What if orchestra is no longer fun?


Robert said: Mar 4, 2014
 17 posts

My daughter has loved playing the violin until this year. Her outstanding orchestra teacher left, and was replaced by a new teacher who only plays the oboe. I’m sure he wants to be a good teacher, but from what my daughter tells me, they pretty much plow through each new piece. He demonstrates techniques—like vibrato—on the instrument he plays—and of course it’s just a bit different than with a string instrument. And there are only string instruments in the orchestra. How he was selected to teach is a mystery to me.

No time is spent on learning the rhythm, and there seems to be no time for fun. When her teacher announced that he will return next year, she immediately asked to quit. Friends are also quitting, and joining the choir, or just leaving music. The parents of one friend told their daughter to “tough it out” at least one more semester, and then she could quit.

My strategy is to keep encouraging her that if she can stick with it until high school—just 1.5 more years—things will get better. Her private teacher suggested joining a community youth orchestra, but that conflicts with previous commitments.

Can anyone give me a better strategy to encourage her? I feel like an ogre. I did get some new duet music for us to play together, but I don’t think I can fix what’s wrong with orchestra class.

Alexandra said: Mar 4, 2014
Alexandra Jacques
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Mesa, AZ
35 posts

I had a similar experience in high school, and I feel for your daughter, it was tough. It's especially rough when the former teacher was good. However, I was encouraged by my family and my private teacher to tough it out, and I'm glad I did. Many times there is a policy that students who aren't in school orchestra cannot participate in activities such as honor orchestras, Solo and Ensemble, etc. since they are through the schools. That is the main reason I stayed in orchestra, but I also learned that as long as I continue playing, I will have teachers and conductors that I don't like from time to time, but I must make the most out of the situation. I wasn't a big fan of the teacher, but I eventually got to a point where I enjoyed playing the music in orchestra. This won't be the only time she has a teacher she doesn't like, and if it were a math or English teacher, she wouldn't have the choice to simply not take the class. She will learn a few non-musical life lessons from persevering through this tough situation. :)

One of my degrees is in music education, and I can tell you that wind/brass/percussion players teaching strings and vice versa is a lot more common than you might think, especially among new teachers. They accept the first job offer they get, even if it's not their first choice, because they need a job, and the school doesn't have much choice if none of the applicants are string players; they have to fill the position. It's not ideal, but it happens. However, the good teachers who are in positions where they are teaching instruments they do not play do all they can to make it work. They take lessons, they practice on their own time, and sometimes, if they have to, they use their primary instrument to demonstrate something because they can't do it well on the students' instruments. I hope that your daughter's teacher is at least doing what he can to get better at string playing if he plans on keeping this job for another year, but in the mean time, it sounds like he is trying, and will get better with more experience. That might be a good thing to tell your daughter.

I think the experience of playing in an orchestra is valuable for your daughter, even in this situation, and if joining a community youth orchestra isn't an option, she should stay in orchestra at school. Skills she learns in private lessons are often far different in an orchestra because she has to play well with an entire group- something she might have to re-learn once she gets to high school if she takes a year and a half off from orchestra.

Good luck, I hope it all works out!

Robin Johnson said: Mar 5, 2014
Robin JohnsonViolin
La Crescenta, CA
19 posts

hi—i'm of the opposite opinion. times flies by for us adults, but it still moves slowly for children. she is not married to this teacher, and if it's not working out, then move on. if she were in high school, that may be different, where four years in the same thing looks good on her college apps. but it sounds like she is in junior high, so keep it enjoyable. if they have a good choir, then she can join that. maybe some of her friends who also quit can just get together and play stuff for fun. people vote with their feet, and if enough kids quit or at least complain, maybe they'll change teachers.

robin johnson

Robin Johnson
[javascript protected email address]

Robert said: Mar 5, 2014
 17 posts

Thanks for the two different perspectives. She played at a school concert the other night, and got to hear what the high school kids are doing. They're fantastic, as is their teacher—who used to teach at my daughter's school, before she was there.

