The Kantor Family: On Being Effective Music Parents to Musical Children

I imagine there are probably some kids out there who love to practice, but I was definitely not one of them when I was growing up.

There was a lot of nagging on my mom’s side, a lot of passive aggressive behavior on my part, and days when I thought running away might be a good idea (once, my mom packed me a lunch, I wandered off into the woods to see if I could make a home for myself there, and eventually got thirsty/bored/had to go to the bathroom, and returned home with, if memory serves correctly, a poison ivy rash).

It all worked out in the end, but I had some friends growing up whose relationship with music and parents were much more contentious. And in some cases eventually led to burnout, or restraining orders (allegedly, at least), and pretty complicated relationships with both family and music.

Yikes, this is tough!

So when my wife (a pianist) and I had kids of our own, we were a little conflicted. We felt like it would be weird not to share music with our kids in some way. But we also weren’t sure how exactly to navigate that path. Because we wanted them to have a good relationship both with music and with us. 

But if they were going to do this, shouldn’t we also help them try to do it well? And become good at it? Even if we have no intention of them pursuing a career in music?

The challenge of course, is that playing can be fun, but practicing is often much, much harder. And not necessarily the funnest thing in the world.

Umm…where’s the line?

So how much pushing do we need to do as parents? Where’s the line between pushing just enough, and too much?

Like, what if they want to quit? How do we know they won’t regret it later if we let them? But what if we make them continue, and it changes how they feel about music, and negatively affects our relationship with them as well?

And how do we navigate this as parents who have some degree of experience or expertise in this particular area? And could really help them avoid a lot of the mistakes we made when we were at their stage of learning? Without making them feel judged or evaluated or criticized all the time?

Argh! So many questions!

What have others done?

If I’ve learned nothing else from being a parent, I’ve learned that there’s no one-size-fits all answer to parenting. But still, I was curious how professional musicians approach being a music parent to their kids.

So I thought I’d reach out to a former teacher of mine, to see how he and his wife (also a musician) navigated this path with their own kids. One of whom decided to enter the music world professionally himself.

I didn’t expect them to give me all the answers, of course. Or share a single “secret formula” for raising happy and successful kids who pursue careers in music. But I did hope that this would provide a glimpse of the experience that at least one family had in navigating this unique time in both a child and parent’s life.

Meet the Kantor family

Violinist Paul Kantor, pianist Virginia Weckstrom, and violinist Timothy Kantor have all enjoyed active performance and teaching careers.

Paul, is the Sally Shepherd Perkins Professor of Violin at Rice University and Artist in Residence at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and has previously been on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music, University of Michigan, Julliard, Yale, and New England Conservatory.

Virginia is also on the faculty at Rice University, as well as at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, and at the Aspen Music Festival. She was pianist/harpsichordist with the New Haven Symphony for ten years, and in addition, has been committed to fostering community arts education, co-founding the School for the Performing Arts, in Ann Arbor, MI.

Timothy is a member of the Afiara Quartet, and serves on the faculty of the University of Arizona, and at the Kinhaven Music School in Vermont.

In this episode, we’ll explore…

  • How Paul and Virginia responded when Tim declared in middle school that he hated the violin, wanted to burn it, and was not going to play. (5:15)
  • What changed that made Tim begin to appreciate the violin a bit more. (7:44)
  • The story of how Tim got started with the violin. (8:27)
  • How hands-on or hands-off were Paul and Virginia in their kids’ music lives? (10:13)
  • When Tim began to become more open to music-related input from his parents. (12:36)
  • What sort of structure was there for the kids’ daily practice? (18:24)
  • Was there a reward system in place to encourage practicing (aka bribes?) (20:02)
  • What did Paul and Virginia do if Tim REAAAALLY didn’t want to practice? (22:08)
  • Paul and Virginia on the importance of recognizing that no two children are alike, and the various ramifications of this observation. (24:16)
  • The first piece Tim really got excited about playing. And Paul’s reaction to this. (29:02)
  • The moment that Tim announced his intentions to pursue music as a career. And Paul’s reaction to that. (31:30)
  • The ways in which Tim felt supported by his parents, rather than criticized (though there were those moments too). (34:19)
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Noa:
As you know, my wife and I both grew up training to become musicians and our lives from a really early age revolved around music. So even though when we had kids, we weren’t necessarily interested in them pursuing the path of music, we still had this idea that given our background, and this is the thing that we know best, it probably would be nice to share some of that with our kids. And of course, we very quickly discovered that this is a lot easier said than done. We tried violin lessons, we tried cello lessons, guitar lessons, piano lessons, and ultimately at least with my son, it became very clear that doing anything in that realm was going to be pretty difficult and like pulling teeth. And so we kind of gave up on that and he’s into some other things.
 
