Life cycle

Last summer Lena started asking for violin lessons. My first reaction was no way! She was about to start first grade and no way was I going to add something as intense as violin lessons into the mix. I do not understand why so many music teachers expect new students to start in September. As if kids didn't already have enough new things to adjust to! But Lena continued to beg for violin lessons. Joey takes piano, so she understands about weekly lessons and daily practice, and finally we agreed that she could start taking in January.

Round about the middle of December I suddenly realized I better get on the ball or I was going to have one very disappointed little daughter. Luckily I was able to find a teacher who had an opening in January -- a woman whom I remembered from high school, when she'd been concertmistress of the school orchestra. She gave us advice about where to rent a violin, and that's what we did yesterday.

We went to this fabulous place called Psarianos. (Say it out loud: Sah-ree-AH-nos! Isn't that marvelous?) It's a tiny shop, hours by appointment only. They have another store outside Detroit that's bigger, and please click the link to check out their beautiful showroom. Though their site doesn't show the Ann Arbor store, it does give a good feeling for the Dickensian atmosphere: deep brown instruments, soft incandescent lighting, and the smell of old wood. Some day I must write a whole post on the smell of old musical instruments. There's nothing like it.

Anyway, Lena and I go in and the first person to walk out from the back room and greet us is none other than the famous Mr. Long. He's a beloved local legend, a now-retired school orchestra conductor. My husband had him through middle school, and so did Lena's new violin teacher. I went to a different middle school, but I had him for All-City Orchestra in 6th grade, and I think also in 8th or 9th grade as well. The music wing of the middle school where he taught is now named after him. And if that's not enough: my sister is very close friends with his daughter, who still lives in town, my niece and nephew play with his little granddaughter every week, and his son-in-law is the attorney who drew up the paperwork for my desktop publishing company. Laurie Psariano looked on with a big grin as Mr. Long and I exclaimed over it all. This kind of thing doesn't happen in her Detroit store! Let's face it -- we may think we're super-cosmopolitan, but Ann Arbor is a small town.

Mr. Long was so kind to Lena. She was very shy at first, but Mr. Long kept at her, gentle yet relentless, until finally they were chatting away like old friends. And Laurie was extremely deferential and respectful, telling Lena how lucky she was that he happened to be there, encouraging Mr. Long to be the one to show her how to hold the instrument, rosin the bow, etc. Which he did. Oh, I wish you could have been there to see it!

I vividly remember the time leading up to my first clarinet lesson. I had been fascinated by the instrument for quite a while. The dad next door had a clarinet which he always kept out on a stand in his study. I remember going over there and sneaking peaks at it. I couldn't keep away from it. Even the word -- clarinet! -- had such a ring to it. My aunt played the clarinet in high school, and she gave me hers. Before I ever had my first lesson I used to open the case and stare at it, smell it (yes, the smell of old musical instruments!), gingerly touch the keys, and ponder. How in the world would this strangely beautiful object produce music?

Lena's there right now. She's got that violin up in her room. She keeps going in to visit it. She listens to her new cd all the time, and has a favorite piece (Shubert's Serenade, bless her heart). She's staring at those four strings and the bow, wondering how in the world this strangely beautiful object could be made to produce music.

And there was our very own Mr. Long, starting her along that path.


  • What a great beginning for her.

    My daughter has been playing since she was 3 and 1/2 years old. She has not always enjoyed it because we required her to play EVERY day. BIG MISTAKE!!! Now that it is not a mandate, she enjoys it more. She also likes showing off in front of her 2nd grade classmates. (Where we live, kids don't get the chance to take music lessons in public school until 5th grade.)

    By the way, my daughter also likes that CD!

    Happy journeys in music!

    posted by Blogger MsAbcMom on 12:57 AM  

  • Funny you should choose to talk about this today. I'm in th midst of penning my own entry on a similar topic. I think there's no better influence on children than good music. Except, perhaps, good books...

    posted by Blogger Kristy on 8:38 AM  

  • First, speaking as a piano teacher, there is a sound reason for starting music lessons at the beginning of the school year (or semester). We want practicing to be an integral part of the day, like brushing teeth, not an add-on, so that when the glamour and excitement of the new venture wears thin it will still take place, being part of the daily routine. At least that's the plan!

