Where is this all going?

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In a comment Jon Silpayamanant prompted me to think about what I want to do with cello, assuming I’m able to get to the level of ability I’d like to be at. This post is the answer to that.

When I chose to start playing cello, I did so despite not really liking the music I knew that was written for the instrument. I chose it because I love the sound of the instrument, it’s cello-y-ness. I figured that if I had to play songs I hated, I had to play songs I hated. I wanted a challenge and I figured getting outside of my comfort zone would be good. And it was. I never imagined how much cello would change the kind of music I like and how much it changed me as a person, or rather how playing cello would make me more me.

So, how is this relevant to what I want to do with cello? I can’t know what I want to do with cello. I continue to discover new things I love and more of who I truly am as I stick with this journey. The fun part is that I don’t know yet what I will discover about myself and who I really am as a musician. As I work on my rather unconventional music education I know that my tastes will change and what I want will change. For now I really love Baroque music and wish there was a beginners’ Baroque ensemble I could play with. If I ever actually get ensemble experience it could easily change, though, so I don’t count my likes now as a given in the future.

What I do know is this:
That cello has changed me for the better. I used to be depressed, horribly, since the age of 12. I was unmotivated to do anything, my intelligence wasted on just getting by. Before cello I thought many times I’d found something I really loved only to realize after many years I had been mistaken and had been denying it the whole time. I had no ambition for anything, unengaged in my life in so many ways. I may still be negative more than I’d prefer, but my funks no longer turn into year-long bouts of depression. For the first time in my life I have something I truly want and something I’m passionate about. For the first time I’m excited by the challenges I encounter.

While that isn’t a career objective, it’s enough that I know I can’t just ignore this. Life is short. Very short. It’s worth pursuing what you love regardless of how challenging is it because to not do so is far more difficult.

Does this answer your question, Jon?

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16 responses »

  1. That’s as good a response as any, Elysia. Hell–I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with the cello! So I really can’t complain if anyone else can’t.

    I think that for me, however, I have a pretty good sense of the many things that can be done–which can be a curse as much as a blessing, because knowing all the possibilities means having too many choices sometimes!

    But for you, for now–if it brings a bit of happiness and a sense of fulfillment in your accomplishments (as well as some frustrations) to learn the instrument and explore the possibilities with it, then there’s really no reason to worry too much right now about where it will lead you. Eventually you’ll figure that out–and with luck, you’ll have lots of help and support and encouragement along the way!!

  2. Maybe I won’t ever figure it out, but whatever happens in the process of not-figuring-it-out is what I’m doing with the cello, whatever that ends up being. What I know is that I need to keep learning in the greatest capacity I can. Since I haven’t found my cello limit yet, I have to keep pursuing as much education as I can scrounge up. Cello is good for me, even with all it’s frustrations.

    Some day I’ll have to post about my first 4 months of playing. My brain was resisting so badly that it took until then just to get to Twinkle Twinkle. It was only once my mind stopped fighting me so badly (and got addicted to the learning) that the process accelerated. Not sure how that was connected, only that my mind must have made a few leaps because, now that I read over it, it’s kinda random.

    Ah, help and support and encouragement. Can I have more of that please??? Actually, just the help part. Sometimes I wish I could have lessons every day for at least a few hours. Lessons are always so unfinished and leave me wanting more than when I walked in. Which is good in the sense that my teacher encourages curiosity, but bad in the sense that it’s never enough.

    Back to another topic: the difference between adult and child learners. (This is related to the last paragraph though!) Adults have much greater attention spans. I also know I have a much greater attention span than most adults (thus my teacher’s admonishment of me for practicing for hours without breaks — and yes I mean admonishment because in that case I deserve it!) Anyhow. Kiddos have short attention spans. Even the older ones. They can hardly sit in their seats for lessons. Their ability to push themselves through working on their weaknesses isn’t always stellar. What I’m getting at is that adults can do things like this much more easily. We may protest more, but we often do a better job when we actually decide to do a good job at it.

    So here’s the thing: like we’ve already talked about before, the educational system is geared towards kids. I think this may be the same with lessons, which tend to be 30 minutes for the younger ones, 45-60 for the older ones. I think adults could handle more — significantly more. And at a greater frequency. If I had the resources, I’d love to do an experiment just to see how much instruction I can take and what the results are. What would happen if you took an adult, gave him/her two hour lessons three days a week for a year? (I’m assuming with this that the hypothetical student spends several hours a day practicing outside of lessons also.) How much improvement could happen in this hypothetical year?

