Hello, and welcome to Bow and Quill Music’s brand-new blog! As I continue to journey with my students in their music education, I have been wanting to write about my own growth as a teacher and musician as well as provide a forum for sharing resources and sparking insightful discussion about music.
I also wanted to give you an opportunity to get to know me a bit better, so I’ve decided to start by telling you a bit more about my musical upbringing.
When I was in second grade, I recall seeing violin students perform at an assembly at my elementary school. Though I cannot remember what they played that day, I remembered being in awe. I decided then and there that I wanted to play violin in school too, but when I inquired about it, I was told that I had to wait until the fourth grade.
Two years later, my fourth grade teacher handed out flyers about the music program. Even as the time had passed, my enthusiasm had not waned. I made sure to ask my mom about music lessons when I got home.
Like many parents whose children decide to learn an instrument, my mom was nervous that she would be unable to help us as she did in our core curriculum because she did not play an instrument herself, and our dad was not a musician either.
However, she took a leap of faith and agreed to purchase violins for my sister and I as birthday presents. My sister had developed an interest by then as well, and my mom figured that it would be great for us to be able to help each other.
A few weeks later, my sister and I both began the small-group lessons at our school. We were taken out of class for less than an hour twice a week to learn pieces from the classic String Builder series, which I still have to this day.
We continued to take the group classes throughout the year, and going to music remained the highlight of the school week for me.
Unfortunately, when my sister was promoted to sixth grade, her middle school did not have an orchestra program, and she eventually quit. To this day, this is an all-too-familiar trope in public school music programs across the country. The number of students involved in music, especially orchestral music, declines steeply at the middle and high school levels because programs are either anemic or nonexistent.
Nevertheless, I was able to continue my music classes as I was only in fifth grade at the time. At the beginning of the year, I was nervous about how things would turn out since I heard that we would have a new teacher.
When I got to my first class, I discovered that I was the only student in the advanced group for strings. Everyone else was just barely starting. Therefore, my classes effectively turned into free private lessons.
Luckily, my fifth grade teacher and my music teacher were kind enough to allow me to stay for a second session with the beginners since it was beneficial for me to continue playing with others. This allowed me to brush up on my technique and reading skills, too.
Having a year of these one-on-one lessons proved to be one of the seasons in which I experienced one of the largest spurts in my musicianship as a beginner. I went from the middle of String Builder Book 1 all the way through Book 3 during that year.
To challenge me further, my teacher encouraged me to audition for our All-City Honor Orchestra. I still remember playing “Winnie the Pooh” for the adjudicator and being extremely nervous since I didn’t know what to expect in an audition.
To my relief, I was accepted into the orchestra. I had never seen or played in an orchestra before, so I had no clue where to sit. On the first day, I sat randomly in a group of cellos when I was supposed to be with the first violins! It was slightly embarrassing, but at least I wasn’t the only one.
Being in the orchestra also challenged my skills since I had to get used to different teaching styles, and I had to learn how to follow a conductor and play in time with a large group of people. That experience also allowed me to finally perform outside of school. For example, our final concert took place at the historic California Theatre in downtown San Bernardino.
Though I wasn’t able to get private lessons outside of school at the time, my experiences during my fifth grade year helped me to realize the value of being exposed to different learning environments as a musician. Based on the amount of growth that I had, I knew I would need to get private lessons at some point.
In my next posts, you will learn a bit more about how my middle school experience helped me to decide to pursue a career in music and how my high-school experience challenged me to begin another instrument.
In the meantime, how did you begin to learn music? What obstacles made it a challenge to continue to pursue your musical education?
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