Hi! I’m Lora, your guide at RedDesertViolin.com. Here I am with two students. (They’re related to each other. Can you tell??)
I started learning violin in the 5th grade through the public school system. I learned through the “traditional” system, which combines note-reading with beginning violin technique. I started becoming aware of the Suzuki method four years later, when I met Evan, a hot shot violinist from Sunset Junior High School. I had heard of him before, and I knew that he had learned Suzuki style.
I was so jealous and regretful that I had not been given the opportunity to learn by that method. From that day on, I always had an inferiority complex for not having learned via the Suzuki method—you could say I was fixated on it—but it made me practice harder because I felt I had to compensate in order to compete with all these Suzuki miracle kids.
Music did not come easily to me, but my dad had always told me (and I believed everything he said!) that I could do anything I wanted to if I wanted it badly enough, and was willing to work for it.
Well, I definitely wanted it badly enough, and I certainly knew how to work hard. I worked my tail off! I didn’t watch TV, didn’t go out with friends, I practiced on camping trips, on family vacations to Half Moon Bay. I never went anywhere without my violin.
I kept this up from 5th grade through a Master’s Degree in violin performance. I buried my head in music and solitary practice. The best illustration of how single-minded I was, is that while living within 50 miles of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1998, I had not heard about it until Timothy McVeigh was sentenced to death. THIS IS NOT A GOOD THING!!!!
Why did I work so hard?
It was a combination of BAD teaching, an inferiority complex, and a highly competitive personality.
Why do I say bad teaching? Because my teachers should have realized that I was over-practicing—banging my head against the proverbial wall and accomplishing nothing—or at least not getting the results I should have for the effort I was putting in. (No one taught me HOW to practice for results, with focus, and to have fun!) I just believed what my dad told me, thinking if I practiced 6 hours per day, I would achieve my dreams!
Well, I did finally achieve my dreams—full ride scholarships, professional orchestra membership (as principal second violin), solos with several orchestras…I made my living making music—but the price was so high!
When I slammed my finger in a car door, I was in San Francisco collaborating with a composer on a film score. My life flashed before my eyes—all the missed opportunities to go roller blading, or play basketball, for fear of injuring my hands. I saw 15 years of my life devoted to my instrument, and the possibility that it was gone.
Fate gets you either way.
The moral of the story? Have Fun! Don’t be afraid! Think more, work less. There is no harm in a shortcut, and you don’t have to suffer for success!
My finger did not heal 100%, even with surgery. I now have a slight “hammer finger” where the end portion of my middle finger on my left hand droops, making vibrato on that finger and certain passages a little compromised. Oh, I can absolutely still play, but it caused me to struggle more than ever, and my confidence was shot.
How I Started Teaching
Out of the blue, I was given the opportunity to take over another violinist’s entire studio of students. I had never ever taught before! I had never really wanted to teach. But suddenly it made sense as a financial security blanket while I figured things out with my finger.
To make matters even more freaky for me, this teacher used the SUZUKI approach! I was so worried, but she assured me I already knew how to play very well—if I just attended a week-long Suzuki Teachers Institute, I would learn the basics on starting beginning students.
I lucked out and got the BEST Suzuki instructor in the world, Ed Kreitman, and indeed, at the end of a week, I had faced all my Suzuki demons and was convinced that there is NO BETTER WAY for any beginner to learn.
For adults, it can be a little childish, but it can be adapted easily for more mature players. And for kids—it just appeals to them.
If you want to know more about the Suzuki Philosophy and method, click here.
Three points of the Suzuki approach are my favorites.
- Delayed note-reading allows complete focus on technique
- The mother-tongue concept of learning music like your native language
- The belief that Every child can learn.
Shinichi Suzuki was not out to create little kid-geniuses. He was out to help develop better human beings. He didn’t “audition” kids and pick out the best ones as his students. He took even the difficult ones.
This concept is near and dear to my heart, as I believe there is no such thing as a hopeless case. If a student is willing to put in the work necessary, then the right teacher can help them to achieve their goals.
In my studio, I prided myself on accepting the difficult kids who no one else wanted to teach. It challenged me as a teacher, it was extremely rewarding, and it helped me to heal some of my own wounds as a child who was basically left to my own devices—who practiced like crazy and got results slowly and painfully, and never really had a teacher who recognized my passion and efforts!
While at that Suzuki Institute, I learned some basic concepts that should have been taught to me in grade school, and others that I should have picked up somewhere between a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Violin Performance! I was suddenly painfully aware of the deficiencies in my own violinistic education. I found myself as an accomplished violinist, with a Masters Degree in Violin Performance learning things that I would be teaching to children—things I NEVER KNEW—things I should have been taught by my “teachers.”
At that point, I realized that my teachers had failed me, and that I owed my success to two things: my Dad telling me I could be anything I worked for, and my Mom’s enthusiasm for classical music—attending EVERY concert, making me play in church as often as they would allow, and pretending to swoon anytime I played Meditation from Thais.
I hope this site can give you some pointers, either as a teacher needing pointers for your students, as a parent helping your child, or as a self-instructed student.
Remember—Nothing is as important as your OWN BELIEF that you can do it….but it’s awfully nice when someone hands you a key which opens the hidden door in that brick wall! DON’T BANG YOUR HEAD!
I highly recommend that you find someone to check your progress once in awhile, either with a web-cam lesson with me, or a teacher in your area. Please see my article on “Choosing a Good Teacher”.