With a growing studio comes the beginnings of student accomplishments. Youth orchestras. Honor orchestras. Honor recitals. I'd be lying if I didn't say these things make me really happy. It's great to have audition panels recognize that your students play well. It certainly helps validate me as a teacher, and I think everyone likes to be validated.
However, the interior journeys, and the relationships I'm building between myself and my students - those are the things that make me have to hold back tears in lessons, the reasons that I do what I do, and why I do believe that music education can change our world for the better.
So here are a few stories that you don't know about my students - with no names, identifying details, or personal pronouns to protect my students' anonymity.
One quiet, reserved, introverted student who has played for many years with many teachers confessed to me that their earlier violin teachers didn't like them, believe in them, and occasionally insulted them. It's taken many lessons, but this student is now comfortable with me, trusts me, and is slowly starting to believe in their own ability to create the sound they want on the instrument. Progress in this lesson looks like the student being able to take a deep breath, let go of their doubts, and just play.
Another student, with whom lessons are a pure joy now, is a student I wasn't sure I could continue with during the first six months of lessons. It seemed that everything I said was only partially understood. The student was highly stressed, and it took me some time to realize that they were worried they were being graded every violin lesson. They thought that saying "Ms. Allen, I didn't have time to do everything this week," or "I don't know the answer to that question" would mean that they "failed" for the day. After a conversation with their mother, I invited the student for a lesson without their violin. We listened to music, and we talked about what we liked. I explained that I want to meet them where they are, but that I need an honest representation of where they are to be able to do the most help. Fast forward over a year, and this student is flying. I still need to remind them that if they feel overwhelmed, it's better to do a few things really well in practice than everything sloppily, but we've established a relationship of trust - and that trust has led to genuine confidence in the student's skills.
One of my students has practically flown through the beginning stages of their violin playing, and went through pieces at an astonishing rate. I know it's human nature to see "getting to the next piece" as a sign that they're doing well, but what I'm looking for in violin lessons is progress when it comes to solid fundamentals. As a teacher, I'd rather hear them play the same piece for the 1,000th time, but with a tall violin and an improved sound, rather than have them play 1,000 pieces kind of okay. It's exciting to move through repertoire, but my struggle is to slow them down a little bit so I know the fundamentals are in place - and helping them feel that my slowing them down doesn't mean they are doing badly. I hate seeing the disappointment at the end of the lesson when we haven't started a new song, but I know I have to stick to my teacher guns and insist on the technique before I let them move on.
One student, who recently was accepted into a youth orchestra, has received a lot of praise and recognition in public for it - as well they should. What people don't know is that for weeks before the audition, this student had to withstand more pressure from me than they had ever experienced. We drilled scales for months, and I made them play their excerpts over and over again until I was satisfied. The day before the audition, this student played three pieces that were NOT related to the audition for our spring recital. AND, this student's bow broke due to the change in humidity. Immediately after the audition, the student's mother emailed me and told me the student said the audition was the easiest thing they had done all year and felt really happy and confident about their playing. And that - that right there - is my goal for my students when they audition. It was a good affirmation for me as well that I am doing my job.
One of my younger students - an easily distractible, high-energy, creative, and free-spirited person - has recently had lessons where the lessons are more about violin, and less about standing still and learning to focus. Despite my regular admonitions of "Stand still, please!" "Play this song for me, please!" "Did you hear what I just said?" (No) "Well, can you do this now?", this student is growing and learning. I even got a spontaneous hug after their lesson this past week. The student is equally excited to be developing the skill of "having a good violin lesson" as well as just playing the violin.
These are just a few of the stories you don't hear. It's not as exciting as Suzuki book graduations, or the big sense of "finishing" something. But these are just a small fraction of the students whose musical lives of whom I'm privileged to be a part. Everyone has their own struggles, and their own stories. I hope you felt as inspired by reading them as I do witnessing them.