Noa:
Meanwhile, our daughter though has continued with piano for a little bit longer and very recently got into composition which she seems to be really excited about, but nevertheless, consistent practice continues to be a real challenge. And with both of the kids, we really didn’t want music to be something that ended up creating this negative effect on our relationship. And we also didn’t want to turn them off from music completely, either by being too pushy or whatnot. And so it often leaves us in this place of being really unsure as to where to draw the line between pushing a little bit and maybe a healthy way and pushing too much in a negative way. And I know there’s some irony here in that. I’m sure my own history with practice probably kept my mom up at night for years, but I thought it would be really interesting to get your take on this now that you’ve gotten through this to the other side. And Tim of course now is a musician himself and you guys all seem to get along pretty well. So,
 
Paul:
On screen.
 
Noa:
So, yeah, I don’t know what the best place to start is, but I mean, I’m assuming there were times when you experienced some frustration with Tim not practicing or not practicing very effectively and so forth. Maybe I should just throw it to you to decide where we should start this conversation.
 
Paul:
Hey Tim, why don’t you start by giving us your recollection of that specific subject, the practicing thing?
 
Tim:
Yeah, sure, it sort of went in waves, I suppose. Like most things I, for a long time really liked playing the violin, but didn’t care for practicing, which I think is, is pretty normal. It took a long time for me to embrace the correlation between practicing and level of playing probably longer than, than I would like to admit. So yes, practicing in our household was a mandatory and often contentious event.
 
Paul:
Wow.
 
New Speaker:
That’s how you remember it. My goodness. Yes. I do remember at one point Tim saying, I hate the violin. I want to burn it, I am not going to play. And I said, Timothy, we are not having this discussion. You are not going to quit. You are only in middle school. And at the end of high school, when I think that you’re mature enough to make that decision, you may stop playing the violin. But right now we’re not going to discuss this. It’s not open for discussion. Go practice, which amazingly Tim actually did. He gave it up and actually went to practice.
 
Paul:
Let’s be clear. He didn’t give up the violin.
 
Virginia:
No, he gave up his fight to quit.
 
Paul:
Yes, it was interesting because I think Ginny, you made it just a non-discussion item. Like we weren’t going there and it was, it was very clear and Tim accepted, I’m not sure every child would accept it. Um, you know, I think taking from this program that this is what someone should do with their kid is ridiculous because all parents are different and all kids are different. So, you know, we’re all kind of groping around in the dark trying to figure out what works.
 
Virginia:
Well we didn’t eliminate that Tim could make the decision. He just had to wait a couple of years to do it.
 
Tim:
Or many.
 
Noa:
Do you remember this particular incident, Tim?
 
Tim:
Oh, it was, that was an ongoing thing. I was reminded of that, um, repeatedly when I didn’t want to practice that I was allowed to quit, but not until I graduated high school,
 
Paul:
But you know, it’s not that unusual in our society that we say that there is a certain age where someone is ready for a certain responsibility. Right. So at least in most places in the country, you don’t drive a car when you’re eight years old. And we accept that by and large. So I think that’s okay. And it’s, it’s just, it’s so easy to quit when things get hard and uh, I’m really glad you hung in there, Tim.
 
Tim:
Me too
 
Noa:
I’m curious what happened when you got to the end of high school? I mean, was there a different thought process going on at that point or maybe even sooner than that?
 
Tim:
Yeah. I think when I was in high school, I started to appreciate playing more. I was studying with Andy Jennings at, at the University of Michigan, which was terrific. Uh, and I started becoming more involved with my peers in various youth orchestras and orchestra at school. And so it started to have more appeal in that way for me. And so by the time that I was finished with high school, I, I was ready to, to continue playing, if not as a career though,
 
Noa:
Now, jumping back, 18 years, I’m curious what the thinking was when you got started or I think your sister is older than you. So maybe even, you know, that was a decision that your parents had been made even before you came, right?
 
Virginia:
No, Tim inherited violin lessons. Our daughter Gwen had started playing violin and Tim used to come to the lessons as I did because it was Suzuki method. And one day Gwen walked in and too much to my horror chagrin. She took the violin still in its case. And it belonged to her teacher and said, Ms. Weiser, I actually hate the violin and I will not study anymore. She was all of three, I think. And she took the case and dropped it in front of her teacher’s feet. And I’m thinking, this is Jean’s violin. I hope it doesn’t break. Yeah. I hope it doesn’t break. And then Gwen said, you know, Timothy can finish the semester for me. And he was sitting there. He was tracking, okay. He started playing the violin. So that’s how it happened. Gwen refused. And Gwen started the flute later, which she loved, but the violin was not for this little girl,
 
Paul:
Of course, in, in family legend. She threw the violin at the teacher, which I don’t think was quite true.
 
Virginia:
She did throw it kind of on her feet. I just didn’t want to say the words throw, do you remember that Tim?
 