    I know for me, things improve drastically in my lessons. Just say it’s 20 steps forward. I practice at home afterward and maintain 19 steps of those 20. But then I lose 2 or 3 steps each day just from not having help when questions come up, forgetting something in the physical sense (writing it down doesn’t make me remember a physical feeling of doing it right.) By the time I go in for my next lesson I’m lucky to have maintained a quarter of the progress that was made in the previous lesson. I often have felt that if I could have a lesson halfway through the week much of that progress wouldn’t be lost. Plus, instead of having to be re-taught, I will have just been reminded of what I’d learned, which is far easier. Is this making any sense?

    Gosh my thoughts feel all jumbled. I just wonder if this short weekly lesson way of doing things is right for adults also. Somehow I don’t even think *that* aspect is what’s ideal.

    @Jon — how does this resonate with you as a teacher.
    @Fellow Students — would you have longer/more frequent lessons if you could?

  3. Yes–attention spans. That’s the crux of it, and probably why adults can make huge leaps at the beginning of any new skill. Children’s advantage lies in youth and ability to overcome some of the physical difficulties as well as the fact that their brains are still developing (especially before the age of 12) which means the fluency in the instrument will come more ‘naturally.’

    And you know, the idea of having lessons every day for a few hours. That is precisely how language immersion courses work–and they work perfectly well for adults. The question is could that work for adults learning a musical instrument? I know that one of the reasons the Oud player in my Arabic band learned so quickly was because she was taking lessons for hours and attended a few Arabic music retreats where she’d spend a week or so just learning Arabic music and the Oud. What if something like that, but for, say, a few weeks or months were to take place as in some of the language immersion courses?

    I’m not saying you’ll turn into a Yo-Yo Ma after the immersion, but maybe, just maybe, a very nice level of basic fluency could happen.

    And yes, very often if a student is just interested in learning I will go over their time. I’ve even had a parent or two tell me their child just doesn’t have the attention span for a 45 minute or one hour lesson and for some reason I will find myself with the child going well over that.

    I had a student that for a while wanted to have two lessons per week which we did for several weeks and her orchestra director, not knowing she was doing this, felt the need to mention to me how much the student had improved.

    I think it’s just another aspect of the culture of how we teach to just give one weekly lesson. But after having read about how Indian and Thai traditional musicians learn (the guru/student system), basically going to live with their teachers and having several “lessons” a week as well as group coachings–well, it’s just so reminiscent of how even in the West (e.g. guilds) would do training.

    I guess the biggest issue is time–few folks have the time (in the US especially) to have this kind of training–though I think that in many ways, that is slowly changing.

    Re: being re-taught versus being being reminded–the latter would be ideal, and in my experience the reminder is usually what’s needed unless you have a really obstinate or oblivious student.

  4. A music immersion course. That sounds so much fun. I wouldn’t expect to turn into Yo-Yo Ma either, but I’d be stoked to walk out of this hypothetical course with a solid foundation. At best, my foundation could be described as tenuous (though describing it as a foundation is a vast improvement over what it was just a short time ago.)

    My teacher is like you — she’s always going past the end of my lesson (I’m her last student before her mid-day break.) Even then, she always feels like we haven’t finished half of what she’d have preferred. My problem with more lessons isn’t time — it’s money. I work only part time, which leaves tons of practice time but not a lot of money to pay for lessons, and my husband just started his acupuncture business in August. While we will have more income in the future, we’re kinda in the poor house right now. If I could afford a second weekly lesson, I totally would.

  5. Ah yes – Financial situation. Maybe you could ask your teacher for an extra lesson in exchange for some service–you know, like a barter?

    I’m going to have to look into the music immersion thing, I’ve never really considered something like that though I know similar things (like the Arabic Music retreat I mentioned) exist for world music styles in the US. The orthodox option are summer music camps, but as we’ve discussed–those are usually geared towards student populations, and the ones that professionals attend, well, they aren’t necessarily going to be helpful for adult beginners!

