Today we have the opportunity to share the fourth installment of our “Instructor Features” blog series! This week we have Marilyn Watkins to celebrate. Marilyn Watkins is an experienced music teacher and violinist. She received her Bachelors and Masters degrees in music education from Ball State University. Her varied background includes orchestra director at Pike Township schools, music director of a church, and performances in college and community orchestras such as Muncie Symphony and Carmel Symphony.
Read more about Marilyn below, and at the link near the bottom of the post.
To begin, what do you teach at Vibe and how old are your students?
I teach violin right now (but also have taught viola), and my students are 5 years old to adults.
What is your favorite concept or skill to teach?
I believe that music is for life. It is to be enjoyed not only as a blessing to you, but also to others. Music goes on, and I want my students to always enjoy music. There is nothing else like it! I don’t want them to miss out on something like this. We’re doing this to grow you, and to enjoy music more!
Technique-wise, I focus a lot on hand frame as well. Many students do not have the correct hand frame, and it influences everything - intonation and shifting especially. Many high school students have no hand frame, and they end up just guessing! I feel bad for them, but I do have to focus on getting this first - then they’ll start flying.
Talk about your background in music, all the way from your very first experience with an instrument.
My mom played violin growing up, and she was our church’s organist for decades. I was given her violin to start on. I always wanted to play and play well. I didn’t have any private lessons until about age 14, and it was then when I realized I wanted to be a musician someday. I went to various summer camps and played in my high school’s orchestra (one of the top in the state). I ended up with a scholarship to Ball State, and graduated with a degree in violin. Then, I got my master’s degree, and got a job teaching in Pike Township in Indianapolis. I taught there for 2.5 years, and also taught many private students while at Pike. I kept a lot of those students through the time when we had our first child, and soon enough my kids were taking lessons as well! Through that time I was playing at large venues (churches, events, etc.) around town, and a few years back I auditioned to play at the University of Indianapolis Chamber Ensemble. I wanted to get into the swing of things again, and thought that was a good place for me! Suddenly I was thrown into the world of classical music again, and it has been so enjoyable. The directors there are doing a great job, and the faculty there is superb! I’m glad I was able to figure out what to do with all 9 of my kids out of the house. I also operate my own studio that is slowly growing, with some more kids jumping in this summer.
A penguin walks through your front door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?
He definitely lost his way to Indiana… which direction is south?!
When you begin lessons with a beginning player, what are some initial goals you help create with the student?
They need to be listening (with the Suzuki approach) to the CDs that are with the book, YouTube videos, etc. This helps train the ear and the mind, so that they know what they are reaching for. This is what they want to sound like! Training the ear is so important. We definitely listen to lots of good music, and they can do this before they are playing at all. They shouldn’t be just working on playing their violin, but also listening to great players play. Another thing is, that it all depends on daily diligent practice. You need to be doing 6-7 days of some kind of practice - it builds! Some students want to cram and only do two days, and it really slows down the progress. The diligent daily practice is definitely the single biggest difference in musicianship long-term. With the little people, you can’t expect them to do it by themselves. Their parents should help out a ton! In the summer, especially, since the schedules at home are usually much different, practice schedules can fluctuate quite a bit. Set a time to combat this! “I’ll practice whenever” can disappear into thin air.
At the very beginning, I like to work without a bow (use a pencil instead) and stress technique heavily. Sometimes the instrument needs to be adjusted to accommodate the student’s size, and I want to set up their form before they even start playing. We don’t want to backtrack! I try to encourage them, make it interesting (depending on their personality and age) and fit it towards the person. My adult student is always asking questions, and so I want to always be available to solve those issues. She’s the one who is practicing at home, and so she needs a lot of clarity on what is working and what is not. Always going back to fundamentals and technique.
Do you remember one of the first times you “fell in love” with music?
When I was in grade school, they had a music memory program. The music teacher would bring in classical symphony music, and they were going off of what the ISO was going to play. At the end of this, there was a test, and you’d listen to music, and if you got it right, you got a record and sometimes we went to the symphony and they played what we were listening to! My mother also took me to hear Isaac Stern playing with the ISO, and she also had some music at home that we listened to and played through together. My mom liked musicals, and she took me a couple times to Butler to watch these outdoor theatrical productions. My mom was such a huge influence in all of this.
Why do you feel that music education is important for developing members of society?
Besides being something beautiful that we should cultivate, I believe music speaks to your heart. You don’t have to speak the same language, or live in the same country, but you can still use it to speak. You never ever reach the top pinnacle or figure it all out. There is always a “further up”! It is never-ending as the discipline, and you must be diligent and patient always. You must accept help from other people that are further along the road than you are. You must cooperate with other people while performing with them, you have to use music as a language (reading and writing it), and you must express with it. Also, as a group, you must agree as an ensemble about how you will express together! I think it sets you up to do many, many things that aren’t just easy. We live in a culture of instant gratification, but music is not like that. Music is worth it!
Marilyn is such a great addition to our team, and we are so excited to have her on board! Read more about Marilyn here.