Beyerle and the Viola Lesson (short version)/Is Nurturing for the 1%?(short version)

My time in Germany was full of interesting and funny moments, but the most important day of my time there, a day that would shape my philosophy of teaching forever, was the day I had an all-day lesson punctuated by a few odd events. Beyerle taught all over Europe. He had posts in Hanover, Basel and Florence. This was nuts beyond belief, but somehow he made it work. He would sometimes be gone for a week at a time and when he came back we either had marathon lessons or multiple lessons in one week. On this rare sunny and chilly Sunday, he decided we were going to have one of those marathon lessons and that we were going to solve my left hand issues for good. For several hours that day he listened to my trills over and over until he finally got the result he wanted. The patience it took to listen to this crippled little bird play trills a million times, looking for tiny differences in my finger action, could only be described as monumental. Years later I had an epiphany about that lesson. At first the lesson was only memorable to me because of the general craziness of the day. That lesson was punctuated by numerous long interruptions. In the middle of the lesson we got up and went to buy a car to replace the ailing Honda Legend (the Acura nameplate didn’t exist in Europe) he drove all over Europe and never maintained. The car buying adventure is a post in its own right. After buying a car, back to playing trills. Then we stopped mid-afternoon to eat lunch: raw milk Gorgonzola cheese, pig liver pate, butter, Como bread and of course, white wine. I had very little wine. Being drunk for a lesson wasn’t on my agenda. After lunch, back to playing trills. Then one of my classmates, Cornelius, showed up and Beyerle decided it was a great day to get the wings of the windmill turning. They were newly fabricated, made of steel and weighed a literal ton a piece. Cornelius had the job of getting them going and I watched in horror as he almost got smashed to bits when he lost his balance getting them going and fell right into the path of a wing.

So what was the epiphany? This may sound like a tangent to a story that is all tangents. It came rushing to me headlong during the weekend of my friend’s wedding in Princeton, New Jersey eight or nine years later. Not being able to afford the hotel, I was staying with some very nice people who had a son in middle school who played the trombone. The day of the wedding, their son was playing in a recital at his community music school and we went to it on the way to the wedding. The kids, except for one little ‘cellist, didn’t play that well. What stood out to me plain as day, however, was how carefully everyone paid attention to these kids. The sense that these young people were being nurtured was palpable. I realized at that moment that I had only witnessed this a scant few times in my life. That my memorable viola lesson was one of those times. I thought then about my own students in Idaho, where I was working at the time. I wondered if they were receiving this nurturing from me, and if they were getting it anywhere else. I carried this thought with me to my next job, in North Carolina, and everywhere I went I watched the kids and wondered if they had ever felt this. Then I realized out of the blue that this sort of nurturing was a luxury in the extreme. My own single mom, who was just trying to keep us afloat, didn’t have the time or bandwidth to think about things like this. She lived through a war and the order of the day was survival, not nurturing. Besides, nurturing could easily be confused with coddling. Immigrants don’t coddle. Teachers who nurture, really listen, take their time, observe carefully and react to what’s in front of them are vanishingly rare. They’re also hard to find, busy and very expensive. When you listen to people talk about the great violin pedagogues of the 20th century – DeLay, Galamian, Suzuki, Gingold – a common thread, this sense of deep nurturing, runs through all of their stories. I’ll forever be grateful to Hatto Beyerle for giving me my life as a violinist/violist back. I’m even more grateful to him for showing me what it looks like at the mountaintop of teaching. It’s a goal I’ll climb towards for the rest of my life.

*A little note about the picture. This is the view from the backyard of the little “bodega” that was behind the windmill. This bodega only sold locally sourced products, like organic yogurt and mache. You can see the room where I had my lesson under the right side of the windmill. It’s a modern addition.

Next Time: Mr. Irrelevant

Copyright Rising Tide String Project 2018 (Erik Bryan and Chung Park)

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