Tim:
I do not.
 
Virginia:
Yeah. You were about two and a half at the time. So I don’t expect that you would,
 
Noa:
Were there moments where either of you tried to take an active role in, I mean, they, they presumably had teachers of their own, but did either of you, or both of you try to teach them in ways also, or were you pretty hands-off?
 
Virginia:
We had to basically remain hands off. I went to Suzuki lessons with Timothy and I, they both took piano lessons and neither one of them really wanted to, but I thought they should have some kind of harmonic context. And I thought I have two kids and I have two grand pianos. Who am I going to leave them to? If they don’t play, I had more of a hand in the piano overseeing the piano, but Paul, if you can talk about your violin help with Timothy.
 
Paul:
Yeah. And, and my recollection actually is that everybody kind of helped with, with everything. I mean, I don’t know anything about the flute, but I, I remember practicing with Gwen, quite vividly and practicing piano with her, but, you know, we were just around, you know, so it was convenient, but I, my recollection is there was never a plan that our kids would naturally be musicians. Do you, do you have a thought on that, Ginny?
 
Virginia:
Um, no
 
Paul:
I mean, we thought it would be great If, if they had a relationship with music because it’s one of the things that we loved, but it wasn’t like, Oh, Tim has to be a professional or Gwen has to be a professional.
 
Virginia:
No.
 
New Speaker:
And I think that the key ingredient maybe is that they’re kids and children first, then they might play the music, but having, uh, the clairvoyance to say this kid, unless it’s a kind of a Beethoven type talent or Mozart type talent that this kid is going to be a musician is, uh, that’s too much responsibility. And you’re just as likely to guess wrong as right.
 
Virginia:
Which we did.
 
Tim:
Yeah. There were in my violin studies, I think I always studied with someone else outside the family that said there were, um, it was a pretty regular event that there were unsolicited lessons and help, uh, which later, later in life became solicited, which was sort of a gradual transition, I guess,
 
Noa:
I’m curious about that transition because I wonder how it is that your parents managed to provide some help and guidance without on principle you becoming completely closed off at some later point to their input.
 
Tim:
I think it might’ve been because I started mostly closed off and then sort of transitioned to being more open and receptive to that input. You know, I think as soon as I realized as a little kid that this was an obligatory event, it became a lot less fun. And so then there was natural resistance to that. And I, I think by the time I found my own enjoyment from that activity and was enjoying my playing in ensembles and, and sort of found my own love for the instrument. At that point, it became a lot more fun and a lot more reasonable to seek out that help. But of course, you know, I, I remember playing from an early age playing with my mom and, and collaborating with her on piano and violin. And of course my dad helping me with everything on the violin. It wasn’t until college that I, I really thought about or even considered music as a career and not even the beginning of college. I went to a liberal arts college, basically with the idea that I would do anything else. And, uh, by the time that they made me declare a major, I said, wow, I have all of these credits in music. And those are the classes that I’ve chosen. Maybe, maybe I like it more than I think I do. And I was right.
 
Virginia:
But Timothy, you were very strong, and I think early on when you were young, you drew a line in the sand that you really didn’t let people cross, and I didn’t deal with your violin stuff, but I remember dad trying to be extra helpful. And I think at one point, what was it that you said, do you want to quote Tim, Paul?
 
Paul:
I don’t remember this one.
 
Virginia:
Okay. This is, you do remember it. I’ll remind you,
 
Paul:
Remind me then I’ll remember it.
 
Virginia:
Timothy said, dad, I am not one of your U of M students. I will not practice five hours a day. And that’s just that. And he walked away and that was the end of the helping session.
 
Paul:
I thought you were going to talk about the line in the sand where he said, okay, I’ll do violin, but viola is out of the question.
 
Virginia:
He never said that. And actually he does play viola too so that’s not fair, but Timothy also besides the piano, which he did not love. And I think gave up by high school, because he was too busy, he also played the trombone because my dad had played the trombone and Tim inherited it and he wanted to play in his middle school band. So he had a little bit of fun with that for a few years too, but everything fell to the wayside and, you know, and he focused on violin.
 
Noa:
Was the decision between piano or violin, something that, that Tim decided on his own, or did you kind of sense it as parents, that one was more important to him than the other? Or how did that?
 
