Friday, February 21, 2014

LaRae in Hillsdale Collegian

An article in the Hillsdale Collegian featured LaRae teaching her youngest violin student. It's a cute write-up.


Learning violin ‘one little monkey’ at a time


Every Tuesday afternoon at 2:15 p.m., a young violinist descends the stairs to the basement of Howard Music Hall. For 15 minutes he stands in deep concentration between his mother and his teacher, carefully holding a violin about the size of his teacher’s hand.
Robert Whalen is just three years old, but he has already completed a whole semester of violin lessons with his teacher, junior LaRae Ferguson.
“Sometimes during his lessons he’s very sleepy,” Ferguson said. “It’s always a high energy situation. He likes to look at himself in the mirror.”
Robert is learning finger positioning, basic scales, and some simple melodies. He plays these at his lessons while Ferguson and his mother count.
“One little monkey,” they say as Robert bows, “two little monkeys.”
Robert is an eager student. Usually Ferguson would not advise starting someone on the violin at three years old, but when Robert’s mother explained that he already attempted to play his older siblings’ violins at home, Ferguson decided to take him on. He is still ripe with enthusiasm.
“Do you want to try that again, or do you want to do something new?” Ferguson asks, as the lesson ends.
“Something new!” Robert replies.
Robert is just one of the many Hillsdale area children taking lessons from students in the music department. By taking on students themselves, student teachers are able to learn the skills of teaching while building their resume with experience for opportunities after graduation.
“They learn to teach,” Professor of Music and Director Holleman said. “We don’t just throw them out there and say ‘teach.’”
Ferguson has taught five different students during her time as a violin teacher, including Robert and two of his siblings. She first began teaching while taking a string pedagogy class with Professor of Music Melissa Knecht, five semesters ago.
The pedagogy class is a personalized seminar that provides instruction in how to start a student, introduce techniques, and teach from the business perspective. One requirement of the course is to find a student, begin teaching, and have each student perform in front of the class at the end of the semester.
“It was a new skill teaching little kids for the first time,” said senior Gretchen Sandberg, another student teacher who has taken the pedagogy class.
Students from the community come to teachers with varying levels of prior training and skill. Sophomore Faith Liu has taught her beginning voice students foundational skills like how to read music and how to match pitch.
“With voice, it’s important to let them know it’s okay when their voice breaks,” Liu said. “Everybody has a spot in their range where it happens, but I have to tell them that it’s normal.”
During lessons, student teachers draw on prior teaching instruction as well as their own musical training. Freshman Hannah Andrews, currently taking the pedagogy class, teaches a hybrid violin method that incorporates Suzuki principles into the lesson.
“We usually start with an etude, or scales to warm up,” Andrews said of her students.
Junior Lydia Ekin currently has five students, aged five to 13. After teaching private lessons in high school, she decided to continue when she found there was a need for a student piano teacher.
“I go by how I learned,” Ekin said. “I don’t use a particular method. I use the books I started on. ”
The process of having a student is a learning experience for student teachers. Through teaching, they become more aware of details in their own technique and become aware of the effect their own teachers have in assisting them develop musical skill.
“When I find problems to fix in my students,” Sandberg said, “I noticed them in myself, and that made me a better player. If something sounds bad, I can diagnose and fix the problem I need to fix. I just need to apply my own teaching to what I’m doing.”