I have been teaching violin lessons for twenty years now. At times it dawns on me that I wish I had kept a detailed record of all my students. Their name, age, how long they are/were with me, and exactly how they progressed would be a fascinating record to really refresh my memory. I’m sure my husband would love to make a spreadsheet out of all the information for me, since he loves to do that kind of thing.

There have been hundreds of students that have come to my studio, the youngest three and the oldest a man in his sixties. Instead of having a scrapbook to look back on for mostly better but occasionally worse, I have a collection of photos, addresses and phone numbers from former students mixed with the faces I currently see during my six days of teaching each week. When a flash of a former student comes to mind, I do wonder how they are and what they might be doing now.

One of my former students, Elissa Leventhal, was easy to keep track of because she has been attending college in New York City and has occasionally stopped by for lessons in the summer. I remember distinctly when she showed up a few summers back with the dreaded Don Juan orchestral excerpt in her hands that she was preparing for her orchestra seating audition for the fall. I wasn’t so happy to see her that day. Don Juan is known in the violin world as one of the most difficult excerpts, because of that it's best to have a fair warning that you will be playing it. Luckily, it went pretty well since I had formerly put my time in with that excerpt.

Summer ended and she was back in school and I was back to my busy life. A year had passed and we had not been in contact. Then one day I was on youtube looking for performances of the Vieuxtemps No. 5 Violin Concerto Cone piece or another and I came across the orchestra at Queens College. There was Elissa, right up front of the first violin section. I texted her right away and in our exchange discovered that her senior violin recital would be approaching in the current school year. I told her that, of course, I would not want to miss it.

So the date was set and I had changed my current teaching schedule to be able to attend this momentous occasion. On the day of the recital, I woke up with a sore throat and snow blowing everywhere outside. I was glad to hear that the blizzard of the week had forced her to change the date to a few days later. Luckily, when her new recital day had arrived and I was feeling better. I didn’t have to change my schedule to be able to attend her concert.

A senior recital is a big deal. I remember mine very well. The nerves, the pressure, playing a full concert of solo music, and the desire to be done with school already. When I walked into the beautiful Lefrak Concert Hall I didn’t know what to expect.  I had chatted with her parents before walking in so I knew a little about how her day had gone. I knew she was nervous and that her current teacher was tough on her (I remember that from college too). I knew she was already student teaching at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, which has a great string program and I knew she was eager to get out of college.


I sat in that concert hall without a scrapbook, but I had my memories before the lights went down. I remembered when we first met at my fourth floor walk up apartment when she was twelve years old. She had begun her violin studies in the public school system, the same way I started, but it was time for a private teacher. The first piece that we worked on was Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” a piece that I loved from an early age. She continued to walk up all those stairs for years to come to her weekly lesson. I think she missed one or two lessons the whole six years we worked together.

She was dedicated to practice so when she set her mind to auditioning for LaGuardia high school, the school made famous by “Fame,” she got in. She wanted to be in another orchestra so we prepared the audition for the Interschool orchestra in NYC. She got in. As college approached she decided she wanted to study music. We selected the schools to go for and in the process she learned that she was much more comfortable in an urban environment. We put Queens College on top of the list. It has an excellent music program that doesn’t break the bank, offers music education, and it would be perfect for networking a job in NYC for after college. We worked on the Mendelssohn Violin concerto, the required Bach, the Kreutzer etude, and the scales for at least a year before her audition. As I sat there waiting for her to come out and play her recital, I remembered back on all the effort that she had put into getting the acceptance letter to Queens. She did it, and there I sat four years later.

The lights went down. She came out in a beautiful gown and performed Kreisler’s “Praeludium and Allegro,” Bach’s “Tempo di Bourree and Double,” from the Partita in b minor, Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” and the first movement from Viotti’s Concerto No.22. She played the entire recital beautifully, completely by memory, and with the poise of a seasoned professional.


On the way to the reception her spunky grandma asked me if I was the famous Tonya. I’ve definitely never been asked that, but assumed that yes, I was. Her mother tearfully thanked me for all I had done for her daughter, and Elissa told me that she couldn’t have done it without me. Now that she will go into the world of music education herself, she will know one day that actually I’m the one that could really not do it without her. Just one student like Elissa out of the hundreds every twenty years will do it. That is all I need. 

Posted on February 28, 2014 .