String teacher progress in uncertain times

Dear String Teacher,

We know that what we do in our work sends ripples out into the world, helping people not only learn to make music, but it also gives people the chance to become more patient, better listeners, better at thinking, more able to manage the learning “process,” and more connected in our communities. Of course, learning to play strings gives folks a certain sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction unlike any other activity! So give yourself some credit. There is nothing wrong in acknowledging the good that you are doing, the help you are giving — even in difficult times —  and the patience and perseverance that you put into your work.

Put a smile on right now, and please accept a huge virtual hug from me. I totally believe in what you are doing, and the power of music to change lives for the better.  See, I can do social distancing too!

Have you had a glass of water lately? Have one now, or a cup of tea. Have you stretched this hour? Do it now. Stand up, stand tall, breathe deeply.

In this time of worldwide turmoil, I believe our communities need us now as much as ever. Whether this is continuing to provide lessons via video-conference, phone or other means, is up to us and our students how to proceed. We should take moments out of our day to care for ourselves–our health and well-being are so important!

Our communities need us now as much as ever

Some of us have been teaching online for years, while others of us only last week got our feet wet or dove in head first venturing into the online teaching realm. From feedback I have received from all over the world, although there were a few people very hesitant to get online to teach, by and large the vast majority found it much better than what they had expected. It isn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. (We string teachers are probably the one of the last professions to go “online”, dragging our feet practically kicking and screaming as the very nature of our work is so tactile, hands-on and personal! So don’t feel bad if you are a newbie to coming online. It is nothing to feel ashamed of.)

we love string teachers

Lag time still is an issue for many of us such that we haven’t figured out how to play in real time together but there are some workarounds — i.e. usable free and paid software — which addresses this very issue right now, making it possible to play together. That is right. Playing together online in real time is possible, so I have read. The article I read was by someone who said he still relied on cable (not WiFi) connection to achieve the necessary speed for this to work. It may need a certain amount of fiddling around with, to achieve the right setup with external microphone, interface and so on, but it sounded do-able, even for ordinary string teachers like me. I vow to solve this!

Games and involving the parents are two of the hottest trends

Another difficulty a lot of teachers are facing is that of teaching the very young and how to keep them engaged. There are so many amazing teachers sharing their tips and tricks, I am extremely heartened to see how much we all care about each other! Definitely games and involving teaching the parents right along with them are two of the hottest trends in making this work.

We might be able to convince them to keep taking lessons

When students promptly tell us “no,” that they aren’t going to continue by “online” learning, what are we going to tell them? Tell them off? I don’t think so. It would be better to graciously let them go even when it hurts. We can always leave the door open if we so choose. This isn’t any different to what I would do under ordinary circumstances. Always, always take the high road. But with a little love and open listening, we might be able to convince them to keep their lessons going. After all, how much time have they already invested in this, and aren’t they wanting to play it far into the future anyway? Some families may need some assistance in being shown how to use online lessons, as some may have never used any type of video conferencing before. How many of us were in the same boat until confronted with our current reality, to be fair? So a little extra patience, kindness and understanding may well be in order at this time to help students get set up. Open the (virtual) door for them.

I feel a bit sick, though,  at the fact that many of us are truly hurting now due to precarious financial situations made even more tenuous with people canceling lessons (an unnecessary luxury as seen in the eyes of many) and performance jobs being cut almost everywhere. Let’s face it. What we do for a living isn’t quite like fighting fires, nursing, working as a cashier in a supermarket or offering childcare to the front-line workers whose children need a safe place to stay while the front-line workers are on a shift. I would love to hear your creative ideas on how to secure our futures as private teachers while the world slows way, way down. After all, we are in this together.

From my end, I am mighty thankful that I did make the difficult decision to get back into teaching English while in China, to have a legal employer, besides teaching violin lessons. And I can only give high marks to my administrators for looking out for me and caring about the health and well-being of all our teachers and students through this. Their kindness is so very much appreciated!