  6. I know that a barter wouldn’t work with my teacher — she’s in town only on weekends and is teaching the whole time. I would need a second lesson halfway through the week on Wednesday or Thursday. I personally don’t have much to barter, though I suppose I could always organize stuff for people — it’s my greatest talent. I used to be a merchandiser for a department store, which was fun because I was making stuff pretty and I was especially good at translating pretty displays into bigger sales, but I hated the whole principle of the thing. So now I work at a library because organizing books makes me feel good rather than guilty. But anyway, I’m fantabulous at organizing which is likely the only I can do that others would value. One possible thing I’ve thought of, though I’m hesitant to volunteer the hubby, is trading acupuncture treatments for cello lessons. Not exactly fair on his end, though he has made it a family rule that I MUST play cello, no matter what, so it’s logical that he would want to do whatever he can to support my cello habit. There are, unfortunately, many cellists with various types of repetitive injuries who would likely derive great benefit from weekly acupuncture treatments. Not that I would have a clue how to go about this anyway — I can’t imagine saying to my teacher “So do you think your teacher would be willing to teach me weekly in exchange for my hubby giving her acupuncture?” Bit weird.

    If you ever do start a music immersion thing I think I will have to find a way to attend, even if it’s really really difficult.

  7. I was going to suggest you could offer your husband’s services in exchange, but thought better of it! πŸ˜›

    You never know until you ask, though!

    Yes, I’m really intrigued with the possibility of a music immersion program now. Looks like I have another research project that may turn into a practical application project. Yeah, I need another project like I need another bout of the flu! hah!

  8. Will do–and just responded with an example of an adult who did reach virtuoso levels of accomplishment:
    <a href="http://silpayamanant.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/donors-are-feeling-fatigued-by-orchestras/#comment-3057 and for the life of me, despite having taken some workshops with her and having played some shows with her, she (as an example) didn’t even cross my mind. Which just goes to show how much I have never really thought about his subject!

    I think I may piece together things pretty quickly now that this sluggish engine of a mind of mine gets going–haha!!

  9. @Jon – So, in the midst of my lesson today, my teacher out of no where starts talking about how much she wishes she could have longer, more frequent lessons with her teacher. Well, it actually was relevant somehow, but it wasn’t because I was talking about wanting more lessons with her. This seems to be a bit of a theme lately. It’s not just adult beginners that are being taught wrong, I think. She feels like she’s being held back from lack of instruction herself, even though the instruction she receives at the university is good. And she gets private lessons from her old teacher as often as she can. I had thought it was just for adult beginners that our music education system was all wrong. Hell, now I’m starting to get the feeling that it’s all wrong for the kiddos too, whatever their level. Maybe the system that’s in place is better than what came before it, but that doesn’t make it adequate.

  10. I can definitely see that. I often thought I would have liked longer lessons, and often wish had the time even now to just work with some of my former teachers for a bit.

    And it’s something that non_Western cultures are struggling with as they try to assimilate a Western Education model. It’s a very different kind of teaching system and I’m not so sure it works that well in general, but we’re stuck with it for now, and, ironically teacher’s unions are one of the biggest impediments to reform or complete overhaul.

    The one thing most of don’t realize with music instrument instruction is how very little time we actually spend with our teacher compared to other types of courses–one lesson a week, which is usually much less than two hours. All the rest of the time we’re practicing, we are essentially our own teachers, and that just maybe too much time for us to be our own teachers!

  11. Yeah. Being our own teachers. That’s interesting because that’s essentially what my teacher was working on with me this week. She was calling it “how to be more effective in practicing” but it really was about me learning to do exactly what she does with me during lessons. Except that I’m both her and me, so I’m supposed to talk about loud and have a conversation with myself. Out loud. Literally. Great lesson though.

  12. That’s so very much the issue–teachers have to know also how to teach students to teach themselves! The teachers who don’t have that understanding, or focus, may have less success with their students as a result.

    And I’m hoping this will post–was having problems posting a comment in one of your other blogposts (hope I didn’t just send multiple copies of the comment to it).

  13. This one posted just fine and there’s no double anywhere else.

    It was a really fun lesson today. She ended up telling me that she wants to have far less say in what I’m doing. She’ll obviously teach me things I don’t know, but she really wants for me to be the one guiding myself and deciding my own direction. If I’ve gone through all the steps she outlined for me regarding how to teach myself and still have questions, I can ask her, but if I haven’t tried, then she’s not going to Not that would ever actually be the case, of course. πŸ˜› I’m really curious where this will go. It actually prompted me to bring up to her that I’d like to get some sort of ensemble experience, which she’s going to look into for me.

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