Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Father and Pagliacci

I remember so clearly my father sitting and listening to his old vinyl recording of Caruso singing I Pagliacci. My father's eyes were half closed, his lips were trembling, and tears were running down his cheeks.

Here is that recording.

When I listened to it just now, I cried heavily. I cried for Pagliacci and I cried for my father. I miss my father so much. He helped shape my inner life according to his. Although his outer life became a mess, his inner life shone with the joys and values he nurtured in me: love of learning, science, history, poetry, literature, music, art, humor, and a sensitivity to the plight of those "less fortunate than we," which led him to progressive political activism. I miss my father so much.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Would anyone notice

Would anyone notice if I disappear?
Would anyone understand why I had to go?
Would anyone who was cold to me while I was here
Feel some remorse for hurting me so?
Would anyone feel sad because they held me dear?
Would anyone still think of me after a year?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Teaching Violin by Skype

Out of the blue came a request from someone I didn’t even know, someone who lived far away from me.  “Would you consider giving me a violin lesson by Skype?” she asked me by email.  It sounded both fun and challenging, so I said, “Sure.”

I’ve been giving lessons by Skype for over a year now, and I’ve discovered a lot of interesting things about this kind of teaching.

I teach violin / fiddle to beginners, including adult beginners.  Beginning fiddlers really do need teachers.  The physical techniques necessary for playing the violin are challenging.  Beginners must learn, consolidate, and maintain many motor skills with left and right shoulders, arms, wrists, hands, and fingers.  It is crucial to develop good habits right from the start because bad habits will be very difficult to correct later.  Beginning students need a teacher to watch them play and make corrections.  

There are different kinds of online violin lessons.  A common one, which is not mine, resembles a large scale group lesson.  The teachers videotape themselves teaching lessons and put the tapes online for anyone to use for free.  I have looked at a lot of them, and some are very good.  The way I teach, via Skype, is really a private lesson.  I teach one on one and in real time.  I watch and listen to a student and give him or her feedback just as I would to a student in my home.  My online lessons are up close and personal.  

I often read beginning fiddlers say that the sound they make is like squeaking and squawking and that the people who live with them can scarcely bear listening to them for the first year or so.  I always tell my beginning students that after just one lesson, they will be able to make a pretty sound with their violin.  I have never been proven wrong.  I regard the squeaks and squawks of beginning fiddlers as cries for help.

Most people believe that it is best to have a teacher who can be with them in person, and I agree.  However, this is not always possible.  Most of my online violin students live in musically underserved areas.  That includes people in rural areas in the U.S. as well as those in other countries, notably Australia.   Since I live in a major metropolitan area with lots of violin teachers and violin stores, this has been a new concept for me.   One of my fun experiences teaching online happened when something streaked by outside the window behind one of my Australian students.  He later told me that it was a kangaroo.  One of my students lives in a small city in Alaska.  There was only one violin  teacher in her city, and he moved away.  I asked one of my students in Australia how far she lived from a violin store, and she said, “An eight hour drive.”  When these people need help learning to play the violin, online lessons can be a godsend.  

My distance learning students fall into one of two groups.  First are the ones whom I teach regularly  once a week.  Teaching them is very similar to teaching my students in my home weekly.  The second group consists of self taught adult beginners.  Some of them have been struggling alone in the wilderness for too long.  Some have no fiddle teachers nearby.  Others just can not afford to pay for weekly lessons.  They all realize that they need help from someone who can watch and listen to them play and give personalized feedback.  They generally take lessons from me on a sporadic basis.  Results would probably be better with regular weekly lessons, but I’m glad to help them in any way that I can.

I love playing the violin; I love learning new things; and I love helping others.  Teaching violin gives me immense personal satisfaction.  Teaching one on one online has helped me extend my reach and explore new ways of teaching.  I just love it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Teaching adult beginners to play the violin

I am a patient, encouraging teacher of beginners of all ages, and many of my students are adults.  A lot of adult beginners approach me saying, “I don’t even know whether it makes sense to start at my age” or “I have no experience with music.  Can I start now?”  I tell them, “It is never too late to start doing something you love.” 

You can read about me as a teacher on the website I made for my students and on my personal website.  Be sure to read about my adult beginners, too.  

I have found one big difference between adult beginners and kid beginners:  Adults are impatient. The adult beginners often want to jump ahead and do complex things before they master the basics. They also get frustrated easily because they think that, "I've been studying for a year. I should be able to do this right by now."  I tell them them to remember that the violin is a very technical instrument.  I also advise them to give themselves high marks and feelings of accomplishment for every increment of progress, no matter how small.  A teacher who has experience with adult beginners can help by giving you positive feedback whenever it is justified.

Of course, adults’ bodies are not the same as kids’ bodies. Often I find that adult beginners, especially adult males, can not use their hands and fingers in the preferred way,  I have to help them find ways to "cheat" and still produce a good sound.  I treat each student as an individual and avoid the "one size fits all" approach.

Playing the violin can cause muscle cramps, especially while learning.  The people who are most often affected are adult males because their muscles are large.   You can not play the violin with muscle cramps, just as you can not run with leg cramps.  Stretching can help you keep your muscles healthy and pain free, and it is important for all violin players, particularly for adult males. I recommend stretching before, during, and after practicing.  I have a page on my website ( with videos of helpful stretches, and I teach these stretches to my students.

I love teaching adult beginners.  My lessons are stimulating, fun, and rewarding for both me and my students.