Belief empowers! In my life, there have been many occasions where I have been taken aback by the power of the teacher’s word or action. The concept is both frightening and awesome, depending on the motivation of the teacher and the (sometimes unknown) response of the child. The story here took place in my studio a few years ago.
I had two violin students with the same name. I will call them Big Ben and Little Ben. Big Ben had been my student since the age of 7. He was then 14 years old. Little Ben was 5 years old and had just started his violin life. Big Ben was a pleasant, gawky, intelligent teenager and a wonderful violin student. He was, however, perceived as precocious and difficult at school. Little Ben was, on the other hand, barely articulate, muscularly weak and was having trouble even making the school readiness tests for pre-K. Little Ben’s desperate mother thought violin lessons would be therapeutic. The first few months of Little Ben’s lessons were not easy as I realized that this situation needed every special teaching skill I could muster. The mother took copious notes during lessons and made little videos of particular teaching points. Nothing came easily to Little Ben. One morning, at the end of Little Ben’s violin lesson, Big Ben’s headmaster happened to phone me to discuss the problems they were encountering with Big Ben at high school. Little Ben’s mother had just told me earlier that his pre-school teacher would phone me to discuss whether Little Ben could play the violin in a Christmas concert (my heart sank).
In my discussion with Big Ben’s headmaster, I said, amongst other things, that I thought Ben was a brilliant violin student and a fine boy and that I would call back when I when not teaching.
Over the next few weeks, Little Ben’s violin playing reached heights that were baffling to me. I was, as always, full of praise about specific details, but wondered how this transformation took place! I asked the mother what she was doing in home practice that I should know about. She told me that when they had heard me speaking on the phone about Ben’s talent as a violinist, they were so overjoyed that they rushed home and phoned Granny in another state with the exciting news! From then on, little Ben and mother started practicing 3 times a day, seeing as he was so “talented”…….I almost choked and stopped myself from saying “But I was talking about Big Ben”. They believed from that moment on that, despite all the learning and other challenges, the child was gifted. And they did something about it, which was to really work hard! Little Ben went on to become a fine swimmer, all in pursuit of strong arms for violin, and won the “Most Promising Young Violinist” prize at a music competition, judged by a violinist from the Suisse Romande Orchestra. He is now 24 years old, has his own string quartet, has performed as soloist with orchestra, and is a 3rd year student in Medical School. Amazing what practicing and a motivated parent can do! (Big Ben also has a string quartet, has his PhD in Aerospace Engineering and is a successful astro-physicist.)