Tim:
Well, I started the violin much earlier. So by the time I started piano, it was, uh, one was already much farther along. I would say I didn’t, I never had much of a, uh, an aptitude for the instrument, uh, which helped make the decision. Although in both of my, both at CIM and Indiana, I was very, very pleased that they declared me, uh, proficient enough on the piano, which required some Herculean effort, despite my earlier training. Um, it was, it was not a tough decision to make
 
Noa:
This goes back a little bit to when we first started talking about this, but Tim, when you were sharing your recollection, it looked like your parents were a little bit surprised at the contentiousness of your memory of this. Um, did, did you not feel like it was as contentious as Tim seems to remember it being,
 
Paul:
You know, it’s like, it’s like the veracity of eyewitness accounts, you know, you kind of remember what you would like to remember. And I think I expected from, from everything that I’d heard before, that there’s no way you can teach your own kid. Like, it just can’t happen because there’ll be severe psychological damage and fights and violence and all kinds of things. So was kind of expecting that resistance. And so it, it didn’t surprise me particularly.
 
Noa:
I’ve heard one of the reasons why it can be difficult for parents to teach their kids, is that it’s difficult for the child to separate out approval in the music sphere or the sports sphere from approval, from the kind of relationship family-parental domain. And so, you know, if someone’s playing out of tune and you were critical of their approach to playing in tune or practicing that’s, um, it can feel like criticism of themselves as a person, as opposed to just being like that is not an effective way to practice that particular problem or solve that problem. And is that even in not teaching Tim, but trying to give pointers or little tips here and there, I mean, did that, was that a difficulty that you guys encountered and I guess I’m curious on both ends to maybe, maybe as parents, you thought you were trying to be supportive and helpful and as a 10 year old or 13 year old, maybe that’s not how it came across to Tim.
 
Tim:
You know, I don’t, I don’t really remember it in those terms. Yeah. I, I think most of what I was resistant to was just the process of having to do something everyday. Um, and having it be a routine and a part of a, sort of a necessary part of development, more than sort of a reflection of, uh, you know, our relationship or anything like that. But, you know, as, uh, as my dad said, you know, memory is a bit fickle
 
Noa:
Speaking of routine. Like how, like, what did that look like? Like how did, how did your, your mandatory daily, uh, practice play out what, were there scales involved or was it just a set amount of time or,
 
Tim:
Um, I think there were, there was some structure to that. I remember, uh, most acutely the, the set amount of time for a long time. It was just an hour a day, which was looking back not such a, not such a huge commitment, but certainly felt like it sometimes that’s my, my memory of it was a set amount of time, which sometimes happened. And, uh, sometimes it didn’t.
 
Paul:
I don’t think Tim, when you were three, four or five, you were practicing an hour a day. I don’t recall.
 
Tim:
That’s what I remember.
 
Paul:
I just seemed like an hour. No, Noa, going back to your, your comment. I think in retrospect, uh, when I was working with Tim, I probably should have said first, Tim, I love you. How about upbow there. Tim, I really love you, but I, I hear it as being a little out of tune, you know, from an adult point of view, it’s like the love is so without question that, how could you even think that the doing of this thing with the wooden box has anything to do with my love for you, but it’s not, it’s not an unreasonable thought, particularly the way you presented it.
 
Noa:
I’m actually curious about, and maybe Tim, just, you know, when, when your parents said, Hey, you’re going to practice an hour, you’re inside your head. Like, okay, I guess I have to do this. And you did it. And there wasn’t this sort of rebellious part that, you know, ended up playing scales while actually reading comic books or something like that. I’m curious what sorts of, uh, what rewards or incentives or what level of fear there might’ve been from your parents that kind of motivated you to more or less it seems stick with what it is that was expected of you?
 
Tim:
Yeah. Um, I’m not really sure because I don’t remember there being a strong reward based system. It was more just kind of an inevitability. I would, I wish I’d been more inventive at that point in, in sort of trying to devise ways to not practice, but I was pretty, uh, you know, I would, I maybe cut down on the amount of time and say, Oh yeah, that was an hour. Wasn’t it? And it would be, you know, 20 minutes later. Um, but other than that, it was, it was mostly, you know, once I had the violin in my hands, it was well, okay, this is what you do when you have the violin in your hands. And that was, that was kind of it, which is, you know, I practiced efficiently, but once the violin was out of its case and I was rolling, it was, it was kind of status quo. Yeah.
 
Paul:
It’s, it’s interesting. I, I remember the, the incentive part of that differently. I mean, besides the beatings and the electroshock, I remember that the, the quarters were a big hit. Don’t you remember that Tim?
 
Virginia:
I remember bribery thinking, why not, uh, corporations give perks to their employees. Why don’t we bribe him, or he could go do a certain thing or watch a certain movie. Uh, we had no TV in our house cause we decided not to get an antenna in Ann Arbor that one needed to have that kind of service. And so we just had movies, um, then on Friday night, movie pizza and movies. And so Tim would get to choose if he had done good practicing or Gwen would. So there was some bribery, Tim, I’m glad you don’t remember it as such however,
 
Paul:
But keep the quarters in mind for future consideration.
 
Tim:
We’ll work on that,
 
Paul:
but consider inflation also.
 
Tim:
Right.
 
