Series: An Ode To My Teachers, Part 3 — The Bow Hold

Public apologies can be risky, especially when the intended recipient doesn’t have much of an online presence, but remains extremely active and is highly respected in a local community.  I would love to divulge this teacher’s name.  However, I also don’t want to embarrass her or imply in any way, shape or form that she was a bad teacher, because in fact the the reality was quite the opposite:  I was a really bad student.  Influence can be felt and experienced many different ways, and the lesson here is that influence is only as powerful as what you choose to do with it.  For a long time, I did not choose well.  Part of growing up sometimes involves the learning of really difficult lessons.  I am including this part because it is one of those difficult lessons I had to learn, and its far-reaching effects turned out to be such an integral part of not only what I do, but of who I am.

My teacher had a 180-degree different teaching style than Mr. B, and her expectations, while the same as his, were articulated much differently. I pushed her patience to the last frazzle during some of my lessons. For many years after I left her studio, I tried to blame my difficulties with the violin on things she didn’t teach me. To put it another way, I tried to absolve myself of the responsibility of learning anything. If I was required to do any actual work or expend any effort, it became the teacher’s fault when I came up short. She became the perfect mental scapegoat for the excuses I concocted. I ended up becoming a quasi-expert in the art of self-fulfilling prophecy.

For whatever reason, the main focus of lessons became my bow hold. I understand most of the whys and wherefores now, but actually, very little has changed over the years about my bow hold; it is still nearly identical to its 1980s counterpart.  At the time, I was convinced that the fixation on my right hand was holding up My Progress and the process of Getting First Chair At Every Available Opportunity. How was I supposed to master the Flesch Scale System! Rode! and Bruch!! if I had to constantly monitor the offending fingers on my bow! The horror of it! I sometimes think that if she had explained the reasons why it was so important, I might have grasped it on some level. But then I remember that I was The World’s Most Immature Violin Student Ever. So, in retrospect, it was a wise choice on her part to let me continue digging my hole, week after painful week.

Despite this gloom-and-doom portrait I’ve sketched here, there were in fact some good times. That Memorex tape I’ve mentioned in previous posts was made in her living room. She often let me choose my own pieces when I finished the Suzuki repertoire, something that she didn’t allow most of her students to do. I wasn’t very good at choosing, but she never batted an eyelash. She learned those pieces along with me. I felt better at All-State seating auditions knowing that she was a judge, probably rooting for me. And she secured a couple of college auditions for me which resulted in scholarship offers. These memories have affected my teaching, mostly for the better. I used my time in her studio as a guide later for determining technical skill acquisition levels, and as a general how-to-get-along-with-teenagers guide.

If I had done what she asked, would things have been different? Would I have played differently? Would I have made different life choices? I stopped playing violin in 1988. (Obviously I didn’t stay quit, but that’s another post. Actually a book, although I’m pretty sure that if I wrote it, no one would buy it. Heh.)

Did she give up on me? I don’t think so. I think I gave up on her. And I’m sorry I did, because I learned more from her than I ever gave her credit for. Thank you, Teacher.

To be continued…


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