Our work is like the threads invisibly weaving the fabric of our culture together

Our work in teaching strings is more like the rainbow of threads invisibly weaving the fabric of the culture together. It goes largely unnoticed by the majority yet it would be an entirely different world if it somehow went missing. I know we will carry on with our work as best we can, forging new ground and overcoming obstacles in creative ways. I was so very encouraged last week to meet up with many teachers open to taking their work online and break new ground to meet the needs of our students and communities. We can and we will overcome this age of uncertainty, just watch (and listen to) us!

Comments, criticism, feedback welcome as always. Use the comment form below. And…

>>Top tips for thriving at home – my freebie for you!

>>March Museletter 2020 is available now (free)!

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COVID-19 Impact & help for string teachers

Namely, the reason for this post is for teachers who find themselves in the new and somewhat uncharted territory of teaching online. This could be helpful for string teachers, music teachers of any kind and all teachers, actually. Before I give some helpful tips for this I want to issue a warning. At this moment in time I am typing one-handed, because my left arm is not very usable for a while. Kind of this is my own fault, having now used the dining table as my desk for a month because that seems to be the best place for strength of signal from our WiFi box. Anyway something happened and the muscle is as if it got tangled in a knot.

At work we may be set up properly; I was, anyway. I do realize the table is about 2-3 inches too high for my long arms so apparently over time the tension served to weaken my muscles. I did stretches and I did have my seat elevated but this was not enough. Yesterday was more or less agony with what was probably a muscle tear or strain on the upper arm. Forget violin playing for a while. Although our online teaching arrangement is a temporary thing, it has turned out to be much longer than what I had anticipated so for this reason I had not worked too hard at setting up my work space accordingly. We are looking at at least two more weeks of teaching online now, which means six weeks minimum so far here in Suzhou.

Now I have even greater sympathy for all of you who have already gone through shoulder and arm injuries. Funnily enough, I have never had a playing injury before because I had enough proper training on our physiology and violin playing. But teaching online, watch out. I am using my laptop, which creates an awkward situation for people, especially if you have a long neck or limbs. What I see as a solution going on from here is plugging in a keyboard to sit on my actual lap and raising the screen more toward eye level. Also I plan to use a mouse. So please make sure you set up correctly.

  • Have the screen at eye level.

  • Have the keyboard a tad lower than your elbows. 

  • Stretch before using, including wrist rolls, head, neck and arm stretches, as well as at 40 minute intervals.

  • Use a mouse.

From the previous post you may have inferred that I was downplaying the situation on the ground a bit. If so, you would have been correct. It isn’t that things are at a standstill, far from it. Life is still humming along, virus or not. Just today many restaurants reopened to dine in, instead of takeout only.

Besides being confined to teaching online and not being able to get together with friends, the supply chain that we have become accustomed to has been disrupted. That is, some things are available (staples, for example) but other things not so much, or there is no expected timeline for when things will pick up again. We have to take a kind of permission slip each time we leave the compound, and our temperatures are taken when we return. Temperatures are taken at almost every place of business, and wisely so. Everyone here wears masks, but it is more of a cultural tradition and a show of solidarity that one would never want to transmit any illness, especially with something like COVID-19 which may be likely to be transmitted without people having symptoms.

On to a few useful hints that have been helpful so far. I have used Zoom to hold classes every day as well as for staff meetings. There are some great things about Zoom for running a class, such as

  • breakout rooms – assign students to their own rooms for discussion
  • instant reactions (thumbs-up and clapping)
  • chat
  • various other useful controls (sending a private PM to a user, mute button, etc.)
  • so far it has never crashed when I have used it

If you would like to see this for yourself I will hold a Zoom meeting for string teachers or any teacher and I invite you to try it out together. If you let me know when you may be available during the week and your time zone we can set this up for next week (16-20 March). Just send me a note with your interest below and I will set this up.

Because children are having to spend so much time online for all their classes it is more effective in my opinion to have activities which are interactive with each other as much as possible. One thing I use to keep them on their toes is having them call on each other after I start an activity, and ask each other the question at hand instead of me doing it all the time. The social factor is extremely useful here.

I have also used a vocabulary game where, after they have studied the vocabulary, I call out a definition and they raise their digital hand if they know the answer. At the end of the game, the winner is the one with the most points for correct answers, and I put a piece of candy in the candy bank for them for when we get back to the real school. I use the piece of candy at the beginning to help stimulate their excitement. I know, some teachers don’t like external motivational factors, but honestly, some of the time I think it is fun for kids and does no harm. It also makes it seem a bit more real, that they will have something to look forward to when we get back, besides hitting the books!