    Second, speaking as Lena's grandma, I'm ELATED! Both for her and for you! When I was teaching full-time I always established that it was the child who wanted to learn to play the piano, not the parents' dream. And clearly both Joey and Lena are self-motivated. This, of course, doesn't mean that they will cheerfully go to their instruments faithfully every day, (lol) but since they entered the contract of their own accord they can see the logic of sticking to it for the agreed upon time, usually a year. Can't wait to see what happens!

    posted by Anonymous motherworm on 10:09 AM  

  • I love the new look, Julie!

    I started piano lessons in first grade, and still play some forty years later.

    Did I tell you how much I like the new look? (Of course, I like the link to me, too.)

    posted by Blogger Fred on 9:33 PM  

  • Julie, Julie, Julie you must change the colour! You know that I own green. Even though my site is now purple doesn't change the fact that these GREEN eyes love to tease you. ****IT LOOKS FANTASTIC!**** I am partial to these particular hues of green.

    I enjoyed your delightful heartwarming tale. Your daugher is so lucky you found her a teacher and a good one, to boot! My youngest also had in insatiable yen to play violin. What an exciting day for you all!

    posted by Anonymous Green-Eyed Lady on 3:51 AM  

  • Uh, Julie it's still spooky, but cute also cute, to see your parents post comments to their almost 40 year old daughter here. I thought you live very close to them?? It's so nice they're so supportive. I forget that so many blogs are a family affair because just as many other ones are people's private spaces (or wormholes... ;)

    posted by Blogger GEL on 3:54 AM  

  • Thanks, Silvermoon!

    My father arranged for me to take violin lessons when I was a kid of maybe 7 or 8; it wasn't my idea at all even though I grew up in a home with weekly chamber music evenings. I had a teacher who had no clue about dealing with children and had probably never heard of pedagogy. I hated the lessons but continued playing through college and occasionally in graduate school. Result: Since I heard wonderful music in my head that I could never produce, I lost all interest in playing the instrument. My father, by contrast, loved the act of playing more than he cared about the quality of the product. He and I represent the extremes of a continuum. There is a good chance, old Lena-Bena will come out somewhere in the middle since you did such a good teacher search.

    Having watched countless music students pass through our house over the decades, I'd say the formative effect of music lessons is less like that of good books than that of high-jump practice. You learn to outdo yourself by reflecting on and polishing your performance. There is nothing in most children's lives, especially in our feel-good educational system, that so builds character as seeing self-criticism pay off in the coin of personal excellence.

    Good luck, Lena, sweetie-pie!

    posted by Anonymous Father Worm on 10:56 AM  

  • Music is a wonderful thing--it teaches everything from rhythm and math to physical technique and performance, and gives a fantastic means of conveying emotion. This is fantastic.

    Congratulations on becoming a finalist. And I shall vote for you!

    posted by Blogger Running2Ks on 12:22 PM  

  • The way you feel about a musical instrument is the way I feel about paper. A new pad of paper, a fresh ream of creamy white, waiting for life, waiting for a story. I buy paper all the time just to capture that possibility.

    posted by Anonymous NixieKnox on 5:23 PM  

  • Beautiful! Music is such a gift -
    it is a language and an eloquent
    way to express emotions - or not
    so eloquent!- but a VOICE
    - how thrilling for your little

    posted by Blogger Maddy on 3:36 PM  

  • Congrats to your daughter! And congrats to you. And congrats to the cats in the neighborhood who will think they are in love with whatever is making that glorious noise the first few. . .whatevers (days/weeks/months)

    I'm learning to love the sound of the student violinist, but I think that has more to do with the progress my daughter is making than my increased tolerence.

    More to the point, I read this post with a huge smile on my face. I remember when my piano arrived at the house. (I didn't take for that long, but still. . .)

    posted by Blogger Carson on 11:22 PM  

  • Beautiful post! I started playing the guitar when I was 7. My mom had a friend who's daughter played the guitar. Like you, I loved to sneak a peek through the crack in her bedroom door and watch her play and sing. It was wonderful!

    posted by Blogger Bhakti on 8:58 PM