You never know the impact you have in the world. Occasionally people come to us later and we find out how something we said stuck and I’m always surprised at what did. I think we accidentally hurt others more often than we realize. But sometimes we help or inspire and can be just as oblivious of that, too.
I’ve been teaching violin for many years. At my peak I had a studio
of about 40 students which wore me out. Currently I only have one, but
with three kids and a store and more things to juggle than I can handle
most days, she sometimes wears me out too. I like getting to know other
people and I like music and I like passing on things I’ve learned.
many students I think I was a pretty good teacher. For some I know I
wasn’t right but hope I did okay. And then there are a few I still
wonder about with no sense of how I did at all. When one of those pops
up again it kind of rocks my world.
Being a music teacher often feels like being a counselor. Part of
that is simply having one on one time with a student apart from parents
and friends. Students confide because they want to and they can.
Sometimes it’s merely practical to listen and talk because lesson time
is valuable and if a student is preoccupied with an emotional issue it’s
hard to get any real work done until they get it out. I know when I
was in college I couldn’t play two notes on my viola without my teacher
being able to diagnose my emotional state. Music is expressive, and I
was unable to separate my feelings from my playing. I would start to
dive into Bach or Telemann and the next thing I knew my teacher was
saying, “Oh no, why are you so sad today?” Then I would talk, and he
would listen and nod, and eventually we’d get some real work
I’ve been a sounding board for kids who are upset about dating
troubles or their parents fighting or problems with siblings or school
or who are freaked out about the future. I listen, I nod, I try not to
overstep my bounds, and I get them to clear their heads enough to
concentrate on music before our time is up.
Most people in a position to take violin lessons come from fairly
stable situations and their troubles when they crop up are things I can
relate to. But I’ve had some students with hard lives and problems I
don’t always know how to address. I tell them what I can, hope it has
any bearing, and worry that in my efforts to help I’m not inadvertently
being insensitive or making things worse. You never know.
Recently a student I hadn’t seen in more than a decade resurfaced.
This was a student I have thought on and off about for years. I’d never
had a student who had been bounced around to more foster homes, and I
was worried that this person when released from the system would lack
direction and end up with a bad crowd. I was honestly concerned that
this student could be taken advantage of and wind up dead. So when this
person appeared in my violin store I was relieved, to say the least.
I never knew if anything I did in violin lessons had an impact on
this student. This person’s life was complicated, and I was never sure
where violin fit in. I played it by ear (so to speak) and did what I
could and hoped for the best. But now I know my presence in this
person’s life did matter, even if at the time I wasn’t sure. When you
make assignments and they are ignored week after week, and someone
doesn’t follow your instructions or is distracted when you try to
explain something, it can feel like talking to a wall.
However, I think being there, being consistent, not letting down my
expectations or giving in to ways this student pushed me, made an
impact. I was there at a time as other people came and went. And not
only did this student remember me, but retained a love for violin.
This person came by just to say hello, but I had learned a few days
before from a fellow teacher who taught this person with me that our
former student, due to difficult circumstances, no longer had an
instrument. So I fixed that.
Every once in a while I’ll get a donated instrument that should go to someone special. I’ve had a particular violin hanging behind my bench for some time waiting for the right person.
I decided my former student would be a good match. It’s not a valuable
instrument from a market point of view, but it was dearly loved, and
will now be treasured again.
My former student is still on a hard road, but doesn’t act like it.
This person is trying to address life and the world with a sensitivity
that I find humbling. Now this person can do it armed with a violin. I
watched my former student leave, smiling, cradling that violin as if it
were the key to something grand and hopeful. Which is exactly what
With a little luck some of those lessons I taught all those years ago
will go to good use. That makes me happy, and it makes me proud.