Noa:
Is there something that happens when Tim didn’t practice or, I mean, maybe it sounds like he just did practice and it wasn’t as much of a battle to, to make that happen on some level every day.
 
Tim:
I think if it was, if it was really bad, like I really wasn’t going to practice, then it became more of a group activity, which was like, would be sort of marched in and say, okay, well let’s, let’s get this started together. That’s that’s when it was like, okay, well, if I go on my own power, at least there’s there’s that
 
Virginia:
I think I tended to be more lenient in that regard because as a child, I hated practicing. I usually I had my lesson on Saturday and I learned very quickly to sight read well and learn well on Friday night. And my parents, you know, they both had been musicians, but they, um, didn’t press me on that. I however love to perform as a kid. And so if someone would sit in the room and listen, Oh, I would practice. I perform, I didn’t really work. I didn’t even learn all my scales very well till I got to college. So I thought, okay, I’ll just let them be a little bit. Paul was a little different, he was more disciplined in that regard. So, um, maybe that struck the balance that the kids needed.
 
Noa:
If you could say more about that. Cause I was wondering if there was like a good cop, bad cop, kind of, both of you had this united front. Yeah. Like what did, what did that look like?
 
Virginia:
I didn’t fight as much with the kids over practicing as I recall. I mean, there were times he just couldn’t practice. Both kids did TaeKwonDo for eight years and earned black belts. So that was three, three nights a week. And I didn’t want them to be such program kids that every day they had a different class, you know, you gotta go to ballet, you gotta go to TaeKwonDo or you got to go lesson. So we did, I think we will flexible a little bit. And Paul was so busy at, at U of M teaching that, you know, evenings often when this occurred, he was at a recital or something. So he wasn’t even in the house. So that responsibility was kind of mine. And sometimes we would sign the 20 minutes would be okay as the hour.
 
Paul:
And I, I want to stress. We’d like to stress again, that kids are so different and we see it with, with our two children that learning styles are so different. Uh, what motivates the different children, even in the same family can be so different. Another piece of it that we, that we haven’t spoken about is that, you know, I’ve come to the conclusion that if any young child on the violin specifically, if any young child on the violin could really hear what they’re producing, they would run as far away from that instrument as quickly as possible, because it’s pretty awful at the beginning. Um, and I’m not speaking of other people, I’m mostly speaking about myself. I was probably the worst, but something about it, whether it’s the parents or whether it’s some kind of curiosity, the kid continues. And I think part of our, our thought maybe unconsciously was that if they did it better and it wasn’t that hideous sound, that that is inevitably produced by every person at the beginning. If it wasn’t that the chances of, um, affinity with music with the instrument would be enhanced.
 
Virginia:
I’m not sure. I agree with you. Totally. I mean, I.
 
Paul:
Okay.
 
Virginia:
A little baby Suzuki kids that did their little twinkle, you know, Mississippi stoplight, don’t all sound bad. It’s not, I mean, you are an accomplished violinist and a professor and you have students that play at the highest level. So to you, it sounds bad, but I’m not sure that to the child going -sings- know, that it sounded so awful. And I think children have an affinity for something they’re drawn to a particular thing. My mom played violin and she started me on the violin. And I thought, no way, I hate this. It’s not comfortable. It’s awful. I don’t like it. I want the whole orchestra at my disposal. And so I kept saying, I don’t like this. No, no, no. I want to play the piano. And somehow I just had an affinity for that.
 
Virginia:
I love harmony. You on the other hand, Paul started on the piano and it didn’t fill your soul so to speak. So you gravitated towards the violin. For what reason? We don’t know Gwen gravitated towards the flute. Only after she had heard like three or four different performances of The Magic Flute. And she said, that’s what I want to play. Mom. I want to play the flute. And she was still like third grade and couldn’t reach, they didn’t have the circular flutes that they have now for children who are too little to reach, but she was determined. So I think Paul, I mean, I remember having this discussion and then I’ll shut up, but I had discussed discussion with you. You kept saying, Oh, it sounds so awful. It sounds so awful. And I said, let him be, he’ll get there. You know, don’t ever say that because so often a pianist, not a pianist, a parent will, you know, if the child brings home some, I still have something I drew in first grade, the child, the mother puts it on the refrigerator and says, this is terrific.
 
Virginia:
And yet they do the same kind of thing on the violin. Oh, can’t you fix that? Isn’t it out of tune. We tend to be more critical in the things that we are accomplished in. I believe so a parent teaching their child, the particular thing has to be careful not to be negative. I think there’s a book. Um, I forget the author’s name. It’s put out by Indiana University Press. It’s probably 35 years old. And it says developing talent in young people. And it, the author interviewed like 10 surgeons and interestingly 10 pianists. And you can kind of tell the trajectory, reading it, who those famous, pianist were. They were all famous people. And he advocated that, make it fun in the beginning, don’t make don’t stress, the perfection or getting it just right. Make it fun so that you hook the child into actually enjoying the process. And it certainly turned my thinking around. Cause I thought if they get great training from the very beginning, it will be great. Not so, all great pianists started with some little lady in the neighborhood or something and get candy for their effort. And that then the student moved on to someone who demanded more, but they were ready to give it. I don’t know. It’s an interesting thought. I think. What do you think Tim? Was it ever fun for you as a little kid playing?
 