It is definitely a challenge to manage the digital classroom but with some creativity and flexibility, it offers some exciting new opportunities too. There is an article about one program already very successfully using online lessons in the March, 2020 Museletter if you’d like to learn more.

For individual lessons, one set-up that I have found that works well is to stream the lesson through my phone on Skype while using the laptop (a tablet or i-Pad would work here as well) with the digital music on it right next to my phone.  Here I feel Skype, Zoom or Facetime could all be nearly equally effective when teaching one-to-one.

If you would like to get the coming Museletter, this is a free quarterly for all who teach, learn and love string music with articles supporting teachers and learners which I offer you as a public service.  Just click here to get access: >>Museletter

Do let me know if I can answer any questions or how I can support your teaching. I am here for you!

Update:

Bonny Buckley is inviting you to a scheduled free Zoom meeting. You can join a free meet-up to learn more about using Zoom and ask any burning questions here. Skype will also be compared. (We use it too.) Any and all teachers welcome, the more the merrier!

Topic: String Teacher Zoom Practice Mtg
Time: Monday Mar 16, 2020 08:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
https://us04web.zoom.us/j/7787127981

Meeting ID: 778 712 7981

Disclaimer: although I will do everything possible to ensure the smooth running and connection to this meeting, I cannot be responsible for disruptions to Zoom’s service or other unforeseen internet issues.

xx,

Bonny

 

Persistence vs COVID-19

Today is Saturday, February 29, 2020 and we are back in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China and have been since the 6th. This area has not been very hard hit by the COVID-19 virus, although many precautionary measures are still in place. No new cases in a week or so, and of the 87 total cases, the one serious case was downgraded to a common case and 59 were discharged according to bendibao news.

Spring blossoms at Jinji Lake, Suzhou

It was an unusual experience to have a visit with family in the states voluntarily prolonged by my school and airline.  Also was strange when the US canceled all flights to China, so luckily the airline got creative and let us re-route through Canada. Lastly Snoqualmie Pass closed due to accidents in a snowstorm when we should have headed over it to be on time for our flight, but we just braved it anyway and it did reopen a few hours later. When it snows heavily on the pass, it is a good reminder to slow down.

It is pretty much forbidden to have any kind of get-together, most restaurants are closed and it is discouraged to go out. When we do go out, we wear masks and have to take a permission card from our guards, which we give back when we return and they take our temperature. But life goes on. I am counting my blessings in that we are safe, we can still get groceries (even imported things we like, like cheese) and we are able to work. The calmness suits me very well.

temporary sky office

I still teach violin using the internet, and I still teach students studying to take the IGCSE exams through a Cambridge International Assessment Centre at Nanjing Normal University Suzhou Experimental School. But the latter also has to be done online for some weeks until school in China is allowed to formally reopen.

This makes for an unusual set-up as for managing teaching and learning in a high school. We hold a daily meeting as a staff in the afternoon, also by video conference. I can’t say I mind not commuting across town and it also isn’t too bad having a lake view in my pseudo-office. This is also more carbon-friendly.

On the other hand, it certainly is not the same as seeing students face-to-face in the classroom. We do see each other through the screen, but this has its drawbacks as well, since cameras get moved and some students feel like it’s fine to play games on a phone while pretending to pay attention. The problems are compounded by the fact that most parents have already gone back to work so the kids are left home to take their classes online, but unsupervised, or high school students are left in charge of a younger sibling also while being expected to take classes.

That being said, a lot of students actually respond very well to learning using the internet, and even enjoy it more. (I have a great link to a story which shows evidence of this also in music education with a special distance learning program – get the next Museletter if you still need to sign up! It comes out in March.)

