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Music Festival Mayhem

A Violin Teacher's Frantic Struggle Against Time

by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio

It's past midnight. An inhuman hour reserved for zombies, shift workers and other monsters. The unnatural light from my CRT monitor is etching pits in my retinas as I desperately try to make tomorrow's hectic schedule seem more palatable. No matter how I shuffle the little blocks of time in my time management software, the gristly truth glares at me in bright yellow.

Tomorrow will be absolutely insane.

My young violin students and I, their teacher, are immersed in two weeks of music festival. We have been preparing music for this event since last fall and have been registered to play since January. Back then it all seemed so simple: Choose several challenging pieces for the kids to perform for a professional, big city adjudicator so the kids will earn well-deserved high marks and have a jolly good time making music together.

There was snow on the ground and the Christmas lights were still up when we discussed festival plans, knowing May was an eternity away. "We have plenty of time to learn the pieces to a state of flawlessness," I said smugly.

I remember very distinctly filling out the forms only months ago and laughing at my earlier reluctance to sign up too many students owing to experiences the music festival previous. I vaguely recalled a feeling of mild discomfort at the stress in scheduling, then proceeded with glee to sign up a page full of entries. Several students more than in past years.

"This year will be simpler because we'll be better prepared," I declared to myself proudly. All students were instructed to begin work on their chosen pieces and asked to have their first rehearsal with their piano accompanist by the 2nd week in February.

No such luck. The students and their parents had understandably put it off due to busy schedules and optimism to do it "later when there was more time" and suddenly it was Spring Break. The kids returned from holidays suntanned and rehearsal-less. "That's ok," I assured myself through clenched teeth. "We still have a couple months. I'll just have to be more assertive."

This degenerated into desperate nagging sessions every week in lessons,"Have you set up a rehearsal with the accompanist?" Again, life continued to intrude, but now our accompanist was becoming full-booked from other last-minute rehearsals. The phone tag began as she and the students were caught in a perpetual loop of voice mail messages. Miraculously some rehearsals were scheduled and attended and things were looking up for festival.

Then something unthinkable happened. The clouds parted as the sun came out and simultaneously SOCCER started up. Like a thief in the night the sport greedily snatched up my students five afternoons each week and noon Saturdays. They started showing up for lessons 5 and 10 minutes late, dressed in sweaty, grass-stained uniforms and exhausted. Soccer practices and games began replacing violin practice and rehearsals.

Luckily the pleasant weather had a euphoric effect on me, the teacher, and I found ways to deal with the looming deadline of festival by working in my garden after lessons. It numbed the pain of learning yet another rehearsal with the accompanist had to be canceled due to another match or a hand injury which left the student unable to play music that day.

That only lasted so long. The music festival did creep up and now all of a sudden violinists are scrambling about in chaos like ants evading an imminent flood. Rehearsals are being booked at bizarre intervals, meals are being skipped and fingertips are sore from unprecedented use.

I'm insanely busy and delirious from the activity, but it's worth it because music is being learned and absorbed in time for festival! Mwah Ha Ha!

In the coming days of festival I will play coach to the players as they warm-up prior to their adjudications. "Say your introduction slowly and clearly. Make eye contact with the accompanist before you start. Space your eighth notes evenly and remember to use vibrato on the high notes. Focus and keep the energy up to the very end. Don't forget to bow at the end and acknowledge your accompanist."

I will sit in the audience and smile for them, nodding my head in time to their music. I will pat them on the back when they do well and hug them when they look like they might cry. I will walk them and their proud parents out to their cars afterwards and comment on how pleased I am with all their hard work leading up to that day. I will feel so good about the whole thing, even though it was stressful at times.

I will breathe a sigh of relief that it's finished and make a small suggestion to myself: try not to be this involved next year...

Then, next snowy January I will sit back, cozy and content, and fill out a form with twice as many entries than before. For years to come this cycle is will keep me and my students on our toes, learning the valuable lessons of dedication, persistence... and time management!

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