and have a talk. See if perhaps they need a drink, bathroom break, or whatever, to try to get it together. If this does not work, we agree that the parent will remove the child from the studio immediately, with no discussion. I usually say something like, “looks like today is the day” with a smile. The effectiveness of this lesson is lost if there is discussion or delay. The child needs to experience that hiding under the desk this minute produces the result of being in the car on the way home the next minute. The important part about having this plan set up in advance with the parent is that there is no anger on the part of the teacher, and no embarrassment on the part of the parent. We are simply going through the motions together of a necessary routine which will bring about a very positive change in the child’s behaviour.
I would say that almost every child I have taught has had the million dollar lesson once. A few have had it twice, and if a child needs to have it a third time. I usually suggest to the parent that the child is not quite ready for formal instruction, and perhaps a break period of 3 to 6 months might be advised.
Incidentally, I call this the million dollar lesson, because one time as the mother was taking her screaming child out the door, she asked over her shoulder if there would be a makeup, or a refund for the lesson. Without thinking, I replied, “Oh no, you are definitely getting your money’s worth this week. This is the MILLION DOLLAR LESSON.”
And you know what? That girl played Bruch Violin Concerto on the solo recital last Sunday.
As I was practicing this morning, I realized that as I was warming up I was doing the same, or very similar things, to what I have my junior and intermediate students do. It made me stop and think.
Why was I doing these things that I have been practicing for years if I can do them already? Is this a waste of time? Am I bored? I don’t feel bored.
As I thought about it, my answer is: I do those things very well and very easily because I do them every day. If I didn’t spend a few minutes going over all the basics of violin playing every day they would all be much more difficult and I would be unable to successfully perform complex music with the necessary ease to communicate with an audience.
So when we practice we apply knowledge to develop skill. The easier it gets the more precisely we are able to apply the knowledge and the more finely tuned our skills can become.
To quote Shinichi Suzuki “Knowledge is not ability. Knowledge X 10,000 times is ability.
At his first recital, 5 year old Jimmy was to perform a piece that he had been polishing for weeks. When it was his turn to play, much to his dad’s dismay, Jimmy ran to the back of the hall and hid in the corner, crying. We went on to the next student, and later in the recital I invited Jimmy to try again. This time he made it to the stage, but he didn’t want to play his piece – just took a bow from the edge of the stage. At the next recital he and his dad again practiced his performance; practicing walking on stage, taking a bow, then playing his piece. Again he didn’t want to play when it was his turn, but after listening to more of the other students’ performances he finally came up and played his piece beautifully. Jimmy continued studying violin for many years, performing regularly in festivals and recitals, each time in front of an audience feeling easier and more comfortable. In high school he became fascinated with the technical side of the theatre, and was involved in running sound and lights for many student productions. Now most of his performing is behind the scenes.
Luke and his parents started violin with me when he was 4. Every time his mom or I helped Luke get ready to play he would collapse on the floor and roll around under the furniture giggling. Mom or I would catch him and start again with rest position, playing feet, violin position, bow hand, bow on the highway – and again he would fall to the floor just as he was ready to play the first note. Luke is now a teenager and playing very well. I looked at him and him mom in his last lesson and said: “You don’t fall down on the floor anymore!” and all three of us had a good laugh.