Bonny at Suzhou Center Mall, February 2020

A lady who is taking violin from me via video conference continues to make progress, and I pretty much always find it a joy to teach her, as she patiently and consistently puts forth effort and persistence. Her most recent accomplishment is having learned sautillé bowing, which honestly I did not know if I would be able to manage teaching online. Somehow it worked! And for me, that was the win of the week despite the virus, despite a hiatus of lessons with her due to time zones, international travel, and even postponing her latest lesson. It just goes to show that persistence is something which accomplishes a lot more than wit, money or background. Persistence is something freely available to all of us at all times. Let us all persist in the matters that are meaningful to us. What’s that for you?

 

 

American Festival Orchestra Inner Mongolia Tour

2019.12.25 – 2020.01.02 AFO (American Festival Orchestra Tour)

Musicians of Germany, Malaysia, Uruguay, China and the USA met up on December 25, 2019 in Yinchuan, Ningxia Province for a symphony orchestra tour of several cities in Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. Many of the players comprising the orchestra are regular players in the York Symphony of York, Pennsylvania and the Yakima Symphony Orchestra of Yakima, Washington. Half of the program was traditional Chinese music and the other half was western classical favorites.

Yinchuan, Ningxia Autonomous Region, China

After a somewhat grueling first rehearsal, we enjoyed an elegant, fantastic holiday dinner together on December 25, 2019 which was hosted by the organizer and the hotel. Some members stole away back to the theater to attend the last performance of Phantom of the Opera interpreted by the Cuban National Ballet, one of many astounding unexpected pleasures.

Christmas in Ningxia, China with AFO
Holiday dinner for musicians

The first concert was held at the Yinchuan Theater, where we were warmly welcomed and the public stuck around for some pictures and interaction afterward. The second concert took place in Ningxia Theater, also in Yinchuan, which was also enthusiastically received by the public.

Holiday dinner on 2019-12-25 in Yinchuan, Ningxia Province, China with AFO American Festival Orchestra tour

Next stop was Alxa in Inner Mongolia (阿拉善盟 • ᠠᠯᠠᠱᠠ ᠠᠶᠢᠮᠠᠭ), passing through the Helan Mountains to reach the destination. Along the way, we enjoyed the landscape and passing by wild camels.

a segment of China’s Great Wall built during the Ming Dynasty along the border between Ningxia and Inner Mongolia in the southern Helan Mountains.

So far on the tour, this public was even more excited about our visit, being the first western orchestra concert ever to be held there. This, I gauged by the third standing ovation, for which we were running out of encores. It was also televised for the local schools. The organizer also mentioned that a teacher comes there (a two hour drive) from Yinchuan to teach violin classes, so it seems the need for and love of stringed instrument education certainly does reach far and wide.

Inner Mongolia – Alxa, Erdos and Baotou, China

Erdos (also written as Ordos) is a fascinating area known for Genghis Khan, its cashmere and wonderful museum.

Erdos Museum, AFO Musicians 2019.12.31

Erdos Theater by day

The concerts on such a tour are amazing, to be sure, but even more incredible are the friendships and relationships formed by doing this. Music has brought together professionals from five countries to promote friendship and music between each other, China and western countries.

One of the highlights for many of the musicians was contact with the audience after the concerts. A lot of kids and adults loved to take pictures together after the wonderful musical experience together.

Another incredible fact regarding this tour is that each orchestra player (professionals willing to spread international friendship through the language of music to far-flung places) has footed his or her own bill to reach China, while the tour organizer arranged for all of the ordinary domestic expenses such as the hotel, transportation and meals. Thus, there were some hours available for exploration and touring, which we took full advantage of!

Of course, it would not have been possible without the patience and persistence of the people leading this through to completion, such as Mary Winterfeld (Yakima Symphony Orchestra Manager and patron saint of patience), Lawrence Golan (Music Director) and Dr. Larry Lang of Fred Fox School of Music of the University of Arizona, not to mention the 60 or so talented and dedicated musicians who gave up their holidays to become musical diplomats during the coldest part of the year in China.

Pagoda climbing in Yinchuan, Ningxia Province in December, 2019
Ice biking, dragon boating, chair racing and all around fun at -14 C in Alxa, Inner Mongolia with the Helan Mountains in the distance

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Thinking, a powerful tool

There is an old saying about when you think you can’t, you are probably right and when you think you can, you are also probably right. Thinking is likely our most powerful tool, so let’s use it for the benefit of all.

