Violin in musical theater live orchestra


Violinist at the College Light Opera Company 

An educational experience which has shaped me into a better person, was playing violin in the pit orchestra at the College Light Opera Company.  The College Light Opera Company, CLOC–still running today–is a live musical theater company in West Falmouth, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the US. It continues to operate with the delightful accompaniment of a live orchestra, which is where I met lifelong friends and performed nine shows each summer over the ten-week season. This included the good fortune to have had the tech expert and fine musician David Pogue as conductor for one of the shows. In an intense summer of musicals, aspiring Broadway or opera performers receive training and performance experience under the guidance of the musical theater directors. The company all lives together for the summer at an inn near the ocean, where the duties of maintenance and meals together are shared. The orchestra had Sundays off so we often would go into the town and sing songs with each other at a live piano bar or swim in the sea. One time I ate an ice-cream cone instead of having dinner. I recall a moonlit swim, friends driving down from Boston to come visit and lay on the beach, and many nights laying under the stars dreaming about life and imagining ideas with friends.  

Living at the inn was also first rate, even if the accommodations were shared. After lunch I took naps almost every day while a gentle sea breeze wafted over me like butterfly kisses. A special treat, maybe not for everyone but I enjoyed it, was the outdoor shower.  This was still the time before smartphones were ubiquitous, and internet was hard to come by, so it was an extremely peaceful existence. 

Sadly, the fabulous cellist Nadia Seiler, passed away in a tragic accident, far before her time. I mention her specifically because she was a good friend and wonderful cellist who we all miss dearly. We had played one of the Mozart flute quartets together in the ritual community chamber music concert, also a very meaningful event for all.   

This company would not have come into existence, nor would it have flourished as it does, without the dedication and spirit of its founders, Bob and Ursula Haslun, toward whom I feel an immense sense of gratitude. I would also like to remember and honor Bob, who also recently passed, for his lifelong dedication to music, giving this gift to many generations through his work at CLOC.  

During one of the summers, I was going through a very painful personal crisis, and I remember a distraught and tearful conversation I had with Ursula and B, who kindly listened and were there for me when I really needed someone. The theater, the music, the shows, the friendship, the sea; all of these helped me endure the terrible agony of a marriage that was doomed to fail.  

I am writing about CLOC as a personal reflection, because I am still very much in love with its purpose, its organisation, its dedication to people and bringing music to life. It is rare to find an orchestra providing the accompaniment to professional or semi-professional musical theater, so this is a cultural icon which has touched many generations, and it continues to do so. If you teach college musicians, you just might encourage them to audition for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.  


Do you write about things that you cherish? If so, let me know about it. xx


Living the high-life in Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP)

Living the High-life in SIP

by Bonny Buckley

Nearly five years ago, my husband and I moved to SIP from Böblingen, Germany, when he accepted a new position to work in Changshu, a suburb of Suzhou. Once we arrived, we quickly found a bright apartment on a high floor in the compound Linglongwan Huayuan to the north of Jinji Lake. Star Regal Property Management, which is also located in SIP and has plenty of experience helping foreign clients to find suitable accommodations, helped us to find our place. We love Bayside Garden for its location and its many conveniences, like having a supermarket with international groceries, restaurants and a European style bakery in easy walking distance inside the neighborhood.

Although both of us work outside of SIP, we deliberately choose to live here because of the fine quality of life, and we enjoy many of our favorite activities right here in SIP, such as sailing, playing chamber music with international friends, and attending cultural events when we have free time. We decided early on that it would be best to live where we can also relax and have everything we need close by. Suzhou Insdustrial Park fit our needs and desires very well.

Since one of the things we value most in life is developing international relationships, speaking foreign languages, or using Chinese or English as a second language to discuss and solve problems, and exchanging cultures and ideas with people around the world, we have found that the population of SIP suits us. It is very international here. In the building where we live, there are several different nationalities and the neighbors are very friendly.