I may end up compromising a bit, and leaving the window open for some other option, but I don't want her to make a snap decision to quit.

I don't think there's any indication that her teacher is attempting to learn to play a string instrument, but you never know.

Community Youth Orchestra Of S CA said: Mar 12, 2014
 Violin, Viola
70 posts

It's frustrating, but this situation happens a lot. Schools don't have the budget to hire more than one music teacher at times, and there are very few people out there who are able to competently play and teach an instrument from every single category (strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and piano) at a high level.

Maria Stefanova-Mar said: Jun 1, 2014
19 posts

Many Suzuki summer institutes now offer an orchestra component. I feel it might be worth looking into some of these as another option for your daughter to have a positive orchestral experience during the summer. Your area may also offer summer orchestra camps through youth symphony or other music organizations.

As frustrating as it may be at the moment, my advice is to keep up with the class if she will be moving to high school in just one year. In the meantime she can try to make the best of it as she looks for musical challenges outside her school as well. Why not even helping that new teacher with violin techniques and becoming a leader in the orchestra? I am very familiar with the syndrome of band directors taking on orchestra positions. Unfortunately it happens in the area I teach. I know they also feel uncomfortable with that setting and would appreciate any help they could get. Just a thought.

Heather Figi said: Sep 21, 2014
 96 posts

Interesting question. Ultimately, this is a teaching moment for you as a parent.

The truth is that life will sometimes give you incredible teachers and sometimes not so incredible teachers.

Life will sometimes give you wonderful work opportunities and sometimes not so incredible work opportunities.

Etc…I could go on and on.

I am wary of pulling her out of this just because it is not the world’s best instructor. I wish we were all so lucky to have that but that is no where near how life works.

Another question to ask—is this teacher damaging to her? Have you gone and watched yourself?

If in any way she is having any type of psychological damage as a result, I would end the experience. It did not sound like this was the case.

I would have an adult sit-down and say this is a life lesson, this is how the real world operates. Be grateful when you do have an excellent instructor but in the meantime, this is your life and you can take advantage of this time by increasing your hours on the instrument which will help synthesize ideas.

Also, acknowledge her loss of the teacher she did connect with. That must have been hard. Again, a life teaching opportunity for you as a parent.

Robert said: Oct 20, 2014
 17 posts


Well, you must be a really wise teacher, because I think that’s pretty much what I told her! (Ain’t I smart?) And I didn’t let her quit!

We did switch to a new private teacher, and this seems to have provided a new sense of purpose, with some new challenges for her. I think her previous teacher was also good, but it seemed that it was time for a change, and I think this will keep her going for at least this school year. Then she’ll be in high school, where there is an excellent teacher, and a wonderful variety of classes for strings.

We were offered the use of a high-quality violin made by a luthier friend—actually a choice of either of a couple he had made. He thought it might serve as an encouragement. But in the end, I felt that this might not have been perceived as an incentive, but rather as manipulation. I want her to come to value what she can do with what she has, until she actually asks to upgrade. She isn’t using bad equipment, but I’d like her to realize what she can do with something better. I’m not sure we’re there yet.

And she’s sitting next to the concert master now. Not so bad, eh?

Heather Figi said: Oct 21, 2014
 96 posts

Thanks Robert for the update. Sounds like you are deeply committed as a parent. In fact, you would not be here if you were not.

As much as this is about the music and about the violin it is also about how we live life. We are teaching life thru the instrument and music. Life is not easy or full of streamlined decisions. We need real experience practicing healthy navigation skills and this was a great opportunity for your family to learn perseverance.

Thank you for your support!

Robert said: Oct 21, 2014
 17 posts

Thanks, Heather!

Yup, you’re right; This needs to be about perseverance. Our 24-year-old son told us the other day that he now wishes we had forced him to keep taking piano lessons, many years ago. Well, so easy to say, with 20-20 hindsight. But experiences with our other children have helped inform our journey with our daughter. In 20 more years, I think we might be getting pretty good at parenting!