There are a lot of things that I want to accomplish in life, some of which are only now coming clearly into focus. One of these things is to be more of an interface between the public and live string music. In my personal experience, I have observed that most people in the world do not have much, if any, experience with live music played on stringed instruments up close.

I love to play music on my violin or viola for people in smaller venues, where I can interact with people personally, in a way I cannot do from big concert stages. (I enjoy playing on famous stages too, which is why we also play in Shanghai!)

We have gotten to know a local Toastmasters Club in Suzhou through a colleague of mine, and last Tuesday we were asked to talk during their special Saturday meeting in what they call a ‘sharing’ session. Well, this resonated with Bernd and I, and we decided to give a 30 minute talk / presentation / mini-concert on the topic “Music: the language of the heart”.

That meant there were three days to prepare this. Yikes! What had we gotten ourselves into?! Despite the short amount of time we had to prepare, we worked on this together, and finally had what we thought would work. It didn’t come completely easily. We definitely discussed and argued over it a lot, just to let you know we are entirely human.

It took me a long time to reach the place where I was ready to start talking in public and I am still working on this. And honestly, playing music on the stage is far easier than giving a speech, (for now). But once I told myself I wanted to do this and just let myself be open to the possibility of getting practice speaking, the opportunities have been knocking.  In fact it’s even led the way to making some really nice friends.

At the venue, we listened to two speakers working through their pathways toward ‘confident communicator,’ both of whom spoke well. And then it was our turn.

What I discovered is that people really responded to both the music and discussion, and it also seemed that people were hungry for more. I am not saying this to shine light specially on us, but to make this fact known, that people genuinely respond to live string music (probably all instruments, to be fair) and many folks actually like it once they have this kind of exposure.

One lady honestly remarked to me that she had recently been to a classical music concert for the very first time, and that it really wasn’t like what she had expected. She said it really wasn’t that terrible. 😊 That might sound a bit on the negative side, but to my mind, for someone who may have been completely closed off to the idea of listening to a concert before, then having attended one and then seemed to be saying that she might be open to a future concert, was actually a little bit inspiring.

Other people wanted to know when they could hear us play more, and still others told us how much they enjoyed this session. It did seem that this topic boosted the energy and enthusiasm of the group.

All of this is to say that I see myself as an interface between the public and classical music, helping people get more experience listening to live chamber music. The bonus is getting more experienced on the stage to promote this fabulous form of music and art.

So if you want to let people know about live string music, and you are a string player or teacher, why not step outside your comfort zone and share your music in your community? There is such a need for this now, as the more people use texting, email, chat and non-verbal or impersonal means of communication, the need for interpersonal experiences is only going to increase. Think of exactly what you want, how this might work, and let your mind come back to that thought again and again. This is a powerful intention. Our thoughts are ours to choose so let’s choose wise ones, for what we put in our thoughts, our minds go toward.

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Ready or Not, Here Comes Teaching

This time around I’m ready. I can’t wait to get back into the routine, get to know the students and my colleagues, planning, preparing lessons and teaching. What I am not quite ready with is my work visa, though I hope very much that it will be completed this month. I’ll probably need to take a trip to Hong Kong to apply for it. I thought I had all my documents in order, but I have to update some things like my health certificate, background check and diploma authentication, which is why it’s taking longer than I had thought to be able to apply for the work visa.

I’m really excited about my job teaching Cambridge English ESL and Music in a Chinese boarding school. My colleagues are all intelligent, kind and enthusiastic, and the teaching materials are high quality. Even the work-environment is good with lots of trees and beautifully landscaped gardens; the workload is fair and the lunch is amazing – large variety to choose from at a very reasonable price, which was a pretty strong deal-maker for me even though I hadn’t tried it out in advance. I believe people are much happier and learn better when they have a good diet, and that is certainly the case in this school.

It would be difficult to find a more ideal teaching environment. It’s unusual to not only get along with all your colleagues and the administration but actually like them and enjoy them all. I am definitely thanking my lucky stars on this one.

What I find to be truly blissful in my current position is that there is enough time and flexibility for planning, preparation, collaboration and evaluation. That is rare indeed in education these days. The program director makes himself easily available to the teachers and even teaches a section of economics, so he also has day-to-day contact with the students.

