Amanda Barber

Stories, songs, and thoughts on life.

I am currently accepting voice, piano, and violin students. Learn more or

Teaching Music

06 February 2014

It’s about eight-thirty in the morning. I’m sitting at my table with Cora perched on my leg, wondering what the day may bring. Hopefully, nothing too exciting or catastrophic. All I really want to do today is normal stuff like teaching and writing and practicing violin and drinking coffee and things. Speaking, of which, I think I’ll go make some of that coffee.

Ah, much better.

Anyway, today is the day that I teach in Three Oaks, MI. I drive down to that sleepy little town every Thursday afternoon. I never thought I’d have any business in Three Oaks a few years ago. But last summer, Priscilla contacted me and asked if I would teach violin at a non-profit organization she and several Three Oaks dwellers started–School of American Music. After pondering it a while, I agreed to take the job. I started out with exactly one student in July. Now, I have about seven.

Now the School of American Music is aptly named, for bluegrass seems to be the specialty. A lot of the students take guitar. I get the violinists and a motley assortment of piano/vocal students. So, I feel a little bit like a fish out of water, in some respects. I don’t do bluegrass. Wouldn’t even know where to start! And I think I’m the only one that does classical. But it’s working out pretty well and I’m enjoying the other teachers and my students. First, there’s J– who wants to learn how to sing so badly, she nearly weeps with joy over any and all progress. Then comes little M– who trudges all the way from the elementary school to my studio, loaded down with her back pack, violin, assorted bags and huge coat. We don’t usually make a whole lot of progress in her lessons because she seems prone to itches and fidgets and will often stop three or four times in the midst of a song to scratch something. This doesn’t work out so well with the violin. Oh, well, it’s a good patience builder for me. After M—leaves, A—walks in. A—is a junior in high school and also wants to sing. She’s got a pretty nice voice and wants to make a career of it on “the stage.” I simply nod and swallow my urge to demystify life for her. You know, even if you’re the best of the best and brimming full of talent, it’s kind of hard to make a living in the arts. After all, I’m not such a bad singer, myself, and I’m just kind of scraping through. I haven’t even seen “the stage.” She’ll figure it out, eventually. In the meantime, learning to sing well is still useful. My next student is another A–, eleven years old and just starting out on the violin. She’s a dear heart with a wonderful attitude. Her last teacher must have been a relic of the old Suzuki school because A—has a habit of bowing and saying, “Thank you for my lesson,” after we’re done. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a student bow to me before, and it feels a little odd. But, that’s what she was taught, and I’ll be hanged before anyone makes her feel self-conscious about it. Then comes H–, fourteen years old, quiet and shy. She doesn’t say a whole lot, but seems to enjoy her lessons. She is tired of the same old Suzuki books. (Can’t say I blame her.) But Suzuki book four seems to hold more interest for her. L— trots in after H–. He is twelve and very quiet. He decided he wanted to play the violin after watching an episode of Sherlock. Hmmm. L—loves math and he was extremely excited when I pointed out the mathematical in music. He’s the only student I’ve ever had that looks for and finds patterns in music. He’ll probably grow up to be the next John Nash, coming up with brilliant mathematical solutions to the world’s problems.

Those are the people I’ll be seeing and teaching today.