One of the businesses we adore in the park is Shen Musical Instruments in the Pilot Free Trade Area. Sam Shen sends his finely crafted instruments overseas primarily to the USA, where thousands of schools get to enjoy the benefit of his craft. Mr. Shen told me he has sent over 40,000 double-basses to orchestras there over the years! We love his instruments so much that we have purchased two double-basses, a viola and a world-class violin bow from him. Mr. Shen’s work is known overseas as very high quality, with totally reliable workmanship which has a reputation so high that he does not need to do any special marketing to have a very profitable business selling his instruments there.

We have become well acquainted with Suyihui Art Gallery, enjoying its exhibits and performances, and have also been able to share our love of music through several concert events in their space. The owners have worked hard to learn Chinese and integrate into the local community, bringing art and music to life to residents, young and old alike.


Through the Album of Suzhou, we got to know the lovely Zhang Youjie, a great translator, artist and cultural liaison who also lives in SIP. We have cooperated with her on several projects to bring the music of China and Europe together, with her talent in speaking and playing the qin. Also through Zhang Youjie, we got to know Cao Xiaojiao, Founder of the SuZhou LeQinShu Traditional Culture Studio, where we sometimes meet to prepare performances and collaborate.

张有杰Yang Youjie, (Sophia)

East-west collaboration at Suyihui Art Gallery

A few years ago we got interested in Toastmasters, so we decided to join the C_Life E+1 speaking club. We enjoyed many great meetings, cultural sharing events and special times together with so many friends while improving our speaking and leadership skills. We definitely recommend joining Toastmasters in SIP if someone wants to improve their confidence and get more experience in speaking and leading.

We find that it is wonderful to be able to walk to many glamourous, high-tech spaces from home, such as over the Rainbow Bridge on the way to Suzhou Center Mall, or to Suzhou Culture and Arts Center, and Times Square with its world-record overhead digital screen. We especially love to check the wind on Jinjihu from our apartment’s sweeping view, and if the wind looks promising, jump on our bikes and within a few minutes be at Baqi Sailing Club. What a fantastic life, that we can get out on a boat to enjoy nature through the power of wind and water within a few meters of home.

Safety is something we all need in our lives, to be at ease when we are out and about, and we definitely feel very safe in SIP. We are able to access high quality health and dental care when we need it and know that here we have friendly police looking out for people. One time, when my chain came off my bike and I didn’t have any tools with me (nor gloves), an officer stopped by and put it back on for me. I was really grateful and relieved to have his assistance! I love having the Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic as well as an international clinic within a few kilometers. The doctors in both places are very kind and professional.

Although we live in the middle of a high-tech, ultra-modern and efficient city, I appreciate being able to enjoy a lot of nature right here in SIP. When I go out for a walk, I love it that I see the four seasons through the lens of nature, with flowers, birds, water and a huge range of green plants and trees.

Another lovely destination we enjoy from time to time is Baitang Arboretum, with its wide variety of trees, plants, flowers and wild birds which inhabit it. When we want a quiet stroll away from the road, we love to roam around inside Baitang.

Xietang Ancient Town is also a place we discovered in SIP while on a long walk—we suddenly happened to come across it on a lonely day when we were really tired after strolling for about five miles. There we found a quaint and relaxing teahouse where the inside was set up with an outdoor area where you can relax and chat, have snacks and while away the time with refreshing, delicious tea.

Also, I feel impressed by the attitude of the SIP government, that local officials are making an effort to learn to speak better English with foreign residents in order to create a welcoming environment. Even volunteers during the pandemic seemed patient and willing to help us when we did not understand something, or the rules and regulations changed. We always felt that the volunteers doing the virus throat swab testing here were very patient and kind toward the international community around us. Although the whole world has had its ups and downs dealing with the pandemic over the past few years, in general we feel incredibly grateful for the effort of the community and government officials in SIP doing their best to help people to remain safe and as healthy as possible.

On my first trip to China in 1993, the concept of SIP had not yet emerged into reality from anyone’s imagination. Although I have lived in China for fourteen years up to now, I have spent the most recent four years in Suzhou, and no other city compares with the overall experience of life in SIP.


