Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Is it worth it?

A few months back, I got this comment on my second ever blog post:

I know this is an old post but I just found your blog searching for Suzuki violin mom blogs. I was reading this post and heard all the same questions I constantly ask myself about how much to do for my 8yo talented violinist. It is really difficult balancing all the kids' activities, time, and resources. Just wondering, now, a couple years later, what your thoughts are?

This question has been bouncing around in my brain ever since. 

When I wrote that original post, Abby was mid-way through Suzuki Violin Book 3, we had just moved, started with a brand new teacher, and I had one tiny medically needy baby.  Now, two and a half years later, Abby is a lesson away from starting Suzuki Violin Book 6, a member of her teacher's advanced performing group, Rocky Mountain Strings, and we have a nearly eight year old, a crazy toddler and a baby.  In short, things have only gotten more intense.

This has been a huge year for Abby.  I don't think either of us realized the time and energy committment that RMS would require.  Along with all of her regular scales, excercises, etudes and Suzuki pieces, she learned, polished and memorized 12 or so pieces for RMS, as well as another 8 or so for her teacher's Book 3-5 group. 

We were in Salt Lake for lessons and group rehearsals at least six times a month, each trip a minimum three hour committment, often much longer.  Because Max is two, and way too energetic to sit through an hour long lesson without destroying our teacher's studio, and Ashlynn is too cool for anything relating to violin, each trip to Salt Lake meant a babysitter.  I traded discounts on violin lessons for my students for babysitting on lesson and group days, which helped, but the lessons, driving, babysitting, instrument maintenance, music, and the inevitable meals out after a late rehearsal took an enormous toll on our budget. 

It's been an up and down year as far as practicing has gone too.  Abby's nine.  She's good at it.   She's full of pre-teen emotions, mood swings and unpredictability.  I feel for her, I really do.  I remember being that age vividly, crying at the drop of a hat for no reason, feeling like the whole world was against me, and no one was asking me to play incredibly advanced violin music!  There were mornings that things went really well and we made a lot of progress, and there were mornings that weren't so great.  To be perfectly honest, there were lots of mornings when I would stand on our middle floor, listening to Abby practicing scales upstairs and Ashlynn practicing piano downstairs, and think "I don't even like music.  Why are we doing this?"

A lot of mornings we struggled to work together.  Really, our story isn't unique.  Abby likes the violin, but hates practicing every day, especially when there are so many more things she could be doing that are more interesting.  She wants me to practice with her, and does much better when I can sit with her while she practices, but our busy household doesn't always allow for that.  And then when I do sit with her, she gets annoyed with every suggestion I make, and then I get annoyed that she's not grateful that I'm there helping her.  None of this is helped by the fact that practicing is supposed to start at 7 am and last for an hour and a half at which time she has to leave for school!

Much of the RMS music this year was incredibly difficult.  Her teacher handed us a "West Side Story" medley that was composed specifically for her group, and I was incredulous.  There was no way Abby was going to be able to learn that.  Then her teacher said we had a month, and I thought her teacher was crazy.  Turns out, we can do incredible things under pressure.  In March, her teacher handed Abby the 1st violin part to another crazy hard piece.  I looked at it and realized that I wouldn't have been able to play it without some diligent practicing.  That time, we had three weeks to get it learned and memorized, and it nearly killed all of us.

There have been lots of tears this year, hers and mine.  Lots of times where I asked myself if it was worth it.  There were a few times where my husband and I wondered if we really should throw in the towel and let her quit.  And I'd be lying if I said there weren't times when I resented it.  Resented the time, the travel, the energy, the obscene amount of money, and all the times the entire family had to be rearranged to accomodate a rehearsal, a lesson, or a performance.  Resented that we were making all these financial and time sacrifices and she didn't even seem to appreciate them.  (In retrospect, she's nine years old!  What did I expect her to do?  Fall at my feet crying with gratitude?)

So why have we done it?  Why have we gone to such great lengths?  Is it worth it?

Yes.  Despite the tears, the struggles, the fights, the yelling, and the wondering if she's ever going to hold her bow correctly.

I've watched Abby grow so much this year.  She's turning into a sensitive, capapble musician.  She's an incredible note reader, a great leader, and very confident in her skills.  She's learned so much about taking a huge project and breaking it down into managable chunks.  She has gained so much confidence.

And she loves RMS.  Loves it.  There's something so special for her about being a part of a group and making music together.  She's one of the youngest kids in there, and idolizes the older girls and has a "secret" crush on one or two of the older boys.  She has made fast friends with three of the other girls that are all with the same teacher and around the same level, and it's so fun to see the four of them giggling together.

Abby with her friends E, N, and A.  These four are inseperable!

  Abby was really in her element during the overnight concert tour a few weeks ago- it reminded me of all the fun memories I made touring with my music groups in High School. 

Her final RMS concert of the year was last week.  She was glowing, beaming with excitement.  Along with Tom, Ashlynn, Ian and I, (we left Max with a babysitter because, well, if an hour lesson is torture, an hour and a half concert would be suicide!) my parents, one of their friends, and my brother were all there cheering her on.  She loved it, the audience all loved it, and I bawled.  Through almost the whole thing.  I knew every note of every one of Abby's parts, but hearing her play as part of the group, and seeing her smiles of satisfaction was so fulfilling.   

So yes, it's worth it.  The endless driving, the fast food, the late nights, the practice struggles, the money.  It's damn hard.  But it's worth it to see my little girl turn from someone who takes violin lessons into a musician.  To see her have a place where she can fit in and belong.  To watch her find true joy in performing.   It's worth it.  Even at 7 am. 


  1. I wish there were "like" buttons on blog posts. : )

  2. Thanks for the encouraging stories, Stace! I'm glad to hear that things aren't all sunshine and roses for you either. Good for you, sticking it out and putting in the hard work required. She WILL thank you for it ONE day... :) <3

  3. Actually, this was a really good post for me because Savannah is the same way with her piano lessons!! Luke was thinking of stopping her lessons altogether but I don't want to. She'll have a couple months break over the summer than will go again in the fall.
    Here's to making it out alive!! :D

  4. Book 6? Incredibly impressive!

  5. We have been in this spot but several years ago. Our daughter started the violin at age 7 and played through high school. She was in the Utah Youth Symphony, high school orchestra, private lessons, etc. It took lots of time, money, driving, and patience. (let alone a new expensive violin in high school) Many times my husband and I talked about if it was worth it. YES, it was! And we have so many good memories! It is a lot of sacrifice but one I wouldn't trade now. Keep going, you will be glad you did. (My daughter is 22 now and we are storing her violin while she lives in Hawaii for several years)

  6. Good for you for sticking it out. We're outside of SLC, but not the smallish part. Do you take new students? Viola? I'll have to email you.


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