This week I learned of the death of my former violin teacher, news that was sudden and has shocked the music world and many of his former pupils. I was devastated, and with almost a week to process it, I’ve began to understand why. It’s also made me reflect on the importance of music and the arts on a much deeper level than before.
When I was 7, I tentatively took up the violin, after my parents ticked a box on a form to say I wanted to have lessons. A few weeks later I was presented with my first fiddle. A day I remember as if it was yesterday because I was so excited. Over the next few years I would attend weekly lessons, learning to make a note, how to use a bow, where my fingers go, scales and eventually A Level standard examination pieces. I learned more in those 30 minute lessons than I did in most other lessons at school, I learned how to play in ensembles, how different parts are woven together, why it was so important to learn my theory and was introduced to all kinds of music, that I could recreate on my little stringed instrument.
When I was 9 I moved schools because I experienced bullying, a traumatic change for most children, let alone if you’re dyspraxic. I coped. And my violin teacher stayed and taught me in my new school. He was the one constant I had growing up, eventually following me to secondary school. The music service covered all schools in the borough and he was always there, for 11 years, he watched me grow up. I remember the first public performance he prepared me for was a variation of “sky boat song” as part of a summer show at my primary school. I was terrified. But he was there, making sure I was in tune and ready to go. And I was more than ready to go, he wouldn’t have encouraged me to do it if I wasn’t.
As I went through school I experienced numerous difficulties, and when I began to recognise feeling different, music became my sanctuary. That weekly violin lesson was a break, a break from school, a break from not really fitting in and relief from my anxiety. I joined a couple of orchestras at school and he was always there, making sure we were in tune, playing our parts with us if we got lost and trying to steal our sweets! Music then became more than just something I came to school to learn, it turned into the place where I felt I belonged. Touring Europe with the youth orchestra in the summer, going down salt mines in Austria, playing gigs in churches and at the schonbrunn palace in Vienna and eating all of the pizza in Italy, was where I really blossomed. I looked forward to going away every summer, learning new things, seeing different places, whilst being accompanied by the music.
In some ways it feels that I shouldn’t be this sad about the loss of a teacher, I hadn’t seen him regularly for the best part of 10 years, although I did occasionally bump into him and he was always up for a chat. I then remember everything I’ve written above, and realise exactly why I feel the way I do. He was a big part of my childhood and my development as a musician. And without music I would likely be a very different person. Grief most definitely isn’t linear. It’s my relationship with music, and how on the hardest of days it offered the comfort I needed that’s important. It is also now very much part of me, something that he gave me and I’ll now have forever.
Today the arts and music are often undervalued, favouring STEM subjects over something that becomes a fundamental part of a young person from such a young age. You don’t often become a Scientist or Mathematician at the age of 8, but you can most definitely become a musician. Music to many is a hobby more than a career, and to those who make it their career, it is far more than that career. It’s where your friends are. It’s how you spend your social time and where achievements are made. So, to someone who literally gave me the music, I can only say thank you and wish that I’d had the opportunity to express how much it meant to me at the time. There really is something deeply special about music teachers. Tell yours how much they mean to you.