四年多前,我和丈夫从德国的Böblingen搬到了苏州工业园区(SIP),当时他接受了在常熟工作的新职位。一到达,我们很快在凌珑湾花园小区找到了一套明亮的高层公寓。位于SIPStar Regal物业管理公司帮助我们找到了这个地方,他们在帮助外国客户找到合适住所方面拥有丰富的经验。我们喜欢湾景花园的地理位置和便利设施,比如附近有一家提供国际食品的超市、餐厅和一家欧式面包店,步行即可到达。 






几年前,我们对Toastmasters产生了兴趣,所以我们决定加入C_Life E+1演讲俱乐部。我们参加了许多精彩的会议、文化分享活动和一起度过的特殊时刻,不仅提升了我们的演讲和领导能力,而且结交了很多朋友。我们强烈推荐在SIP加入Toastmasters,如果有人想提高自信并获得更多演讲和领导经验。 









A hypothetical, historical, energetic journey of a violin

A conceptualization of the path of energy involved in the transformation of a violin, something I wrote in 2016 as part of a course on Energy with Eann Patterson in a MOOC at the University of Liverpool. Thanks to Cheri Noble for reminding me of this! I have deliberately composed this looking at the journey backwards to take you through space and time starting from a possible “now” and moving backwards. If that’s weird, start at the bottom and read up. It could be equally enjoyed from the bottom to the top. 
a violin-fish with energetic waves in blue tones, depicting the transformation of nature and time and the path of the music created by a violin



Why seek string teacher coaching?

String teacher coaching is something we string teachers can use to help us in our work, and indeed, all kinds of teachers can benefit from being coached. Why? The main purpose of string teacher coaching is to help us realize and act on our own solutions, with guidance and perspective from our position in life right now, drawing on our inner resolve and highest good.

collage showing violin and viola scrolls and a sign toward string teacher coaching

Plenty of us have taught students for many years, often with little or no assistance getting a studio started or maintaining one. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And why is it that many of us don’t get coaching in this very detailed and demanding profession? Different to string teacher training, coaching offers a more personalized array of assistance, including these potential benefits: 

1. String teaching skill enhancements

Coaching can help us identify areas for improvement in our teaching and provide us with the guidance we need to support our skills. This can lead to better student experiences, more positive outcomes, and higher levels of engagement. Typical areas which we often find we need help with are as follows. A)Teaching students how to practice, instructing teenagers or the very young, B) teaching adults, and C) teaching vibrato. These are just a few areas many of us struggle with that we can overcome.  a smiling lady wearing a t-shirt with a violin, receiving string teacher coaching

2. Self-awareness

Coaching can also help us become more self-aware, both in terms of strengths and areas needing attention. Becoming more self-aware leads to the ability to make better choices, to communicate more effectively, and boost relationships with students, colleagues, and parents. Most importantly, string teachers can become more confident  based on a better understanding of their true natures and gain a stronger belief in their ideals and the direction they want to go.

3. Work-life balance

String teacher coaching can also help us manage time, name our priorities, set boundaries and maintain a healthier work-life balance. This can help us find some quiet each day, prevent burnout and improve overall well-being. Another potential area of coaching within work-life balance is our financial health. A coach can assist us to become more financially competent, make more confident decisions around money and help us consider our futures in a supportive atmosphere.

Bonny Buckley with her viola and the columbia river in the background, an example of someone who engages in string teacher coaching

4. Business development

String teachers can learn more about the business side of their work, how to manage a studio, budgeting, and marketing, planning and organization, ethical considerations, and how string teaching is a service to others. Skills, tools, and shortcuts to vastly improve the business of string teaching may be introduced by the expertise of a professional string teacher coach.

5. Professional development decisions

String teacher coaching can help connect us with ideas and opportunities for professional development, which all teachers need. This supports us to keep pace with teaching methods, pedagogy, apps, and current best practices to help our teaching to thrive. 

In the end, the pluses for receiving coaching in our teaching practices and life decisions are numerous, while the opportunity costs of not doing so can have negative ramifications, including financial ones. It makes sense for string teachers to seek out coaching opportunities to improve our skills and outlook, grow personally and professionally, become more confident, learn to make sound financial plans and investments, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Being coached may well take our string teaching from being acceptably good to outstanding and impactful in our communities. It might even help nudge you into the most important journey of your life, which you alone get to define.