Tim:
Yeah, of course. And I remember, I mean my earliest memory of really wanting to play something on the violin was I, I, when I heard Vivaldi A minor concerto, I think at the end of Suzuki book four, I remember thinking, wow, that is the coolest piece. I just can’t wait to play that. I think I’m ready now. And of course I wasn’t yet, but, um, I remember that being a kind of goalpost that I, that was one of the first times that I remember really wanting to play something on violin.
 
Paul:
You know, I’ve never heard you say that Tim.
 
Virginia:
I haven’t either.
 
Paul:
And ironically, that was my favorite piece too.
 
Virginia:
Wow.
 
Paul:
I mean, not that it’s a rare piece for a student, but I still, it was like, Oh, I can’t wait to play that. Yeah. That’s interesting.
 
Noa:
No, well, I was just going to say, I’m curious now, given that what, Paul, your practicing history was like growing up, if you see similarities in your own enthusiasm for playing or practicing or performing, or I’m just curious if there are any parallels that you notice in Tim’s own.
 
Paul:
I would say pretty much none
 
Paul:
That I started a little bit on the late side as was typical at that, in that era, you know, fifth or sixth grade, they introduced the idea that you could play an instrument. For some reason, I will never understand. I said, I’d like to play the violin, but I was, I was late to it, but I was pretty much hooked from the beginning. And I was, I was a neurotic practicer from kind of from day one and I don’t really know why. Just kind of, I was always much more interested in mechanical things of any kind, but that very much took second or third seat when I discovered this thing. And I think Tim is, is really much more broad in his, in his interests and his, his wanderings. The thing that I, I was, loved about Tim, that it wasn’t like this flame that exploded his interest in the violin, but it was like the slow simmering.
 
Paul:
And it was kind of, it was kind of always there and it was waiting, waiting, waiting. In fact, if you don’t mind, Tim, I’d like to tell the story of when you were, as Tim said, he went to a real school as opposed to other people. We know, he went to a real school and got a wonderful education and come junior year, of course you have to decide to major. And so Ginny and I got a phone call together and, uh, Tim started the conversation how he had to choose a major. And, uh, I remember I was standing up at the kitchen table and he said, I’ve decided folks that I’m going to be a music major.
 
Paul:
And I think I fell on the floor and I picked myself back up and we continued the conversation. And he said, yeah, I’ve, I’ve decided to be a violin performance major. I fell again. And then the kicker was at the end of the conversation. He said, you know, I think I’d like to teach. That was an amazing, amazing unforgettable moment. I think for all of us, I don’t know about for Tim. Do you remember that day?
 
Tim:
Uh, no, not, not really.
 
Paul:
Ginny, did that happen?
 
Virginia:
Well, you didn’t fall on the floor, but it was a moment like, yes, metaphorically, you were very surprised and I was maybe less surprised because Tim had become very involved in music at, at Bowdoin. And, um, he had been in the quartet and got to play in the Boston Fine Arts Museum and all kinds of things. I mean, it was engaging for him and you liked your teacher very much. He was perfect for you at the time. And he was in the Portland String Quartet. And, uh, you know, I think it just kind of went in that direction. Interestingly enough, this was right at the end of sophomore year. I think when you declared and then junior year, you went to Bologne to do a semester abroad and, uh, didn’t do any music there really, because there were so many other things going on and you went to all the car factories. Tim has a great interest in exotic cars and racing as well, which you probably know, then he came back and really dug in and then went on to CIM and I, you, and then we are here where we are. But yeah, I, it was a surprise. We thought maybe he’d go into car design or, you know, something to do. He would have liked to design Ferrari’s at the time, I think. Um, anyway. Yeah, it was surprising and that’s pretty much the right story. A little bit on the dramatic side.
 
Paul:
Sorry.
 
Noa:
I think it’s easy for us to remember times when our parents weren’t supportive and, you know, they were probably trying to be supportive, but something they said or did just came across in the opposite way that it was intended. I’m not actually so curious about question, I’m actually more curious, Tim, do you remember things that either of your parents did that, that felt really supportive that kind of encouraged you, whether it was a tip that they tried to give you or, or some way that they handled something?
 
