I took some students to play at my parents’ retirement home recently. One of the residents is a 90-year-old woman who use to teach violin. She approached me afterwards and spoke at length about the technique of one of my students. She went into great detail about his bowing and how impressed she was by his bow hand.
I nodded and smiled politely. But as she was speaking I was recalling other conversations like this one when I a boy.
I had to attend many recitals and performances growing up. At intermission, I would make a bee-line to the punch bowl and cookie table. And while I enjoyed my reward for sitting through another recital, I would listen to the conversations around me.
I noticed a recurring pattern. Teachers and advanced students would talk about technique. How the performer stood, used their bow, held their violin.
It was similar to the analysis one hears during ice-skating competitions. The perfect landing, the flaw in the jump, how hands were held as she spun. Complex routines were dissected into a series of moves that were either perfect or flawed.
The older and more skilled I became, the more I observed and judged the ‘visuals’ of violinists. It was the first hurdle I had to overcome when I started looking at and listening to non-classical violinists.
For years, I would have to close my eyes while fiddlers were performing so as not to be distracted and prejudiced about their music.
Over time, I have come to believe 2 important things regarding technique. 1) How wildly different technique can be for violinists and fiddlers and yet deliver incredible music. 2) How students are able to adapt their technique when a sound requires it.
As a result, I will teach and model good technique and discourage harmful technique. But I am no longer willing to spend lesson time in pursuit of ‘perfect’ technique.