It’s an amazing program, really, considering that these high school students are taking all of their subjects in English, compressing two years of instruction into less than one, because their goal is to attend university overseas in the UK, the US or a major Chinese university. Imagine for a moment an entire class of native English speakers (or any other native language) learning Chinese well enough to take their whole high school program in Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses in Chinese! That is the caliber of students we have. I have deep respect for the effort that these children and their parents have put into their education, and I am delighted to have been chosen to be their teacher.

The levels of bureaucracy between countries when one is an international teacher are actually not very different from each other. Everyone who is qualified (with an accredited degree and preferably also teaching certification) who wants to teach in China should be able to manage it, it just requires a certain number of official documents to be processed and it takes some time to get them. Patience is definitely an asset because there are several things which take weeks or longer to process. There is also an age limit, but it varies depending on the subject, the need (read: desperation level to fill a post) and one’s highest degree.

This school is a joint venture between the local Suzhou government, Nanjing Normal University and a private education group. I worked at Nanjing Normal University teaching violin to violin majors ages ago! It never occurred to me that I would ever be teaching for the same institution again in China, but I’m very glad I am.

Like the old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Only in this case, when the teacher is ready, the students will appear!

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It is published in March, June, September and December.

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20190718 Suzhou June Concert Update

Suzhou Update

We pulled off a wonderful concert at Shanghai Oriental Arts Center on June 29, 2019, with Anton Yeretsky conducting a full symphony orchestra and a local Chinese choir singing several pieces to start the program and perform the closing piece.

The repertoire included some classical hits such as Mozart’s Overture and Allegro to the Magic Flute, the dances from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, Mendelssohn’s Scherzo and Wedding March from his Midsummer Night’s Dream and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Nos. One and Five. The other pieces consisted of movie classics: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Princess Mononoke, Indian Jones and the Pirates of the Caribbean. Each piece had clips from either nature or the movie shown on a massive ~15 m digital display behind the orchestra.

I loved connecting with old friends and making some new ones, and especially hiring a private car to take us back to Suzhou with Bernd’s double bass afterward. Unless you use one, you might have no idea about the logistics involved in transporting a double bass around eastern China without a car. Luckily for now, it’s still allowed to be taken on bullet trains, whereas we’ve heard that on the route to Beijing it no longer is.

We felt so honored and happy to see about eight friends in attendance in the rather full audience—thank you so much for coming!

I’m writing this blog today not to show off, but to show what music teachers can do when we put our minds to it, as most or all of the orchestra was composed of music teachers. Hats off to you, Anton.

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String Teacher Moves to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

This string teacher has moved house to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, China.

Mostly I’ve been quiet in the blogosphere lately because after our wonderful student concert in Stuttgart (along with the lovely and very talented, kind & generous string teacher Cornelia Hierlinger and her student), I had to focus my attention on our move to Suzhou, Jiangsu Province in the People’s Republic of China.

Those of you who know me, know l am no stranger to China. I’ve taught and performed in China for ten years so far, so what’s three more in the big picture, after all? Plus, it will force me to brush up on my Mandarin skills. I love it when l can read some characters l had no idea l still knew. Memory is a funny thing; it seems very much like a computer sometimes in that skills and pictures get stored beyond our consciousness and are retrievable based on demand. I don’t mean you can just willfully call up something you think you forgot; it isn’t that simple, at least for me. But l do experience a place-based awareness which l believe is really a thing.

Like when l go back to my hometown, l know and recall all kinds of things l don’t have conscious access to when l’m overseas, largely because l don’t need it constantly, just when in that place.

With music though, l use it everywhere, and this special language never really gets lost as much as verbal language does. Could be that that’s because it’s something l use more constantly. I’m finding it easier to manage switching between German, English and Chinese now too. Just don’t ask me to be an official translator! That’s a whole different ball game and not one l am interested in jumping into. Of course, unofficially, l do it all the time.

So, in this blog l wanted to give you an update on SuperStrings Studio and what’s happening in my work life, the Royal String Teacher Association and a Museletter.

