Monday, July 7, 2014


Some stars disappear when you look at them straight on. Pale glints in your peripheral vision when you look up, they slide into blackness when you turn your eyes toward them. The issue is in our eyes: the cones concentrated in the central part of the cornea—the part we use when we look at something head-on—do not pick up the dim light that the rods around the edges of the cornea do. Regardless of the constancy of what we're looking at, we are stuck with what our eyes can see: stars-like-phantoms. They must be approached sideways, and gently.

It’s not just stars, though.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for months—the sideways-ness of things.

It is ever-present in teaching, especially so for me this past year, working with a small group of children every day. Threaded all through the process of learning violin are other things: how we treat one another, how we handle problems, how we respond to frustration. How we show love and respect and kindness. How we create and respond to beauty. How we learn to discipline our fingers, our ears, our mouths, our minds. How we simply learn one another and build relationships—complicated, real, and gritty.

This is why I find it hard to write about teaching. It is personal, ongoing, complex. It is also universal. The fact that I can focus on one thing—learning to play violin—is very helpful, because I can rule out Everything Else. Except I draw on Everything Else to do it—faith, psychology, physics, storytelling, eating Dorito’s—everything. And then of course it turns out that learning violin touches everything else. Try to nail the whole thing down, narrow it, look at it too directly, and you start to lose sight of certain things. Sometimes you have no choice but to approach sideways, gently.

It’s fair, I think, to start wondering which is the true artthe direct work or the sideways, the music or the people working on the music? It’s both things at once of course, but it’s worth considering what you might see when you shift your focus, and what is most important to you to see in the end. 

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