Tim:
I, I remember a lot of those times actually, the nature of these things is we tend to focus on when it was tough and, you know, when practicing was really difficult, but those were really mixed in with the moments that I, you know, very much cared about what was coming out of the instrument. And those times I remember both of my parents being just really interested and really supportive of me trying to, trying to help myself. Yeah. I mean, and I think that that likely happened as, as often as the, as the resistance, because I, I, I think I knew to a certain degree, you know, what I was supposed to do with the instrument and given my other practice habits was annoyed when that didn’t happen, which comes as no great surprise. But, uh, you know, it was a surprise to me at least enough.
 
Tim:
Uh, and I remember both of my parents being really supportive when I, I played, collaborate with my mom from a very early age and her helping me out with those kinds of things, poor rhythm and, and pitch and, uh, anything else, musical and, and my dad helping me with those in the practice room as well. So there was a lot of that. I think, I think sometimes it even felt like they were, they were too supportive and they would say, Oh no, that’s, that’s great. You’re doing great. And I was like, no, no, no, that does not sound good. And so there’s, there was even, even some of that, I think,
 
Noa:
Not to put you on the spot, Tim, but do you remember a particular time that felt supportive where, I mean, whether it was a different bowing or fingering or something that your parents did to help you that came across not as critical, but as supportive.
 
Tim:
I can’t think of, of a sort of specific instance or a specific issue that I was having, but maybe, maybe the two of you remember better, but I, um, that was my, my sort of overall feeling that whenever I did actually become involved with an issue or, or want it keenly wanted to solve it, that they were always, always there and very willing to help me with it. Um, but I don’t, I can’t remember a specific, specific instance or issue.
 
Paul:
Would you agree Tim that it’s not really so much about what is said, but a more general feeling of being loved and supported. Is that fair?
 
Tim:
Yeah. Yeah.
 
Paul:
Okay.
 
Noa:
And that the two of you were around, if he had questions about something that wasn’t working for him…
 
Paul:
Or semi around. In my case.
 
Tim:
And that’s, you know, that’s one of the, one of the reasons why I feel very lucky. Is it any time that I did run into a problem that I felt that I couldn’t solve on my own, it was just a no brainer that, Oh, well, my parents can certainly help me with that. You know, they were both ready and willing to help me in those, those occasions likely because of my resistance, otherwise that when, when I was interested, they said, Hey, this is great. Okay. Yes, absolutely. But that, that never felt like, like I had to worry about, about that
 
Noa:
Along those lines, this is maybe just for me, but when did you know that the unsolicited help that you were really tempted to provide was going to do more harm than good? And like, how did you know to back off from that if those things came up or did you maybe not know to back off and it just played out the way it did?
 
Paul:
Yeah. Well, for me, probably didn’t back off soon enough, Tim had a very interesting technique when we were working together at CIM, uh, kind of, you might call it a kind of passive aggressive thing where I would say something like, do you think Tim hypothetically, possibly that you would consider trying a small slide in this place and it wasn’t that far off from that. And Tim would say something like, Oh, do you mean like this? And it’ll be grotesque parody, of what I was suggesting. And I would say something like, yeah, I don’t think that’s exactly what I had in mind. That was also very clearly the message was out of my face, please. Do you remember that, Tim?
 
Tim:
Uh, again, I, I think I remember the instance you’re speaking of it, but my memory of it might be a little different.
 
Paul:
Yeah, fair enough. That was as clear a marker, as I can remember
 
Noa:
My takeaway from it is that even if there were moments where you pushed too much or pushed too far, or, you know, set the decision date many years into the future, it still worked out. Okay. It’s not that everything has to be done perfectly every single time from the very beginning. And as long as there’s a sort of a sort of overarching understanding of support and, and love and, and whatnot, that it kind of, that it’s almost maybe like a relationship with any person in our lives where there are going to be good times, there are going to be bad times. As long as the bad times, don’t start to overwhelm the number of good times. Things still feel very much worthwhile and worth investing in and so forth.
 
Paul:
Well said
 
Noa:
Which is like a really messy, fuzzy way to kind of wrap things up because it’d be nice if they were, you know, for a lot of the stressed out parents out there, very clear guideline, as to if I do this, this and this, everything’s going to be fine in the future. And it just sounds like there really isn’t that sort of handbook. And it’s more just kind of gauging things and trying to understand the individual.
 
Noa:
And so I got this question, I asked people on Facebook, I didn’t mention which musicians or what family I would be talking to, but I was trying to find out what people were curious about. And, uh, one person wrote in saying that, you know, their daughter plays the violin and they played golf in college. And so they’ve tried to liken what their experience, you know, playing high level golf may be related to what the daughter is doing, trying to become better at the violin. And, uh, the daughter did not appreciate that comparison in the slightest. And so the question was, you know, how do I encourage her and provide some guidance or support without her feeling like I’m comparing the two of us.
 
