I've been thinking lately about better ways to teach kids how to care for their instruments, something I have begun to see as a gap in my method. Lately I've noticed many of my students need reminders about not swinging the bow or violin around, poking the tip of the bow into their foot, the ground, the stand, etc. It's a problem, especially because I know that when they are free from the lesson room and the harping of the teacher they will revert to their own whims and habits. As the parent of two preschool boys, I know well that I have to both discipline the behavior and approach the heart of the child in order to aim at changing their motivation.

It's my job to help them want to change. In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit I'm particularly sensitive about the bow tip as I just spent $500 getting the ivory on mine replaced after it had what looked like an everyday crack to me. It also scared me a bit that it had gotten bad enough to need more than a quick fix because I know how crucial the mechanism of the tip is to the proper function of my lovely bow. I should have taken care of it much more quickly when I saw the first sliver of a crack. Lesson learned.

Yung Chin,
bow whisperer & pernambuco conservator

In last night's Oregon Symphony program I particularly enjoyed this part of the interview with violinist James Ehnes about the privilege of playing his instrument:

You've played your Stradivarius for 11 years. Describe the relationship you have with something that is your constant travel companion and, I would assume, your most precious item.

One of the more interesting things about violins is that they're works of art that help create works of art. It's as if you had a Rembrandt that could paint a Rembrandt. It's a very unusual thing. I feel fortunate that the people I was around from a very young age instilled in me feelings about these instruments. I mean, my first violin was probably worth $150. But that just seemed like an unbelievable amount of money to me. It was more money than I could process. And then as I got a violin that was worth $500 or $1000, and these figures.. I think they put me in this reverential respect for instruments so that as the stakes got higher, I'm not sure my attitude towards the instrument changed.
I remember one of my old violins dated from the early 1800s. It was just a three-quarter violin, but I could tell that this instrument had been through a lot of hands. When my dad bought it for me, he explained to me that the only reason I have this is because generations of other lucky young people loved it and took care of it and made sure that I would be able to have it someday. And certainly when you get to an instrument like a Strad, you're just upping the ante there. Because it would be really a tragedy if something happens to one of these violins. The only reason that there are any left at all is because people appreciated them enough to take care of them.
(emphasis added)

So there's my task as a teacher. I want to instill in our students a respect for their instruments that encompasses not only the instrument as a tool of expression, but also the art involved in creating them and the longevity of the creative lives of stringed instruments. This thinking can be presented to students in a way that includes respect for their bodies & brains as creative tools as well, tools which need time to learn, many repetitions to remember, and good maintenance to perform at the top of their potential for their young owner/operators.

This soup of responsibility & reward is one of my favorite things about kids learning music. I love the many opportunities this discipline gives them to explore and demonstrate these truths themselves, and even enjoy the steep challenge inherent in getting to those rewards.

Here's a video from youtube with audio of Mr. Ehnes speaking about the Stradivarius "Sassoon" violin and playing Kreisler in a deliciously beautiful way. Keep it playing, and around 3:20 you're rewarded with video of him playing. Note to my students: You may keep your violin thumb that high when you are as tall & free of tension as this accomplished dude. That is all, enjoy!