Have you been wobbling on the fence, considering string teacher coaching? Here is your chance for a special discounted offer, valid only until the allocated spaces are filled. Give yourself something you will be proud of and enjoy — a vote of confidence in yourself! Book in now for your no obligation game-plan call to find out if you would benefit from coaching.  Saver price — limited time only: $397 for six coaching sessions with Bonny.
Learn more about coaching with Bonny.


Friendly string teacher

Are you friendly as a string teacher? Well, of course you are, I hope. Why do I ask, you may be asking yourself? The reason is, we often have skewed views of ourselves and the way we interact with our students and colleagues. The real question to ask is, “Am I friendly toward myself?”  

That is, have you ever tried to be more kind and friendly toward your own being? How about toward your body? We teach all kinds of things regarding how to use our bodies to hold the instrument and to produce tone yet we may neglect to observe how this comes across.  

I was reading about someone having a private yoga class where the instructor told her to mentally state to herself “…my friend” after each breath, such as “Breathe in, my friend…breathe out, my friend…” which really altered the experience. The writer then went on to implement these phrases throughout the day, and remarked what a huge difference it made in her life!  

I’m going to give it a try. There are so many motions we go through in a day, and I mean physical ones, where we could introduce either this very phrase or another that exerts positivity. Just imagine how much fun your student will have when you do something with this, like “Listen to your tone, Jane, my friend!”

Will you give it a try with me?  I’m willing to try this out on myself to start with and I’d love some company. What do you think? Is it important to you to be friendly as a string teacher? 

If you are not already in our free private group on Facebook for Royal String Teachers, jump on board now for glittery inspirational string teacher ideas and frameworks while I’m still absorbing all the costs! https://www.facebook.com/groups/rstafreearea

Get more personalized support with a string teacher coaching package with Bonny Buckley. Get your free game plan call for your long range success right now!   



Strings and the pandemic in Suzhou

violinist with Chinese silk screen of mountains behind her

The past two and a half years have been such an unruly giant squid of experiences and emotions. At the beginning of this, we were on a trip to the US and only made it back into China by the skin of our teeth, so the saying goes, before quarantines and lockdowns became commonplace. After an initial very quiet couple of months from Chinese New Year 2020 until April that year, we taught online. And then, although we wore (and still wear) masks in public spaces, with a local health declaration code and travel record we were able to go back to in-person working and teaching, even domestic travel was possible, although sometimes difficult.

In August of 2020 and in 2021 we were went on holidays inside China, to Yunnan and Gansu, both of which I 100% recommend. Although on our trip to Gansu, there were a few outbreaks around China, including in our province, so we were constantly on alert as to whether we would be put into quarantine, sent home, or something else. Day by day, we managed to fulfill our itinerary and made it home unscathed. Nevertheless, the worst was yet to come.

We even managed to participate in a few concerts in Shanghai with Shanghai Baroque Soloists, although things started to get more complicated last winter when, after the first rehearsal in November, my school forbade me to continue to go to Shanghai. Then another concert should have taken place in March this year, but that’s when things got silly in Shanghai. Bernd had his bass with him and was staying overnight in a hotel because his workplace is also in Shanghai; he’d planned to keep it with him while going to the rehearsals and concert. Then, suddenly things went south. No more commuting.

The city said in a news brief it was not going to lock down. Then, with escalating cases, it declared it would hold two 5-day lockdowns in stages: first in Pudong, then in Puxi starting a few days later on April 1. Then we all know what happened next. Roads were closed, people were locked in place and could not leave their residences. For two months, some could not go outside, and some for longer than that.

After about seven weeks of this, I trudged over in person to my neighborhood committee to ask for help. I was told that only the people who needed their doctor in Suzhou or to go to hospital here had priority, but an application for Bernd to come back would be made. Then the wheels began to turn. He did obtain permission to come back after a few more days, but there was a special process to follow. He had to have a negative nucleic acid test within 24 hours, and then be met by someone at the border between Suzhou and Shanghai where he would be “escorted” to a quarantine hotel. Then they sealed his van, and he stayed in his room for seven days. Next, he had the option to remain there for the second week of being monitored or return home, with the caveat that he quarantined alone at home. After such a long time away, we agreed I would move out for the week.

