Teacher’s Teacher

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Today I went to visit my teacher’s old teacher from before college, with whom she still sometimes has lessons. My day started out ominously, with the circuit tripping three times while I was trying to dry my hair, and the last time I tried to flip it back, it kept re-flipping. Turns out, each time I tried it busted one of the light bulbs in my mother-in-law’s bathroom. It was seriously awesome and I ended up not having time for breakfast or even for coffee. So, I trudged over to my teacher’s house and off we went together, me not having consumed food or coffee or even water.

I’ve decided that me doing something totally out of my comfort zone without so much as coffee is a horrible idea. Next time I’ll have to grab a spoonful of instant coffee as I run out the door. I was somewhere between deer-caught-in-headlights and hardly being able to keep my eyes open, which is a pretty bad combo. I do horribly in new situations, especially in a learning environment, where it’s necessary to be open and vulnerable. Without coffee I am quiet and very timid and tend to freeze up. With coffee I’m still terrified, but at least the coffee forces me to act, even if it’s stupidly. Whatever I say or do, it can’t be worse than droopy deer-caught-in-headlights eyes, not talking, and being too terrified to play the cello.

She probably thought I was the world’s biggest idiot, but at least she assumed I was in college, not high school, which is what most people assume. And she made a point to figure out exactly how to pronounce my name correctly, which no one, not even family, bothers to do. So, not so sure she likes me, but she won big points from me just for thinking I’m a grown up and pronouncing my name correctly. And she has kitties!

My teacher helped me tune before we got started, then she had me warm up with scales before getting going on my extension problem. She noticed that more than my left hand having any problems, the right was very stiff, which she started helping me with. We spent quite a while working on exercises for relaxing that hand and making the whole bowing motion more fluid and relaxed. Then we started addressing the left hand, whose problems extending seemed to come from a stiff thumb. Interestingly what ended up happening was that as long as I worked on relaxing right thumb and hand, I could, with work, relax left thumb, and easily make the extensions. If, however, I started tensing right thumb, I couldn’t for the life of me relax left thumb and then the extensions became impossible. This also helped my vibrato tremendously, especially in the back and forth kind, which has been my nemesis for a while now.

She had me play part of my current song because she wanted to see my shifting, which she said was good and that my teacher has set me up with a good foundation. We now have a direction for fixing some of my problems with extensions, which is largely working on relaxed bowing and me telling my thumbs to relax instead of using my thumbs as an excuse as to why I can’t do the extensions. I’m rather doubtful of my own ability to work on these things or even make any improvement on them at all, but at least my teacher will be working on them with me and getting on my case when I’m having difficulty motivating myself.

A Couple of Side Notes
1. At some point she made some mention about this not being the main thing I’m doing with my life. I don’t even remember what it was about, maybe something about how I still need to do something or think something despite this fact. It’s all so fuzzy in my head because it just made me feel sad and panicked, this given that it can’t be a life-focus for someone in my situation, even though she was impressed with my progress and she seemed astonished at just how much time I’ve spent practicing to get where I’m at. If I was a teenager and had gotten to where I am in a year it probably would have been a whole different story, but I’m an adult, so I get lumped in the adult category, which is something far less important than the kid category.

I feel like I should have said something, but was just feeling so discouraged I didn’t know what to say. I don’t want my cello playing ability to be determined by the fact that I started late. If I never become a good cellist I’d rather it was because I’m truly not capable, not because I wasn’t given the same opportunities to learn that young people are. There’s always this assumption that people who start late will never be as good because we just don’t learn as well as children. I truly think that if adults were given the same educational opportunities we’d be just as good and the only difference is that we’d arrive at the same milestones later on, somewhat relative to when we started. It seems that everyone always assumes there’s a cap to how good adults can end up being.
I wish that adults who show talent and work hard were treated more similarly to how talented children are. Instead, the musical world responds with the always-irritating it’s too bad you didn’t start as a child because you could have been really good.

But I never ever say anything to anyone. I feel like I’ll just be seen as the world’s biggest idiot for dreaming that with enough time and education I could be just as good as someone who started playing as a kid. I never tell anyone that I would love to be at a place where I could pursue an actual formal education, even if it takes me twice as long as it takes everyone else and it takes until I’m 50 to even get there. In this economy people just assume that I work part-time because I can’t get a better job, not because I couldn’t bear to stop putting all my energy into as much musical education as I can find for myself in my current situation. And most of all I never tell anyone how much cello matters because all anyone does is tell me that I’m crazy and it’s too bad I didn’t start playing as a kid.
2. Forgot what the other side notes were. I’ll write about them if I remember.