Heather Figi said: Oct 21, 2014
 96 posts

Robert, I feel confident I can speak for a majority, if not all of us teachers on here who say “If I had a dollar for every person who has ever told me they wished they didn’t quit as a child (or their parents let them quit….”

You get the picture ;)

Another way for you to think about this is that every musician, including children, have relationships with their music making. Like our relationships with friends, family, careers, pastimes, faith, diets and hobbies there are peaks and valleys inherent in the nature of a relationship. Stepping back and getting clarity on the end goal is important.

Best wishes to your family!
Thanks for the dialogue here!

Man said: Nov 4, 2014
 Violin, Voice, Viola
13 posts

Totally agreed w/ what Heather said.

I too had/have been going thru some similar things w/ our 2 teenaged kids and have been approaching these things along the lines that Heather suggested.

Indeed, my kids have even started complaining about me constantly drawing life lessons from their violin music education, LOL… but they do get it (for the most part) even if they get a bit tired of it… hehheh…

One thing though. Would it have been too much for her to do both orchestra and choir at her school in that situation? No idea since I’m not actually in your shoes, but that would probably have been something worth considering to me. And indeed, my kids have been doing more than just violin and (1) orchestra through most of middle school into HS now—they’ve also been doing at least either chamber music or a bit of choir as well since roughly middle of MS.

Anyhoo, guess there’s no need to consider that at this point… However, another thing to consider, if your daughter hasn’t already started doing (given she’s now 2nd chair), is to encourage her to take on more responsibility and more of a leadership role in aiding the orchestra to move forward under this new teacher. That’s something I definitely encourage my kids to do in such situations… though that will also depend a lot on your daughter’s personality, maturity level, etc. etc. It doesn’t have to be very explicit, but just encouraging her to be particularly helpful and take the initiative in doing so would probably be good. This can be a great opp for her to develop in these areas before moving on to HS.

One other thing. You mentioned your 24-yo son. IF he’s not already back at it, maybe it’s time to encourage him to get back at the piano or take up something else he’d love to try. Never too late me thinks… particularly since music (and art in general) can be such a very rewarding hobby-of-sorts and can be treated as a major part of one’s life journey… even if one is not (currently) doing it (or wishing to do it) professionally… In fact, your son’s (and many others’) expressed sentiment says it all…



Robert said: Nov 4, 2014
 17 posts

Good suggestions. Thanks!

Recently, I’ve been discussing with her the need to establish some long-range goals. What do you want to be able to do in a year? In five? In ten? Then we can sort of “backwards-plan” from each end-point. “Here’s what needs to happen to get to your five-year goal,” etc. At least in general terms. I did that with the cello, and I think it was helpful. I’m now playing some of my dreamed-of pieces, and there was a time that seemed pretty far-fetched.

I do hope our boys return to the piano—or other instrument—at some point. I took up the cello not too many years ago, after playing trombone, french horn, classical guitar, and piano, over the years. I think this is something I’ll stay with as long as I’m physically able. I did this partly because I wanted to encourage my daughter, and partly because I simply wanted to learn to play it. And sometimes we do duets, which I really enjoy.

Oh, and lately she’s been bugging me about trying the cello. which I think is fine. But it shouldn’t detract from her progress with the violin. I just need to put the 3/4 cello back together! It’s got a crack in the back, meaning it needs a flush patch on the inside. What fun!

Jennifer Taylor said: Nov 20, 2014
Suzuki Association Member
Durham, NC
15 posts

I’d also add that sometimes it can be a good life experience to talk to the orchestra conductor about how things are going. I wouldn’t complain, but just explain how your daughter is feeling about orchestra and ask for the conductor’s ideas on how to help your daughter. You could explain that your daughter feels rushed learning the music and is having trouble getting the feeling/emotion of the music. Do they have suggestions for helping her feel more comfortable? But of course also thank the conductor for all their work with the group and try to give positive feedback as well— and maybe even give a welcoming/appreciation gift at some point of the year! Keeping a good relationship and keeping the conversation positive is key (in my opinion:) ).