Thanks to some generous and dear friends, I was able to stay with them and remain in our district. I’ve been teaching online this whole semester though we do have a few weeks in person now to end the term. Suzhou has not survived totally unscathed either. While the entire city was not on “lockdown” per se, the only real difference was that we were able to go outside to walk, but even public parks were closed for some weeks. Also we did have the luxury of buying groceries the whole time, though there were a few worrying moments when it seemed that people had bought up all the fresh foods. (Things were quickly replenished within a few days.) Imports have definitely been disrupted though.

As Suzhou opened a bit (although we are still taking nucleic acid tests every day or two and showing proof of negative nucleic acid tests, travel histories and local health codes), some friends held an opening for their music and costume studio, arranged by Zhang Zhiyan. These are the same friends we played with for an East-West concert combining traditional Chinese instruments with Bernd’s and my bowed stringed instruments. This was the first gathering and musical playing together we have done in months!

When we walked in, I felt stunned in a very lovely way, like I was transported into a timeless zone of ethereal music and styles. It was almost as if I stepped backward straight into history, to several hundred years ago. Some of the ladies you see here are costume designers who created their stunning replica apparel. Here is a clip of music and photos from the party. The instrument in the background is the guqin, played by Sophia. Her teacher, Miss Cao and their sons also performed.

[videopress qeuAGfIO]

Other instruments that were played were the yue qin (moon-shaped lute) and bamboo flute.


Why learn music? Why should someone learn to play strings?

Why learn to play the violin? Or another stringed instrument, and why should we teach this?

Learning an instrument is a massively great use of time which requires daily attention. But what you reap in rewards are values which truly enrich our lives, things like discipline, delayed gratification, patience, kindness, self-awareness, coordination, fun, respect, accomplishment, culture, aesthetics, musical expression and self-confidence to name a few!

One of the most important benefits of becoming a competent musician is the ability to learn to listen carefully, a skill which we urgently need more of today.

Wait a sec. That was really important.

One of the most important benefits of learning to play an instrument well is learning the ability to LISTEN well, a skill which is important to becoming HUMAN.

 >>Read more here WHY LEARN MUSIC.


Tone III

There is another aspect to tone that heavily influences and even overshadows the previous two essays. As a string teacher advocate, I will now focus on how we can nudge ourselves into becoming better teachers by becoming aware of the tone in our life.

There is a way in which we go about our day-to-day lives, with the tone we carry, influencing our general outlook, as well as the decisions we make. There is also the tone we use while thinking.  “ How do I sound, in my mind, when I go about my daily life? Am I bossy, mean, kind, or something in-between? Am I harsh or hard on myself? Am I perfectionistic, or contemplative, gentle, artistic or hopeful? Perhaps I am forward-thinking, creative, or possibly giving and forgiving. Have I even noticed my tone?  Should I? “

“Yes.” However, the tone I most want to consider is not the negative one when we are concerned about how we look, how a student’s lack of practice or progress reflects on us, or how we felt when we made a mistake or looked foolish. That is our worst tone. It takes us out of the moment and away from our highest values. It prevents us from focusing our attention and mind on the external, the needs of the student in front of us. The type of tone I want us to consider is the one which helps us have an ease and flow and is conducive to reaching our mission as string teachers, a goal which each of us has to define for ourselves.

I’m aware that many people think their thoughts with words–a kind of running commentary–though others think more in terms of intuition, feeling, color, shape, or perhaps a synthesis of all of this.  I believe there is a vibrational hum to the tone of our thoughts, conscious and subconscious, verbal and non-verbal.

I will start by noticing the tone I use with myself– the tone I allow to run my life. 