Although we’re living in Suzhou, Shanghai is something of a magnet pulling me happily back there with concerts to perform and friends to visit! Luckily for us there’s a fast train station nearby which has frequent trains taking just 20 minutes to Shanghai. For about the same price as what we had to pay to go from Böblingen to Stuttgart we can get to Shanghai about 50 miles away, and faster. (Overall it does take longer because foreigners have to show up in person at the station to buy tickets, which one does in advance or else face frequently sold-out trains if one waits till the last minute, and some destinations inside Shanghai take an hour or more to reach too.)

If you’re available, l would love to invite you to these wonderful concerts, all of which will take place in Pudong at the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center. I have to thank our good friend Stephan Brandel for inviting us to play music together with his ACMP friends. Through Stephan and colleagues from previous concerts I’ve played, I’m very grateful to be asked to play in these concerts.

Why do l sacrifice time away from building my business and teaching to perform in concerts? The answer is simple: it’s fun, even if it’s a lot of effort. The music is of a very high standard and l love the repertoire! It’s great to reconnect with colleagues and meet new ones. In short it soothes the soul and makes the world a better place. It’s nice to be paid and it’s also fun to show students what might be in their futures if they pursue it.

A Museletter arrived in early June 2019, the fifth issue, and continues to be a way to connect with other string teachers around the world, encouraging, supporting and generating a fun vibe for all engaged in string music education. The June 2019 edition features the incredible and lovely Wendy Velasco, a cellist and cello teacher with some fantastic things to say about music and how she teaches. In case you’re new to it, there’s no charge for a Museletter but it’s full of real teacher news, interviews, tips and inspiration. Since it’s a publication l produce out of love and compassion for our profession and the dear teachers who already sacrifice so much for our students, l offer this free of charge as a service each quarter to give back. My life has been immeasurably enriched by my students and their families; if l can share some of this wealth of knowledge and experience with you then l am very pleased to do so. The only thing it “costs” is your subscription by email, because l want to send it out only to people who truly want it. l put my heart and soul into it as well as a significant amount of time and effort (read: blood, sweat & tears). In case you’re on the fence and are wondering whether to subscribe or not, there’s no catch at all. That’s a promise. I am not going to spam you and won’t share your contact information with any third party except for the mail client Mailchimp, which l use to make pretty formatting and to send it out. I host the issues myself on SuperStrings Studio’s website. You can also unsubscribe at any time, no questions asked. But l hope you’ll fall in love with it and will look forward to reading it every three months!

As far as teaching, l thank my students and their families in Germany so much, as well as my dear colleague Cornelia Hierlinger and Sarah Kupke, Head of School at the International School of Stuttgart in Sindelfingen, for our work together and the beautiful experiences (and progress) we shared. I continue to teach a few by video conference and am excited to play concerts in the Shanghai Oriental Arts Center.

The Royal String Teacher Association is still taking shape and will become available later this year. Members receive

  • Monthly Super Topics which will dive deeper into subjects relevant to string teachers in the 21st century (only available to Royal String Teachers)
  • Live video round table discussions each month
  • Invitation to join a live meet up in China (possibly Germany and the US in future)
  • Collegiality, friendship, fun and support from me and other amazing members in a private group on Facebook
  • The ability to be matched with another teacher to have a professional colleague to pair with and be accountable to for any goal you’re working toward or just for general support
  • Option to participate in a self-evaluation certificate program to improve your teaching (no additional charge for members)
  • The chance to be part of something growing and keeping pace with the times using digital communications & social media to enhance our teaching and professional relationships

Founding members join at a ridiculously low price, which will remain permanently in effect as long as one continuously remains a member, even when the price increases for the second and subsequent membership offers, and even when additional valuable services and content are added!

There is also full transparency with the Royal String Teacher Association, as what is promised is what is delivered.

As far as readjusting to life in China, that’s an ongoing process but now that we have an apartment, things are starting to feel more at home. I’m also now the proud owner of a chocolate colored bike, not that I would’ve chosen the color but there was only this model, and it was the only one that looked like it would hold up. Most people in Suzhou either drive cars or ride electric scooters, and of those riding bikes, they mostly use free city bikes. (Non-carbon dependent transportation is something we all can use more of!) Those city bikes are also handy because you don’t need to worry about theft and can simply leave them when done with them.