As a teacher myself, I learn from parents’ feedback and appreciate them telling me even not so positive comments or suggestions, so I can learn from them. Teachers also often feel more respected if you come to them verses going to the principal or someone higher up first. Learning to talk things through in a respectful and positive way can be a challenge and life skill worth working on!

Man said: Nov 21, 2014
 Violin, Voice, Viola
13 posts

Agreed w/ Jennifer.

IF you haven’t already been in touch (and seeking good relations) w/ the new orchestra teacher, I’d strongly recommend that as well.

It’s no doubt tough for a new teacher to arrive and replace an excellent, old one. I always try to make sure a new teacher feels welcomed and receive much needed cooperation, especially if it’s something that involves my kids substantially. Do what makes good sense.

I just assumed you’re probably doing that already, but if not, definitely reach out to him.



Robert said: Dec 2, 2014
 17 posts

Thanks for the ideas. Yup, I totally agree with going to the teacher first. As a school teacher, I know how it feels on the receiving end. I think things are getting a bit better this year, but many students had already left after last year. I’d think this would be of great concern to the high school orchestra teacher, as this group will be his future orchestra!

One ray of light is that her teacher has taken up the viola this year. That seems like a step in the right direction. I learned this from chatting with him.

Robert said: Aug 21, 2015
 17 posts

My daughter has now moved on, and will register for high school next week, where there is a small orchestra that meets twice weekly. We’ve been playing together in our little church orchestra this summer, which she seems to tolerate, and perhaps even enjoy. It’s definitely been enjoyable for me!

So today, I offered three alternatives: continue to play with me in our church orchestra; resume private lessons; and/or sign up for the high school orchestra. “None of the above!” was her initial response. But of these options, she prefers to keep playing in the church group, along with me. I still suspect the high school orchestra might actually be a lot of fun for her, but we may never find out…

Stephanie said: Aug 25, 2015
Stephanie Noble-Weed
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Snohomish, WA
5 posts

I have been a High School classroom Teacher and Administator for 25 years, and if I have learned one thing, it is to give High School students their needed space and some Control, if you want to avoid conflict . If your daughter is just beginning her High School Education, I would ask her what elective she would rather try? If she does not have an alternative you could suggest Debate, Art, Choir, or another, and let her decide so she has some control, then ask her to please keep up her music with the church as an activity to do together because you enjoy her compnay. That way, she can go back to Orchestra if she wants to or spread her wings in a different direction. My Son had a difficult choice entering High School to pick between Choir or try Debate. I listened to him, and suggested he give Debate a try, as he can always return to his Choir. This was hard advice to give as he loved music as much as I do. He loved Debate and Graduated as State Champion in cross exam debate, and went on to Nationals. He then was given a Scholarship in College and they flew his to Korea and Texas (he was in WA State) and all over, on the Debate team. He uses his Debate skills in his woderful job now as National Director of Logistics for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief. He is 32 yrs. old. Still has a wonderful appreciation for music.

Stephanie Noble Weed, MFA, EdAd

Robert said: Nov 8, 2015
 17 posts

Agree with the idea of choices. We used that approach many times with our older kids, and it was often helpful. But I felt that keeping her playing, at least for a while, was important. So we kept playing in the small church orchestra, and she said she didn’t mind.

Then she said she kind of enjoyed it. And last week, she told me, “Thanks for not letting me quit.” I almost dropped my cello. No, she didn’t want to join the school orchestra, and we didn’t force her to do that. It’s also an after-school activity, not part of the daily schedule, so it would add to her already busy schedule. But she has now said she might decide to join in the future, when her schedule isn’t quite so packed.

Long ago, I promised her we’d begin looking for a nicer violin, if she kept it up into high school. Today, she told me she’d be interested in doing that. And she’s begun practicing the piano, all on her own!

I guess I’m flying pretty high right now!

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