Lessons with a new teacher

For the first time in several years, I have decided to spend some time working with a new music teacher. I spent a couple of months trying to find a teacher in Calgary who is willing to work with me on my terms, i.e. one lesson per month and is willing to help me work my way through the Grade 8 and up RCM exams.

Since I haven’t spoken to my teacher yet in person, I will refrain from identifying him for now. Anyway, this blog entry isn’t really about my teacher, but about me, and how I feel about starting lessons with someone new.

Stage Fright

I always tell people I don’t believe in stage fright. Since I’ve been up on stage many times, performing in one way or another for at least 30 years, I think this is true. When I am well-prepared, be it for a speech or a briefing at work, or a vocal/instrumental solo or group performance, I am never nervous. I think my mom told me once: just remember, you know your piece better than anyone else in the room. Which is true… because I’m a perfectionist.

I don’t get up on that stage until I’m 100% ready. Each note is pitch-perfect, each tempo is exactly as written. I’m such a technical perfectionist that my early violin teacher M. Letourneau once told me: “You are technically perfect but you lack soul”.

Nowadays, I try to be more expressive in my violin playing. Maybe at 12 I wasn’t really feeling it. But the strange thing is, I’m still a perfectionist. Only I’ve found so much more to be perfectionist about. Not only do I want the pitch and tempo to be perfect, but also the expression, the dynamics, the bowing, etc. All those elements of “sound” I talked about last week.


Which brings me back to my teacher. When I was searching for a teacher, it was all excitement. Reading bios, sending out emails to try to find someone willing to work with me, waiting for a response. Now, I have a date and time at which to present myself at my new teacher’s studio. And I find that I’m nervous.

I’m nervous because this is one of the few times that I’ll be playing for someone who quite possibly knows the piece better than I do. Certainly, he has a far greater musical background than I do, even if he’s a violist, and thus possibly not intimately familiar with all the violin repertoire.

As a perfectionist, I recall vividly each time I have truly failed at something. In particular, I remember a spectacular failure in my early teens. I’m not sure whose idea it was for me to audition for the Quebec Conservatory of Music. I can’t possibly think it was mine. It must have been cooked up between M. Letourneau and my mother. Regardless, I had an audition. The man evaluating my audition was (and still is!) the concertmaster of the Orchestre Symphonique de Quebec, Darren Lowe. Now you have to understand that Darren was something of an idol to me. Not so much as Itzhak Perlman of course, but in a somewhat more attainable way. Any young violinist at least considers the possibility of a career as a musician, and to me Darren represented what a career like that could look like. I could never in a million years see myself as an Itzhak… but maybe if I worked really hard, I could be a Darren.

I failed. It was a failure for the ages. I was so nervous, M. Letourneau told me later, that I had used a grand total of about 3 cm of my bow the entire time. The simple fact of being in the same room with someone I admired and who was judging little old me was simply too overwhelming.

Moving forward

In hindsight, this was not the end of the world, of course. I don’t think I would have ended up choosing a career as a musical performer, even had I passed that audition. Anyway, I had intended to become a vet from age 4, but that’s an entirely different story. But it does serve as a reminder that perfectionism can be an asset in a lot of ways, as long as you don’t let it get out of hand and handicap you.

I am trying to remember this as I practice for my lesson. On the one hand, my nervousness at meeting my new teacher is a good thing. I’ve practiced more diligently in the past week than I was before. I don’t skimp on my scales or my double stops. I work more consciously in my practice, dedicating practice time to individual elements of a piece rather than just playing a piece through a few times and being satisfied with that, as I would have done at 14.

But I can’t help that niggling feeling of “what is he going to think of me? Who do I think I am thinking I can impress this guy?”

New violins are on their way!

I am ecstatic to announce that I’ve put in my first order for a number of student violins from SAGA instruments.

SAGA offers a range of violins, from affordable starter student violins to high-quality instruments for the discerning amateur. I’ve ordered a couple different Cremona models in a few different sizes to get a feel for the quality of the instruments for the price. All these new violins will be available for sale or rent under the violin rental program.

Just for fun, I ordered this little beauty also:


The SV-75 is their “premier novice violin” and comes in sparkling purple, among other fun colours. I wish these had been around when I was just learning to play as a child!

Big changes are coming!

Big changes are coming at Studio Kingma 2.0 this week! I’m expanding, in more ways than one.

One thing that has been bothering me for some time is the size of my music room. When I have a young student coming in with a parent, it gets really crowded real fast. But that’s to be expected in a 9′ x 10′ room. So I’ve done some work, rearranging my place so I can use the larger of the two bedrooms, which is about 12′ x 14′. Big difference!

