There are days when I still have trouble believing I’m someone’s mom. Then something will happen that really drives that point home, such as yesterday, when I took my four-year-old son to his first violin lesson. For ten years, from age 6 to 16, I was the one standing in front of a music stand with a violin in my hands, listening to my teacher Linda talk about bowing, fingering, vibrato, technique, and dynamics. My mom always sat behind me on the sofa, taking notes. The lesson was easy compared to the daily practicing every morning before school.
Now, ten more years have passed. All of a sudden I’m the parent sitting in a chair, notebook and pen in hand, watching my son interact with his new violin teacher. I felt so proud as I watched A. introduce himself to the teacher and open his violin case with enthusiasm. He has a tiny 1/8-size violin that his grandpa brought up from the city last weekend. It looks more like a decoration than an actual instrument, but it’s the perfect size for his skinny frame.
“Undo the seatbelts,” his teacher, a patient middle-aged lady, told him.
He looked astonished. “Those aren’t seatbelts!”
“Yes, they are, because they hold the violin and bow in place!”
He showed off his hot blue shoulder rest, and then roughly flipped his violin upside down, as if it were made of rubber, trying to squeeze the shoulder rest onto the back. I lunged forward, catching the poor instrument before it banged onto the table. “Here, I’ll help you with that,” I said. It’s impossible to take a backseat when a valuable wooden instrument is at risk. Maybe we should have gone with one of those brightly coloured plastic violins.
“Do you know the names of the strings?” she asked him, plucking the lowest one.
“Yeah, my dad told me. That’s a G.”
The teacher looked impressed, then plucked the highest one. “This one squeeeeaks like a mouse,” she said.
A. looked puzzled. “Um, I don’t know. L? X?” Ha. There’s some work to do there.
The lesson went well until A.’s miniscule attention span reached its max and his behavior started to degenerate. This took various forms, including pretending to fall asleep as soon as his chin hit the chinrest. His teacher had a phenomenal arsenal of distraction tactics: “OK, let’s play caterpillar hot dog, and when I get to the hot dog part, you’re going to wake up.”
Then I stupidly commented that someone had taken two big ‘bites’ out of his violin, and he started trying to sink his teeth into the wood at every opportunity. Away went the violin, and out came the maracas and bells. The teacher amazed me with her ability to change directions instantly. I guess that comes with Suzuki training.
“I had so much fun there!” A. bubbled as we got into the car. We listened to the Suzuki Vol. 1 CD twice through on the drive home. It brought back a flood of memories; it’s the exact same recording that I listened to daily, copyright 1986.
As exciting as it is to start the cycle again, and to embark on this glorious quest for musical education, I can’t help but feel terrified. I’ve been through this before, so I’m intimidated by the immensity of what lies before us. When A. saws away with his bow, drifting over to the wrong side of the bridge and making his violin sound like a squealing, wounded piglet, my heart sinks. How will he ever play Bach’s partitas for unaccompanied violin?
A little bit each day. Just ten minutes. That’s how we’ll start.