Friday, September 4, 2009


Yesterday I gave a first violin lesson to a five-year-old girl named H, a beautiful child with wide blue eyes and a short-cropped pixie haircut.

The child's mother had - there's no better way of putting it - "warned" me rather cautiously over the phone prior to the lesson. She's quiet, she's shy, she has developmental delays. She had a "kindergarten assessment" and a psychologist recommended that she get involved in music. She has a hard time focusing. She has "issues." She has "problems."

I really didn't know what to expect when H. walked through my door yesterday, tiny violin case in hand. What I discovered was a charming child who quickly became at ease with me, giggling at my little jokes and standing near enough to rest her hand on my knee as we talked and learned about the violin together. She eagerly asked questions and willingly participated in each task or activity I offered. When her attention briefly waned (altogether normal for every five-year-old I've ever known), a quick change of direction in the lesson brought her back into sharp focus. When her enthusiasm bubbled over, her words ran together and became a bit jumbled - nothing a gentle, "Try saying that a little bit slower" couldn't fix.

So far, she's taken to the violin like a duck to water. None of the stiff, tense fingers some kids have; her hands are malleable and held the bow quite nicely. She breezed through a little game involving oft-confusing commands such as "touch your violin shoulder with your bow hand," "touch your bow elbow with your violin hand," etc. After ample repetitions and lots of encouragement, she was playing a simple rhythm on her E-string right in between her bow tapes, holding the violin with beautiful posture and the bow with soft, natural fingers each in their proper place.

The two of us, I think, had a wonderful time together. There's something quite special about her, and I don't mean that at all in the sense that the "education professionals" seem to be saying it. I just think she's H, curious and sweet, uniquely herself, and altogether delightful. Just one lesson with her, and I completely love her.

At the end of the lesson, H's mother seemed overjoyed. She exclaimed "You're wonderful with her!" and thanked me several times, expressing that she thought violin would be the perfect activity for H.

Oh, I don't say this to "toot my own horn" at all. While the mother's enthusiasm certainly made me happy, I mostly felt a little sorry for her - sorry that H. had to be "assessed" and then labeled as somehow deficient or abnormal, sorry for the stress and worry it had obviously created in this family, sorry that little H. will no doubt pick up on these conversations and feelings amongst her family if she hasn't already. Sorry that it had to be a surprise to H's mother that someone would be "good with her" and enjoy working with her so much. Sorry that every teacher H. encounters in the future won't have, as I had, 30 minutes of one-on-one time at her disposal each week to focus solely on H. and get to know her for the fun little person she is.

There are certainly cases and scenarios in which a family can find comfort and empowerment through a name for a genuine disorder; cases where this provides direction and a great deal of help to a family. But I'm pretty sure that there's altogether too much labeling of young children going on.

My favorite label is a name, and if the child wants to add a comma and the word "violinist" to the end of his or her name, well, my happiness is complete.


  1. This happens all the time with the parents of my piano students. They say things in front of the kids about how, "it's not their fault they have trouble, because they're ADD". Come on! That's gonna be a crutch for an excuse they will never let go of! Makes me sick.

  2. H is one fortunate little girl to have you for a violin teacher. Well done "Favorite Second Daughter!"

  3. Yay, Sarah. I hope you're ready to start Abel when he's 5.