I am back teaching violin lessons. I can't say that I have been very successful as a violin teacher through the last few years. I have had a handful of students - a brother and sister in Texas, we traded violin lessons for horse riding lessons in Indiana, the daughter of a close friend here in Iowa and now my two students: a young woman from church and Colleen. I tried teaching Emily, but that didn't end well. My Texas students changed to the cello and then quit. My Indiana students moved to Idaho. My first student in Iowa quit.
This time I was determined to do a better job and started reading online about different methods for teaching new students. My mom was my first teacher and taught using the Suzuki method. I can remember practicing my footwork and holding my cracker jacks box under my chin before I started on the twinkles. My mom taught another boy my age named Eli, who was my friend, and I went to Suzuki camp in the summer in Nampa. I can remember signing a very large birthday card for Dr Suzuki, performing the Suzuki songs from book 1 and 2 on stage at the Nazerene College, trying to learn to juggle, panda power bow grip, catching butterflies with my friend Nathan and his sister in the park, and loving to play the violin.
There is apparently a lot of angry debate about the merits and damage done by the Suzuki method. From my own experience, I have good memories associated with learning to play this way. When I was twelve I got a new teacher in Boise. I learned a lot about technique, how to read music, played etudes, probably better songs, but violin became more of an obsession than a love affair. I practiced after school in a practice room at the new center for the arts downtown. I was in three orchestras: chamber, string, and youth symphony. I tried competing in a few solo competitions, but was so nervous that in one competition I switched songs randomly in the middle. Luckily my pianist was amazing and jumped right with me without missing more than a note. I was so nervous that I felt like Renne from The Soloist. My fingers felt slow and fat, my ear acutely aware of all of the errors that crescendoed exponentially as I played.
In college, my teacher was a superb musician, but not a good teacher and his goal was to break me before building me up in his image - his words at our final lesson. By the end of the first year, I never wanted to play again and was moved to the very back of the second violin section in the BYU symphony. I started playing again on my mission and never really recovered from the almost complete breakdown during college.
So, when I was thinking about how I want to teach, and how I wanted to continue to learn, I am not sure that any method my teacher's used is what I wanted to do. I like much of the music and playing of Mark O'Connor, but man that guy hates the Suzuki method. His books are set up well for young students. I never have been sold on the songs and I like many of the fiddle songs better. Quite honestly I don't care about many of the points that bother Mr. O'Connor about whether Suzuki was a fraudulent teacher that exaggerated his academic and musical background to promote his teaching methodology and books. I wanted to teach music so that my students and I loved to play. That is what I remember so fondly about Suzuki violin.
I bought O'Connor's book and the cd, but then my plans were thrown out the window when I had my first lesson with my new student. She already had played the songs in the first O'Connor book and book one suzuki. She had taken lessons from a highschool student. She played well by ear, but couldn't read music, had a list of technique improvements to make, and most importantly was committed to play this at her cousin's wedding in just a few months, unaccompanied and on the violin, but otherwise just like this:
I decided then that it didn't matter what songs we played, but that we would try to use them to build technique as we go. This means, I have let her choose most of the songs we work on, and then I reserve the right to add additional material to teach technique and expand her musical exposure. I have learned through this that youtube is a treasure trove. There are a ton of inventive and creative folks that are recording themselves in backrooms and posting them to youtube. Some of them even have sheet music posted online as well. If you are interested I have posted lesson materials to a new blog:
Colleen is starting as well, but from the very beginning. We will be working out of O'Connor's book and the Suzuki books for now, until she has mastered the basics and then I think we will try listening to recordings and surfing youtube together to see what else to add.
Emily has been pollinating this summer at Monsanto. It is fun to see her working with the other kids. It has been a fun pollinating season. She works with another crew, but I will ever be her proud father.
This year, as we started pollinating, there were four nighthawks flying above our second planting. I spooked the female when I was pulling outcrosses in the doubled haploids. I kept an eye out for their nest, but didn't find it right away. One of the guys working with me found one of the eggs up near the front, right near the path between rows. One egg was smashed, by some ignorant pollinator probably. There was no nest, no pile of feathers or arrangement to identify the nest, just the camouflaged egg and mother. I put flagging tape around those rows to keep people from stepping on the egg. The mother would be there in the morning and flew nervously overhead as we worked in the corn. The crew leader told the kids that if they stepped on any eggs or chicks they were fired. Kidding, kind of.
After 21 days, the chick hatched! This totally made my day. We gathered the kids around and each took a peek at the tiny fluffball as it stumbled around the corn stubble. It must have hatched early Saturday morning, and was already walking around by 7:30 AM. We widened the protected area and everyone was very careful to not step on the tiny chick.
For perspective, the shootcap - the white paper in the picture, is two inches wide. The egg was small and the chick was a little more than an inch long.
The mother was not buzzing us like normal - they make a whirring, almost mechanical sound when they dive, but as we were pulling out of the field around lunchtime I saw her circling the field.
I bought this book in the airport while waiting for yet another delayed flight out of Denver. We planned to fly home from Boise through Denver, but our plane was late coming to Boise and by the time we were in the air the wind and storms were bad enough in Denver that we were not able to land. This was not good because, as the flight attendant told me and the panicky woman next to me - the plane had not fueled up in Boise and we only had 20 minutes left of fuel. The pilot announced after that that we would be in a holding pattern for more than 30 minutes and that we were going to try and land at another airport. The panicking woman next to me was really panicking now that she did the math that we needed to be in the air 10 minutes longer than we had fuel.
Luckily, the plane landed in safely in Wyoming at a tiny airport and after waiting for three hours we finally made it to Denver, two hours after the last flight to Des Moines. We waited in line until 1:00 AM trying to get a hotel or a flight, but gave up and slept in a cubicle next to the central food court. That morning I checked in with customer service and got us on a 9 AM flight to Des Moines, which was immediately delayed until 11:30 AM. Angry and frustrated, I told the girls I would buy them books.
Above the science fiction section was a stack of "And the Mountains Echoed" by Khaled Hosseini. I couldn't reach them, but the bit of the cover looked interesting. I asked the tall guy standing next to me if he could get me one down. It wasn't what I expected. It wasn't Sci-Fi for one thing. It started with a story about a poor man whose child is stolen by an evil djinn. He tracks the djinn down to find that his child is alive and happy, but has forgotten him. The djinn makes a deal with him to erase his memory of the lost child. Then it jumps to a father walking to town pulling his two children in a wagon. It is told from the perspective of the older brother who has raised his little sister since his mother died. His father remarried, but it fell upon the brother to care for his sister. His family is extremely poor and they are going to visit their cousin that works for a rich man in town as his driver. What the boy doesn't know is that the rich family and his father have made a deal to adopt his little sister. The rest of the book tells the story of the echoes of this act forward through to the present time. Each section is from the perspective of a different character. Some are directly related to the family, other's affected by them in unexpected ways.
I loved this book. I could not put it down, even though it made me cry on the plane. I was so absorbed in the book that I didn't think about the people around me, until the flight attendant tenderly patted me on the shoulder as she walked by. But, it was OK. I was coming back from visiting my family - we had a funeral for my father and a reunion to celebrate the 90th birthday of my grandmother and this book was exactly what I needed as I reflected on the echoes of my father and my grandmother through our generations, my family, and my life.