Paul:
I was initially interested in what you said, that the daughter didn’t appreciate the, the analogy between golf and, and music, which is not an such an uncommon one. But I, I wonder what about that? Um, turned her off. Do you have a sense of that?
 
Noa:
My, my impression was it wasn’t so much about comparing golf and music so much as the mom’s trying to compare the two of them and maybe, and also maybe the analogy does play into it too. Where, I mean, I could see rewinding the clock 30 years. I think my mom probably tried to compare what I was doing with her experience teaching in college and doing other things. And I, I think, you know, as a little kid, my first thought is, Oh, you don’t understand, like you totally don’t get what it is that this is, this is a different thing. Even though, you know, now with perspective, I see that they’re probably very similar and she had a lot more to share than I would have wanted to accept from her.
 
Virginia:
I think everything in the world that we encounter, I tell my students, at least that everything I encounter feeds into how I work and think musically, I watched eight years of TaeKwonDo three times a week. And I learned a lot from that martial art as to how to use my body approaching the piano. Now, obviously I don’t attack it in punches, but just the direction, the focus and the thinking, and Tim once made wonderful analogies about how similar playing the violin and racing a race car were. And I thought, yeah, yeah. So maybe it’s just making a comparison with everything in the world, that one encounters that, you know, it feeds into what you’re doing now, who knows, uh, it could be just, just friction generally. Um, maybe not…
 
Noa:
I like that though. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be that the comparisons come from golf.
 
Virginia:
It could be from other, everything, everything I felt successful as a parent, when Tim in high school, one day I walked downstairs and to our rec room and he was sitting and listening to rap and I thought, okay, he’s got to go through this. But the next day when I happened to walk downstairs, he was listening to the Schubert C major Symphony. And I thought, yes, we have been successful. He appreciates everything that, you know, good music is good music. And I won’t judge rap cause I don’t know it, but I think he was just open. Um, I think being open to everything, I mean a lot of great musicians play golf too.
 
Paul:
Oh yeah.
 
Virginia:
You know, it’s a big sport for musicians know, I know in Aspen they do yes.
 
Tim:
Around the time that I, I sort of discovered that I wanted to be a musician. I really came to love basketball and chamber music, particularly string quartet music around the same time. And that comparison, the sort of analogy between the two was really powerful for me. You know, like the way that in order to play together, you have to not just sort of follow each other, but predict where your colleagues are going to go the same way. If you toss a ball to where someone is, well, it’s too late at that point. Right? So there’s the, I, for me, there was so much analogy that, that, that became a powerful motivator for me at the same time, for all the reasons we discussed. If, if that analogy was brought up by my parents, I might’ve been resistant to it just because it came from my parents.
 
Virginia:
Exactly.

Notes

More fun stuff

  • Tim shares a lot of terrifically practical and useful tips on playing and practicing – from improving rhythm to more reliable shifts – on violinist Lynn Kuo’s Violynn Chats (I particularly like the Cavani Quartet’s “Shakespearean Counting” exercise): Fast Notes & Fast Rides with Timothy Kantor
  • And here’s Tim performing with the Afiara Quartet, in an intriguing concert format which appears to be part talk show, part live concert, part live webcast: Afiara String Quartet at Zoomer Hall

Ack! After Countless Hours of Practice,
Why Are Performances Still so Hit or Miss?

It’s not a talent issue. And that rush of adrenaline and emotional roller coaster you experience before performances is totally normal too.

Performing at the upper ranges of your ability under pressure is a unique skill – one that requires specific mental skills, and perhaps a few other tweaks in your approach to practicing too. Elite athletes have been learning these techniques for decades; if nerves and self-doubt have been recurring obstacles in your performances, I’d like to help you do the same.

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Comments

One Response

  1. Mr.Kantor is one of my top 3 teachers – I never studied with him, but his masterclass is ALWAYS amazing. I am envious that you studied with him in school.

    I just had a situation where a 10 years old just decided not to play violin anymore. We ended up deciding that 1. this is not the end of playing the violin, but simply a pause, 2. he will start taking lessons for guitar, and 3. he will check back with me in August evaluating his decision.

    It was a difficult one for me because this student had this nature of practicing with structure and he wanted to play better. Watching his progress was very satisfying as a teacher, but he wasn’t too happy to play the violin.

    I know I have a LONG way to learn how to help students in age 9-13 engage. I asked a middle school band teacher who also has an 8th-grade daughter – she plays piano. The daughter wanted to quit at some point, but she was grateful that her parents encouraged her to keep playing – she now even likes classical music!!! The band teacher also said that I make sure to check back with kids who decide not to continue taking music lessons – switching instruments – because they sometimes stick with their decision so that they don’t embarrass themselves by showing regrets.

    Thank you for interviewing Mr.Kantor’s family and how they dealt with it.

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