I will forever be thankful to my cello teacher!
I was the first student that she took on after finishing her studies to become a peripatetic cello teacher. She came to my junior school and was faced with about 20 children in a ring – all auditioning for the opportunity to have lessons to learn to play the one cello available to borrow from the school.
I vividly remember everyone being asked in turn to copy clapping rhythms and singing the middle note of three that the teacher played on the piano. I have no idea why she chose me, but she did and I started my weekly lessons.
[Years later when I asked her why, she said it was her first day and had to choose someone and had no idea where to begin. I showed promise – perhaps from my playing the recorder for 2 years, who knows?]
After I had been playing for about 4 years I was working hard towards my grade 3 (having passed grade 1 and 2). I was struggling a little, it was hard work and trying to stay focussed and motivated with practising was not easy for my 12 year old self, playing the same pieces over and over and over again.
I didn’t enjoy working on the nuances of playing to make it sound better. It was boring and stressful.
I remember my teacher chatting supportively about my playing and asking me whether I felt that working towards the grades was working for me. I told her that I didn’t like the examination procedure and that I found myself not wanting to practise for it.
What happened next was amazing. My teacher asked me a question that changed everything. How would I feel if I could still have lessons, but playing whatever I wanted to play, with musical suggestions and help from her, but ultimately led by what I wanted to do? No more scales, no more exams, and no more stress.
To this day, I don’t know how she came to the suggestion. It wasn’t in keeping with general expectations, but it was exactly the right thing for me. My teacher suggested I speak to my parents and see how they felt about it. If they agreed, we would move forward from there.
Thankfully, my parents supported the idea. They viewed exams as an expected part of learning an instrument, but were not too concerned if I left them out so I could learn for the love of music and nothing more. I explained that I could always do the exams if they became necessary in the future.
And so I played music. I enjoyed playing music, for the first time in years. I practised because I WANTED to, not because I HAD to.
My Mother was so supportive, buying me random cello music she found at various second hand shops, or reduced in music shops. She got me anything and everything! My fears of sight reading music diminished as I experienced a growing range of music that I wanted to play. The feeling of playing new music from sight and hearing how it sounded for the first time, with me playing, was so exciting. All this after having previously feared the sight-reading exercise included in music exams.
My parents continued to pay for my lessons and for my attendance at music centre on Saturday mornings, where I learnt to play in an orchestra.
I finished my cello lessons 16 years ago, and still like to play my cello. I can’t say whether or not I would have carried on playing this long if I had continued working towards examinations, but I feel that my life has been enriched, and my cello teacher certainly gave me a gift.
At the time, I did not fully appreciate what I gained from the changes to my tuition. It was clear that my attitude had positively changed, but it took years to understand how significant this unusual move was in removing the barriers to my learning. That is why I am so thankful to my teacher and remain so to this day.
In an area of learning where I was given the control, I grew and grew. I am still rewarded every time I pick up my cello and play.