Full Triangle

My personal violin journey started with Suzuki lessons at age 3. I distinctly remember visiting a friend’s house and his older sister performing “La Folia” from Suzuki Book 6 in the living room. I was blown away. At three years old. I remember on the drive home I said to my mom, “I want to learn violin”. She promptly signed me up for lessons. I got a cardboard violin and started learning the names for the different parts of the violin. My teacher said that when I learned all the names, I would be ready for my real violin. I learned how to stand in rest position and play position. I tried week after week to remember all those names. “Purfling” proved to be the hardest. FINALLY (who knows how long it really was but to me as a three year old it seemed like months, years) I triumphantly went to my lesson and remembered PURFLING. Then, I was deemed ready. I got my real violin, a 1/10th size. Thus, my violin journey began.

I was lucky enough to have great parents who not only discovered Suzuki violin lessons in the 1980s, but encouraged my music making, took me to lessons, performances, “Suzuki camp”, orchestra practice, and spent so many days, years of their lives dedicated to my musical journey. In fact, every day was a musical journey. The process of listening to and practicing music is daily, and being a Suzuki parent is a big commitment of its own.

IMG_20140417_0001My recital, age 7

It’s impossible to describe the enormous impact that Suzuki violin had on me growing up — musically, mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.

Of course, life happens. To make a long story short, I quit violin at age 14. Even though I was one of the youngest kids in a high level youth orchestra and doing very well, I STILL felt that I wasn’t “good enough to make it”. How ridiculous. But at the time, this seemed like a valid conclusion. In addition, my parents were going through their own problems that led to their divorce, and I was a teenager exploring other interests. Enough said.

Note to teenagers: DON’T QUIT. The art of playing violin (or any instrument, or anything you are dedicated to) is a journey and the secret key is persistence. Rule #1: Don’t compare yourself to others. Rule #2: Don’t force it. Don’t rush it. Rule #3: You WILL improve over time, with effort.

And listen to your TEACHER. (they kinda know a lot)

After high school, I was pregnant at age 19, and started raising my amazing son, Matt. I picked up my violin sometimes — only to confront strong emotions of frustration, fear, and failure. In my mind, I was trying to “get back” to the level I was when I quit at age 14. This way of thinking stagnated me because I was only looking backward, not forward to what my potential to grow was NOW. This dismal attitude toward my violin playing continued throughout my 20s.

Flash forward to age 32 and I’m now happily married with a three year old daughter. I start to teach her violin. She LOVES it.

instagram.com 2014-10-18 11 7 28Fiona, at age 3, with her cardboard violin we made together

To say that my daughter, Fiona, changed my life is an understatement. She inspired me to pick back up my violin and I reconnected with a part of me that I thought was lost forever. I literally regained a huge part of my soul.

I started practicing violin seriously again, and it certainly wasn’t an easy road for me emotionally. But, my family cheered me on. Most importantly, I found the most understanding teacher and mentor who helped me work through all the pain and got me back on track (i.e., moving forward) with my technique, musicality, and performance anxiety. Once again, I started to LEARN and EXPRESS through music. I rediscovered my path. I was meant to be a violinist, and a teacher —  to pass on this knowledge, experience, and feeling. The thought of teaching children violin and giving them the same experience that I had as a child thrilled me.

I have come full triangle. From a Suzuki student, to parent, to teacher. This is the foundation of the Suzuki Method of learning. The values and skills that I am still learning, and am now passing on to the next generation, are extremely important. They cannot be measured in the way one can measure proficiency in math. Music is measured in terms of artistry and the character of the person — their actions, their attitude, their mind, their soul — and how this person expresses who they are through music — and what the person listening feels from it. The power is undeniable and timeless.


The point is, not many people who encounter learning the violin have a perfect, straightforward trajectory of accomplishment. Most of us have had big setbacks, detours, not enough money for the better instrument or bow (or lessons, or college), frustrations, doubt — these are just a few examples of what happens when you go down the path of life as a musician. It isn’t perfect. It doesn’t have to be! Just don’t give up because there is always a way forward. Or maybe you never started on a musical journey — it is never too late to begin!

I realized that my musical journey is a lifelong experience. I CAN grow. I CAN learn. I have potential. I don’t have to be Sarah Chang. I can just be Sarah Hemm.

So, what have I been doing to move forward? Besides lessons and practicing a LOT, I’ve been studying music theory, Suzuki and other violin pedagogy, I took an online class through Coursera by Stacia Spencer “Teaching the Violin and Viola: Creating a Healthy Foundation”, (which was very helpful and informative), I have watched hundreds of YouTube videos (if only I had the Internet when I was a kid!), I’ve become an active member of the Suzuki Association of the Americas, participated in the “Parents as Partners” education on the SAA website, and most importantly I have started Suzuki Teacher Training and am in the process of creating detailed lessons plans for my students. I completed the first course, Every Child Can, earlier this year at the Milwaukee Conservatory of Music. In another example of things coming around “full triangle” in my Suzuki journey, the teacher for my Every Child Can course was Pat D’Ercole, who I remembered was a former teacher of mine when I was a child attending the Suzuki Institute in Steven’s Point! It’s a small world, especially here in Wisconsin. How fun. I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in learning about the Suzuki Method in detail (you don’t have to be a teacher to attend – parents, educators, are welcome). Below are the photos I have of myself, Pat D’Ercole, and other classmates at Institute sometime in the late 80s/early 90s:

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I am very much looking forward to my additional teacher training and continuing on my lifelong learning journey. It’s a heartwarming experience and it is wonderful to be part of a global community of violinists. I cannot wait to open my violin studio soon! Also, my older daughter and I are working on some violin duets from Book 1 that I will be posting soon! Yay!

Any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at sarahhemm@gmail.com