I figured while I’m at it, I should paint the room to give it a fresh look. Once I’ve got the painting done, the new curtains and pictures up and the keyboard moved in, I’ll put up some pictures of the new studio.

The other big change is an expansion to my business model. A big frustration for my students and their parents is the need to make a day trip to Calgary every time they need violin accessories. I’ve been in contact with Saga music, makers of the Cremona line of student violins, as well as the publisher Alfred music and Shar music for accessories. I hope to build a small inventory of necessities for students and other string players in the Brooks/Duchess area.

Check back soon for more info!

My kid is on their 3rd lesson… and they still are not playing!

I think this is the single-most voiced complaint among parents of new students, especially very young students. Let me debunk this off the top: Your child is not going to become a violin virtuoso in a month, or 6 months, or even 3 years. Playing violin is a very difficult skill and if you want them to become proficient at it, you’re in it for the long haul. Just ask my mom… she had me in weekly violin lessons for 14 years!

Of course, your child WILL be playing violin within a few lessons and will be able to play quite a few pieces quite well by the time they’ve been taking lessons for a few years. But often, parents of new students get a little frustrated with my method because it seems like we’re not really playing the violin for the first few lessons. We seem to do a lot of singing, some body exercises and not much actual manipulation of the instrument, let alone putting bow to strings for the first time!

From a teacher’s perspective, I look at it like building a house. You can’t start the cosmetic work like painting or installing bathroom fixtures until you have a foundation, a frame and a roof. And you can’t build all three at the same time. Same with the violin. The student needs to learn how to hold the violin, how to hold the bow, how to place the fingers, how to move the bow, etc. We teach all these things concurrently but separately.

So, in a half-hour lesson, your child might spend a few minutes practicing holding the violin under her chin. Then we’ll sing some music together. Then we’ll practice holding the bow. Then we might listen to me play something on the violin or piano. Then we’ll play some games to teach the proper bowing movement. And so on. These many small exercises, interspersed with breaks to listen to music or sing, help us create the initial building blocks without overloading a young child’s attention span.

Rest assured that after a few lessons, we will put all the pieces together and put bow to strings. But in order for that to happen, the parent has a crucial role to play. When you go home from your lesson, your 5-year-old is not going to remember the bowing game or placing their fingers like little houses in a row, or the melody we are learning. It is your role to help your child practice 4-5 days a week in order to reinforce these lessons so we can keep building on them week after week. In some ways, you will become more of an expert on the theory of violin playing than your child. I’ve even had some parents come back to take lessons themselves when their child is a little older, and because they have so much background theory knowledge already, they generally do very well!

Be patient and before you know it, your child will be playing her first notes on the violin. And in a few weeks, you will be begging me to get your child to play something other than “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” because you’ve heard it SO MANY TIMES!

Kiwanis Southeast Alberta Science Fair!

It’s been another crazy busy day for Studio Kingma. Early this morning, I set off for Medicine Hat for the day so I could attend the Science fair. The day started off with some delicious waffles provided by Medicine Hat college for the volunteer judges. After some chitchat with my fellow judges, many of whom are also my colleagues out at Suffield, our real work began.

3 hours of judging projects studying everything from the relative density of various concentrations of sugar water to novel applications for spices and essential oils to innovative ideas for renewable energy projects. There were also various educational workshops covering subjects like 3-D printing, how to extract DNA from strawberries and even a “make your own slime” activity!

I was very impressed by the variety and thoughtfulness of the projects on display. It was very difficult for us judges to decide who the winners would be, but we got there in the end. I’m pleased to note that the Defence Research and Development Canada award was won by Malak, who hails from Duchess (yay!) for her project on using thermal energy from lakes to produce electricity. Congratulations Malak!

You can check out some of the pictures taken during the day at their FB page:

Kiwanis Southeast Alberta Science Fair

Brooks music festival 24th edition

I am spending a quiet evening at home after 2 busy nights attending and volunteering at the Brooks music festival final concert.

I have to say, I am always impressed by the level of talent that our community’s youth have to offer. From youth choirs and school bands to musical theatre and composition, it was two fun-filled evenings of music and song.

Check out the students who distinguished themselves with a 2018 provincial recommendation here.

I was also very pleased to be able to meet some of the organizers who dedicate their time and energy to making the festival a success year after year. Without their hard work, none of it would be possible.

I hope everyone had a chance to attend as well, and if not, maybe consider doing so next year. Personally, I hope to be in attendance as an instructor next year, looking on as my students do themselves proud.