For me, the tone humming along in the background of my consciousness (okay, sometimes it reaches the forefront too) has evolved over the course of my life. I’ve become aware that my tone is constantly present, though it wanders in and out of focus. I don’t really want to notice it all the time. It’s as if  I’m in a boat, a metaphor for my life, and the sails are the tone that move it along with the wind.  “I may not be able to control the force of the wind, but I can, however, adjust my sails.” It’s possible to notice if there is something influencing the tone I’m using. The big difference between running on autopilot and noticing or improving my personal tone is that I have a say in how I handle my sails, my tone, no matter how placid or turbulent the wind. 

I notice a marked difference if I redirect my mind when my tone starts to wander into pessimism (which happens more often that I’d like to admit.) I’m convinced we can consciously alter this vibration by choosing the tone we use.1  Have you ever been terse with yourself and something has gone from bad to worse just because of how you thought about it? I have. I see it sometimes with my students, too. The opposite is also true. When I take a breath and give myself a moment to encourage myself, it allows the time to pause and reset from the negative thought. It helps me return to doing my best work, living my best life, and caring more about others. When I give enough attention to this,  I begin to discover, or to consciously develop, my optimal tone. Optimal tone is the one which works with my highest values and not against them. It supports and connects with the creativity I need to serve my ultimate purpose. Purpose is something which each of us has to decide for ourselves.

Because I have had years of experience as a public school orchestra teacher, I know sometimes it’s hard to bring our tone back to one that is truly supportive and caring, especially when we’ve gotten used to accepting more responsibilities than we probably should, or we’ve developed the habit of ignoring our personal and even professional needs. It should not be that way, yet I am fully aware of the realities we face when trying to manage two, three, four or more schools, teaching hundreds of pupils with often far less than adequate facilities and conditions.  I spent six years in a poor district wrought with poverty, gangs, and drugs  and I am deeply grateful for what I have learned from leading their string orchestra program—a light in the darkness, I hope. I empathize with the thousands of string orchestra teachers who work in similarly poor conditions. To my mind, there should be a special presidential honor going to string teachers for this dedication because the mostly unrecognized good they do spreads out into the entire community and beyond. This is all the more reason to take care of our internal tone.

When I haven’t thought about the tone I use with myself, perhaps it’s because I’m always on the go, running from one demand to another, with no time for thinking at all except about what’s next and how to pull it together. However, right now is possibly the best time to slow down and consider it. I should find some time to check in with myself, to carefully observe the tone that threads my thoughts throughout the days, weeks, months, and even years of giving to the community as a string teacher. When I take care of my own tone, I’m able to develop the tools I need to advocate for those of my teaching program and their needs. In short, taking care of my own tone will help me take better care of myself, thus making me a better teacher.

When I was a child, I had a little friend named Melissa, a neighbor who lived in a tattered apartment with “so-called” parents who wasted their resources on drugs instead of providing food and a clean home. When I was just eight or nine years old, I felt tormented by my friend’s situation, both of us rather powerless to do anything about it. I remember pleading with her on a spiritual level, begging her to love herself, that she really had to care about her own dear little self despite the interminable  and horrendous circumstances of her life, and toward that end, I taught her to read.

What I didn’t realize then was that teaching her to read helped her focus on something external that could really help her in the future and take her mind off the terrible situation at home. It was a tool she would use for her future schooling. Teaching people to read and play music is also something people absolutely can use to help themselves take their minds off other problems, even to help them become more efficient, and settle themselves down. I know many business executives and CEOs who learned to play a stringed instrument and continue to keep at least an hour or more per week for themselves for private practice. It helps them stay mentally fit and brings rigor to their ability in dealing with the demands of running companies.

If we are in this occupation for any length of time, we all come across similar cases where the student in front of us has gotten stuck in a negative pit. This is the perfect moment to alter the student’s awareness with the simple interruption, “Are you thinking about the music or are you thinking about yourself?”2

When we assist someone to turn his attention toward “how” to make music—whichever aspect needs attending at the moment—and away from his embarrassment, he can forget himself. The tone of his thoughts snaps back into place, outside himself, onto the music, and once again in the flow of learning. I’m not a perfect teacher and don’t claim that I always know the best thing for the student at every juncture, but I do know that with time and experience, we do increase our ability to determine (spontaneously) what really does work with a particular person in the moment, and to change direction quickly when we see something isn’t working.

