Friday, October 2, 2009

Music and Motherhood

The Bach Double Violin Concerto is a huge piece of music. When I teach it to my violin students, it takes months to learn just one of the two violin parts. The piece was placed where it is in the Suzuki Violin books to push the student to an entirely higher level in their playing- to stretch their playing in a way they've never been stretched before. When I start teaching it, I isolate the hardest spots in the piece, and we learn those spots first. Sometimes, the hardest spots are just 2-3 notes, but they are never more than a measure or two. Then, the student gets the assignment to play those spots over and over again; usually 25-50 times a day correctly. If its not correct, they can't count it. Once those 2-3 spots are perfect and memorized, then we do 2-3 more spots. This goes on for a month or two of lessons, chewing up the hard spots until they become manageable. Then once the spots are manageable, we work until they are played freely and with ease.

Usually, by this time, the student is frustrated with drills and tired of the piece. It feels fragmented, and the student has lost some of the vision of what the piece can become. Still, for a few more weeks, we work on spots; they need to be effortless before we can move on. Then, the week that they come back to me playing all the sections memorized and perfect, we have a magical lesson. We spend the lesson putting the jigsaw puzzle together. And suddenly, the collection of measures that they have been drilling endlessly for months become music! Something wonderful, exhilarating, and complete! After that lesson, the Bach Double is joyful. I send them home to practice renewed.

The next week, the student comes able to play the piece all the way through. They are excited and ready to move on to something else. Problem is, its called the Bach Double for a reason- there's two parts. Now comes the exciting part- fitting the two parts together like an intricate jigsaw puzzle. This at once maddening and magical as spots that were easy are now monstrous when combined with another violinist. But gradually, with lots of give and take, lots more drill and lots of time, seasoning and maturing, the student and his or her partner are ready for the concert stage.

I've been thinking a lot about motherhood lately. The good, the bad, the frustrating, the maddening, and the joyful. About how flawed I am as a mother, and how much I want to be better. It feels much like learning a huge violin concerto. I don't know about you, but I can't be a perfect mother. I don't even come close. Sometimes I work on patience. Over and over. Sometimes I have to work on patience 50 times in a day. Sometimes it feels like I'll never get good at patience, kindness, or keeping my temper in check when the baby is whining and the dinner is burning and the six year old is reading "Junie B Jones" at the top of her lungs. There are times when I don't know if I'll ever be able to keep my 4-letter words to a minimum, or be able to keep the house from overflowing with toys, dog hair and laundry in all its stages. Sometimes I have to work on just one or two things and let the other things go. Sometimes I get discouraged because we're only playing little bits of what we know to be a huge masterwork. I get frustrated to be so impatient when I know I still need to work on great big qualities like charity, forgiveness, kindness or tolerance, and then incoporate all those qualities into my parenting. But I hope that someday, with enough repetitions, things will get easier. I hope that one day, I'll get better at patience and be able to work on something else. And maybe by the time I'm old and gray (and literally can't play the violin anymore,) I'll be able to perform the parenting masterwork beginning to end with my husband as my partner, and we'll get to feel the pure adrenaline rush that comes from that synergy and achievement.

As a violin teacher, I would never expect my students to be able to play the Bach Double after one week of lessons. It would be incredibly unfair for me to spend a few minutes in a lesson teaching one practice spot and then expect everything to be perfected after seven days. And it would be absurd for me to hand someone a violin and teach them the Bach Double first, before learning "Twinkle Twinkle" and all the other masterworks that come before. The Bach Double takes months to learn, and then years to perfect. I think being a mother or a wife can take a lifetime as we learn bit by bit. Our Father in Heaven doesn't expect us to be the perfect mother all at once. He is a kind and patient teacher, who never gets frustrated when he has to teach us the same lessons week after week, month after month. All he cares about is that we're practicing, even if we're practicing just two notes for months at a time.


  1. This is a very profound analogy, Stacy. I really liked reading through it.

  2. This is a beautiful parable. Thank you for sharing. I want to learn to play the piano someday. I even bought a piano, but haven't started lessons yet.

    For me potty training is one of those 'hard parts'! I just can't get it. None of my kids trained early. I am hoping my youngest changes the trend.

  3. Ah, that was beautiful! I can totally relate, though I had never thought of it that way before.

  4. I'm with you 100%. I loved your analogy. Unfortunately for me, you're comparing your mothering experience to mastering a violin concerto. I'm thinking I'll end up in the kazoo section...but If I'm lucky, maybe I'll get first chair:)

  5. Stacy, you are an excellent writer. I love your entries. Keep it up! What a fun talent...thank you for sharing it. :)

  6. Tears rolling down my cheeks as I read this. Sometimes you feel all alone, then you realize that across thousands of miles there are women everywhere that are going through the same lessons.

  7. I knew I had a big sister for a teach me profound and valuable lessons. Love ya!

  8. You have a great idea and title for a book. You are such a great writer with incredible insight. I think you should publish.
    I'm hoping to pass of my "two notes" soon. When will I learn?

  9. {Wiping away the tears} -- this is beautiful. I'm right there with you, practicing the same two notes again and again.

    I'm so glad you posted this on your blog! ;)


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