After visiting the local court house for my husband’s work unit today, l was reminded how much bureaucracy l have endured so far in my life. I’m honored because without it l couldn’t have moved to Germany once and China three times. I think l’ve about earned a PhD in it by now! And there are myriad little things about daily life here that l won’t bore you with but are decidedly different from life in the west.

There is a period of adjustment to living in the middle kingdom, even though l have already spent ten years working in China. One good thing l can say with certainty is that the diet is better because it is so much more heavily plant-based. I seldom even have coffee any more, but when l do l can appreciate it so much!

How about your life in strings? Have you got recitals planned or an informal play-in for your friends or students? I’d love to hear from you in a comment!

1

String Teacher Dream Date

Have you ever asked yourself what your ideal string music educator day would be like? If you could dream up anything and create a day that was amazing beyond your wildest dreams, and you could put that dream date on a calendar, knowing it was coming into reality would you do it?

What would your dream day be like? Can you envision it in great detail, not just what you would do but how you would feel as you are in it?

Right now mine goes something like this, and I do believe it is attainable, so maybe that’s a little hint that I need to dream something wilder.

I wake up with my dear husband in a comfy bed with clean, soft sheets and an airy feel to the room. The room, like our home, is warm and open, with natural light and plenty of room for air and ideas to circulate. And there are plants. Beautiful, healthy green plants to help create cleaner air and liven up the room just by being there. (This is in China, by the way.)

We get ready for the day, relaxed and joking like usual, and have a delicious, fresh breakfast together and discuss the plan for the day.

We’ll have some exercise in the morning sunlight, and maybe have a meeting or two, make some notes and any quick follow-up activities and then break for a cappuccino.

Next we practice music for our upcoming concert, and then have a healthy but tasty lunch. We may have similar or different agendas in the afternoon: I imagine teaching around 8-10 students, then having a break. Or alternatively, I spend time  on arranging, composing, writing and developing projects like the Royal String Teacher Association which need focused attention.

Then it is time for another break, maybe a snack but definitely something delicious and hydrating to drink like fresh squeezed juice, a smoothie or lemon water.

After this I check on any further follow-up I should do regarding colleagues and family in distant time zones, and have some me-time to write in my journal and think through the steps I plan on taking the next day.

Throughout the day I’ve been outside several times, getting fresh air and sunshine, and spoken with a variety of colleagues and friends. We’ve probably used German, Mandarin and English.

In the evening, we’ll either go to a lovely restaurant for a relaxed dinner with friends, or we’ll have a quick dinner at home and continue working on the projects we love, or play chamber music with friends or on stage in concert.

At the end of the day, we pick up any belongings we’ve set down during the day, and straighten up our home a bit before getting ready to wind down. During the last 20-30 minutes, we sit together and reflect on the day and talk about coming plans, hopes and steps we will take to make our next dream into a reality.

So right now, I’m not completely there yet, although there are many of these very real aspects of my ideal day already in motion, on a regular basis, and exist almost every day. For this I am extremely grateful! But you know what? This didn’t happen on accident. This happened because I’ve laid the ground work, worked at it for many years, and keep tweaking it to make it ever better.

It may be a stretch to get much clean air outdoors in Suzhou this year, but we will definitely do some (okay, a lot of) traveling to get more frequent fresh air. Plus have mentioned our first shopping trip is going to be to the flower market to invest in some lovely air-purifying plants?!

What does your ideal day look/sound/feel like? I would love to know! Share yours:

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Super fantastic bonus alert! Would you like to read about some amazing string teachers and what they are bringing to life in the musical world? Sign up right here! Your inbox will thank you. 🙂

 

 

 

Why Validate String Students?

Three Easy & Honest Ways to Validate String Students

What does that mean, to validate students, anyway?

Validating students shows learners that they are of value, not only as customers, but that they are valuable as human beings. Everyone needs the feeling of validation, and giving this to students costs nothing but attention and a few seconds, yet this practice can do wonders for both learning and teaching.

Read the rest of this article in the fourth issue of a Museletter, coming out in March, 2019! (It’s free, & comes out each quarter.)

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