Sometimes a teacher wants to end the lessons when it seems the student is just not paying attention, not ready for, nor interested, in what is being offered. Instead, try to looking at it under a new light. Here’s the opportunity on a silver platter to consider our own tone. “Am I focusing on my desires for the student or for myself, or am I focusing on what the student actually needs?” When there is such a mismatch of expectations, as in the student not ‘getting’ my instruction or doing what I expect, I find that I have to probe further with the student to find out what he’s most interested in learning. Do I even know what type of music he and his family like to listen to? I should find out. Have I ever given him something appealing in the music genre he wants to learn? I can do that. This can turn things around fast. Have I ever tried to play a musical game with him or let him take the lead in some small way? Doing this can elicit trust, confidence and smiles. We usually know which pieces we want to teach to enable the student to gain certain skills, but would it really hurt to throw in a few pieces to spur his interest or let him learn something he’s actually listening to? Have I ever asked him what kind of music he really likes? It’s a question I should ask. How important is it for the student to attend conservatory or perform in a competition? Is it even a consideration for him or is it more important to me, the teacher or to his parents, rather than something he actually wants?

When we make room for the needs and desires of the human before us, it also helps us with the tone we use with ourselves. That’s because teaching is a cyclical experience that involves direct interaction and feedback from the student: teach, observe, assess, refine, reflect, repeat. And what we say outwardly is more often than not a direct reflection of the tone we are using with ourselves.

Feedback need not only be one-way (teacher to student) because it’s necessary to be able to read what the student gives back to us when we teach. When I observe that a student isn’t progressing or practicing as much as I’d like, it’s time to assess my teaching and what I’m not doing to facilitate the student’s motivation. In this case, I’ve missed a piece of the feedback loop. However, I don’t need to be hard on myself in order to adjust my sails and refine my approach, and the tone of my thoughts in making a change. It’s a normal, proper, necessary part of teaching to reflect on and refine our work. Change is inevitable. Our thoughts aren’t set in stone unless we ignore what we’re doing. And therein lies a danger in teaching. When a teacher never reflects on his tone with himself or with others, let alone the tone that he produces on an instrument, he stunts his opportunity for growth as a human and thus as a teacher. 

Actually, many wonderful teachers naturally engage in this process and nearly always address the student’s needs, some even going to the extreme of completely customizing a program of study to an individual student. Some of us even create entire methods and systems to try to personalize and improve on the learning materials we can collectively provide. This is an example of being in harmony with our tone and allowing it to help us serve the learner.

Why should I care about focusing the tone of my life onto the student? Because if I’m kind in my tone toward myself and my own learning, I’ll also want this for my student in order to maximize his learning potential and to help him value his own contributions. Remember, teaching is a cyclical process. Personally, I feel in no way bound to any fixed method of instruction, progress, examinations, or levels, except when it’s something agreed upon with the student. Even then, as the authority in the room on the subject of teaching violin, I offer flexibility. My tone is usually very pliable, resilient even, when necessary. More often than not, I find myself combining proven teaching methods with the needs of the individual student. I have found that when my tone is balanced and I’m focused on the needs of the learner, there’s an ease and creativity that functions as a powerful wind to fill my sails and to propel and enrich my most effective teaching. May you also enjoy connecting with and hearing the richness of the tone of your life.

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1 https://neurosciencenews.com/consciousness-vibration-10217/

2 From an anecdote told by Eloise Hellyer, life-long string educator and author of 1 Teaches, 2 Learn, now available  exclusively on Shar in both digital and paperback!

3 Huge thanks to Eloise Hellyer and Betsy Hornik for their editing!


Tone Part II

Tone has another side that’s too often missed, hence this post. (Part I is the previous post on this blog.) What happens when we dictate everything we want as teachers for the student, and don’t notice our own tone in the process? What happens when we demand things from the parents of our students if we overlook their overloaded, overworked, stressed, or just plain ordinarily tiring lives? Our message gets lost, is what happens.

