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Our daughter, Esme, just started first grade. She has always been immersed in music – we’ve sung to her since forever; she was the first person to play my custom aluminum drum kit that arrived the spring after she was born; she’s watched musical theater movies with her mother since she was old enough to sit still, and she’s been a lifelong fan of this song I wrote for our local car dealership, requesting a replacement key at no cost. We dance a lot (she more than me), and sometimes she narrates entire days in recitative.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a music educator friend about music lessons and our children, and he advised starting with Suzuki violin lessons. We dived right in – I googled teachers in our local area and found a chap based just up the road. We spoke on the phone and he seemed lovely, plus he teaches out of a charming family-run violin shop a few minutes from where I pick Esme up from the school bus. I’d also just started teaching an online class with a Karin Hendricks who’s published on Suzuki and about compassionate music teaching, so the stars seemed to align.

Not wanting to thrust unwanted violin lessons on my child, I asked Esme if she’d be interested in learning and she said ‘yes’. When asked if she knew what a violin was, she replied, ‘it’s like a guitar that hold you under your chin and you play it with a kind of bat’. The deal was sealed.

Thing #1: Daddy-daughter time

Ever since I wasn’t the one breast-feeding our child for three years, I have felt like the second parent, so I’m always looking for ways to spend time meaningfully with Esme. Our daily breakfast routine, tickling and the scooter-ride (me running or biking alongside) to the school bus stop are cool, but it was uniquely exciting when we both went together to the shop to rent violins. Esme got fitted for an instrument (1/8 size) and we were shown how to rosin the bow by Victoria, a high school student who’s looking to study music education at college next fall. She showed us the room where our lessons would be and we even met Mr. Chris, the violin teacher. We both felt rather proud, walking back through town with our violins!

We play every morning together, for about ten minutes after breakfast, between brushing teeth and leaving for the bus. Sometimes I lead, sometimes Esme leads. It’s wonderful learning together, because she helps me with things I forget and vice-versa. We take turns to play, we play in unison, I accompany Esme on drums or guitar. We play violin mostly in the garage, and the first two weekends we put up fairy lights to decorate the room (it now looks awesome!). Occasionally, Esme plays drums instead, which is fine by me.

Thing #2: Role models

Our garage door is adorned with pictures of women playing the violin – Allison Krauss, Martie Maguire, Hilary Hahn, Regina Carter – and I put up a photo of Hannah Welton-Ford playing drums for good measure. We’ve been to three concerts so far this month. The first was to see the Ulysses Quartet playing at the local university. The performance was captivating (we sat in the second row), and we got to meet the group after the show. The second violinist gave some advice to Esme about tenacity, then we pretended to nap in a campus hammock. The next gig was a street performance by a traditional Irish band, and the third was by House of Hamill at a local Celtic festival in the Poconos. Esme spent most of that show drawing interpretive designs in the gravel while the band played. HoH’s violinist, Rose, was incredible, and we got to meet her after the show too.

Thing #3: Watching Esme grow

When we first brought the violins home from the shop, Esme was super-keen to try hers out. She took it out of the case and played what would have been a blistering bluegrass solo if she’d had the technique. We played on our violins each day (except for when I was travelling) leading up to our first lesson together.

Our violin lessons are really good. Mr. Chris is fun, kind and patient. We learn about rhythms and posture and bowing technique, and there’s no sheet music to get in the way. We have a Thursday routine now where Mom gets to stay at work late so Esme and I spend the whole evening as a duo. We sing in the car on the way home, we do dinner and watch Storybots before reading stories and heading to bed. On the drive home this past week, I asked Esme to describe Mr. Chris. She said “he’s got peach skin, he has a beard and he laughs a lot” – all good things.

I bought a copy of Shin’ichi Suzuki’s book, Nurtured by Love, and William & Constance Starr’s’ To Learn with Love. I have yet to read them cover to cover, but I am loving this learning journey that has parent-child bonding at the core of its ethos and that prizes the feeling and sound and experience of playing the instrument with a co-learner. It’s wonderful as a parent, professional musician and educator, to experience my child’s learning. I love the growing confidence that she has as a violinist, and I am thrilled to be on this road with her, as we help one another to learn.

 

 

 

 

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