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3 responses »

  1. Oooh kitties! Now what was I going to say? Oh yes, how do you pronounce your name? I imagined it was ee-lie-sha ?

    Coffee is a double-edged sword. My lessons are after work at 4:30 – bad bad time that. So to prevent the afternoon crash I usually have a coffee beforehand. But then-I-think-I-can-play-this-really-fast-oh-wasnt-that-good-why-is-my-bow-all-shakey…

    You must have an awesome teacher. I cant imagine mine taking me to another teacher like that.

    Takes until 50? Yes, yes I know that feeling. But that’s not that far away for me. Maybe I’ll have finished Suzuki book 3 by then. Maybe we should both rent the movie of the teacher who taught an 89 year old cello. http://www.musicafter50.com/2009/09/cellist-shatters-misconceptions-about-adult-learning/

    Proper job? There are two types where I work; those that have found a passion and those that haven’t. For those that have, work is something they do but it’s not the most important thing. For those that haven’t, work is all they do.

    I know which camp I’d rather be in.

    “Yes yes, I could have been if I’d started as a child. But in ten years I’ll be able to play the cello at a reasonable standard and you’ll be slumped over your keyboard with your face in a donut after having a heart attack.” Probably good that I keep that come back to myself.

    Oops, sorry, not supposed to rant on someone elses blog 🙂

  2. Ranting on my blog is totally fine by me. At least I prompted you to think and say something, which is far better than the alternative.

    My name is pronounced ee-lee-see-uh. The first three vowels (if you count y) all sound the same, so it’s not that hard, if you think of that way. People tend to get confused at the four syllable thing. I’ve gone through with people like this:

    me: say “ee”
    other: “ee”
    me: say “lee”
    other: “lee”
    me: put them together so you say “ee-lee”
    other: “ee-lee”
    me: now say “see”
    other: “see”
    me: okay, let’s add them together: “ee-lee-see”
    other: “ee-lee-see”
    me: last part: “uh”
    other: “uh”
    me: “ee-lee-see” *pause* “uh”
    other: “ee-lee-see” *pause* “uh”
    me: now let’s put them all together: “ee-lee-see-uh”
    other: “uh-lish-iuh”
    me: *facepalm*

    Luckily for me, the coffee thing is a once-per-day problem. As long as I have it in the morning, I’m fine. Without it, however, I’m a zombie all day (Brains!!!) I’m basically just stupid without it. Speaking of which, I need to go add cream and sugar. Which I just tried to spell “suger” btw.

    My teacher is pretty awesome. I started with her while she was still in high school. Me not having a job and my hubby still waiting to take the Acupuncture State Boards so he could open his practice, we were pretty moneyless. The community here is very musical and there are many very good musicians even at the junior high level, so the high school students instructing are usually good players and teach because they are actually good at it. And they are far cheaper: less than half the price. I knew it was the only way I could possibly afford weekly lessons, so that’s the route I took.

    At the time I assumed I would be getting lower quality instruction, but I was so totally wrong. It tuns out that some of her students actually came to her from some of the “more qualified teachers” about ready to quit playing because they were so unhappy with the teaching. All the students and their parents were telling me how wonderful she was.

    One of her greatest attributes is her youth and being okay with not knowing everything. I often ask her questions she doesn’t know the answer to, but she goes to one of her teachers and finds out for me. It’s very clear that my learning is very important to her and she’ll do whatever it takes for me to end up learning. She’s also full of very youthful energy and excitement, which is always rather contagious. This is super good for grumpy-pants me.

    I think sometimes I have a hard time with the whole working 12 hours a week for hardly more than minimum wage thing because there are 2 people at my work who are doing the same thing I am, except they’re actually good. One is a trumpet player, who has a masters in music performance. He plays professionally, but works at the library for supplementary income. The other is an opera singer, who sings semi-professionally and also acts (I think?) They’re waaaaay more awesome than I am, so not only do I feel shitty around them while they sing and talk about all their musical success, no one at work even knows I play cello or that the class I leave early for on Mondays is a music theory class.

    Also, I said 50 because I’m 27. That’s another 23 years. I’m sure it will go by in a flash, but for now I can dream that another 23 years of living is a long time and that life isn’t so very very very short. Please let me have that delusion. Also, I’ve heard of that movie, though haven’t seen it. If you watch it, let me know how it is.

  3. Regarding your side note… Your teachers may just be concerned that you are practicing for too long each day versus doubting your ability to advance as an adult beginner compared to child on a similar progression trajectory. So I wouldn’t automatically interpret those comments too negatively. I think with kids they worry about burn out with that much practice time too.

    http://www.teenstrings.com/article/3/3,54,PracticeTips-1.asp

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