As teachers we should not only deliver great content, but we have to become aware that students are human beings with lives and needs extending far beyond what we see in the lesson. We don’t need to know everything about them; however, what we often struggle with is remembering to consider that our students and their families have demands on them, needs, expectations and lives going on outside of their instrumental music-learning. Life is messy. Students and their families are not spared from this.

So instead of rushing to a conclusion about why a student isn’t progressing the way we hope he would–or even worse, asking him to leave our studio—let’s try to be aware that there are reasons for everything, including our interpretation of poor progress. Let me first consider my own tone: am I really aware of the person I was hired to teach? Is my tone coming from my ego, hoping to serve my wish for wonderful, hours-long practicing, unfailingly devoted, competition-winning students (to make me look good), or is my tone coming from a place of kindness and love?

Obviously, there is a time and a place for being firm with students and standing up for standards in our teaching and for ourselves. That isn’t the tone I’m talking about here.

We teachers occasionally forget we are not teaching in a vacuum, and the tone becomes one of “I think this, therefore everyone should also think the same.” This happens when we don’t bother to re-read or revise what we wrote, nor attempt to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes before posting. It is even a possibility that we choose to refrain from posting something at all, keeping our opinions to ourselves, once we look at our tone from another perspective. Tone matters enormously and it’s something which is all too easy to get wrong or for readers or listeners to misunderstand if we don’t give it a second thought. Heck, it’s still easy to be misunderstood after four or five revisions. 

My advice for prospective students would be to take some time to look up public threads where string teachers discuss their work and form their own opinion about what sort of tone they would want from a teacher. I tell people all the time that they should find a good teacher, but first try to find out their personality before making a long-term commitment. Will it be a teacher who has the ‘my way or the highway’ approach, or will it be a teacher who’s willing to meet the student where the student is right now?

Tone is also reflected perfectly in how we engage with our fellow teachers. We most certainly aren’t alone teaching in the 21st century. Wherever we reside on this planet, we have colleagues, when connected to the internet, and even when not. The way we are with each other, with colleagues known and unknown, is a part of our working life.

Collegiality is the idea of making a shared working environment both amicable and productive, as well as somewhere we’re able to listen and be listened to. In other words, tone is also the way we use words when we talk to or write to each other. (Read more about collegiality in the corporate environment here >>Collegiality.) Are we going to rely mainly on socially acceptable yet rather impersonal e-communication or would we rather set the tone of approachability and welcome a conversation? 

Appearance isn’t everything

Although we’re told that appearance is everything, what we look like and what we show people (also online) is not who we are. How we look is just the box that delivers a present. Have you ever received a beautiful present, wrapped with fancy, colorful paper, tied up with a gorgeous bow, and got disappointed by what was inside because it was something unequal to the outside? To put it another way, our tone is what people discover when they open the box.

Think about the saying, “People forget what you teach them, but they never forget how you made them feel.” Some give people doubt, anger, overload, and fear just because they lack awareness of their tone; others give the opportunity for joy, beauty, hope, and kindness. Tone is that ethereal, exquisite thing that shows the world who we really are, whether coming from our instrument, from our voice, or even from the words we choose. So, we really need to take the time to re-read any text we plan to give to our students or their families, or even what we (might) post on social media. 

Someone long ago posed a few questions to ask before posting online, which bear repeating or even placing on the wall next to our workspace, because they’re useful for all sorts of communication. These are certainly worth framing!

>>Frame-worthy Questions to test my message:

  • Is it relevant?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it kind?
  • Could it be condensed?
  • Would I say it out loud to someone? (Would I speak this way to my mother?)

Though we’re living in the information age, it’s more like we’re living in the TMI-age (too much information age), so wherever we can squeeze the best out of our tone to streamline it, make it kinder, more accurate, and more relevant, we should do it! If we want to grow into our best teaching selves, our tone needs to reflect an awareness of others, as well as serving our own teaching needs. The above questions can help guide our message and our tone.

The thing is, each one of us can choose to make the free and conscious effort to improve our teaching tone and grow into being the leader that teaching requires of us. Let us learn to be kind and creative, with our voices and our instruments, using the thoughtful tone our students need most. 

If you haven’t grabbed your September Museletter yet, swipe yours here! >>Museletter13


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