I tend to believe people—to take them at their word. Traditionally, this has helped me. Sometimes, though, it has led to unintended, or even humorous consequences. When I was probably in the second grade, I had just played a difficult passage for my violin teacher, and it wasn't very good. She appeared to consider something, before saying in a thoughtful tone, "Let's back up for a minute." Confused, I started walking backwards. To my embarassment, this brought peals of laughter from both my teacher and my mom. My teacher had to explain that she had used a figure of speech and hadn't expected me to take her literally! But at least this story is proof that I was listening . . .
What we say as teachers definitely has an impact—usually for good. Thank goodness.
My high school orchestra teacher once asked our orchestra class, after a difficult sight reading session, who in that room could play all of their three-octave scales and arpeggios in tune in any key signature. Thinking back, I'm not sure all of us could honestly admit to being successful at that challenge, but as that was something I had worked on and achieved recently, I trepidly half-raised my hand. (I think I wondered if he was going to have me demonstrate to the rest of the class.) I'll never forget what he said next, as it has given me inspiration and hope many times since: "Then you can play any piece of music ever written." He went on to explain how scales/arpeggios are the building blocks of compositions, but I had tuned out, focusing on that one sentence. It gave me confidence and courage. Maybe I could be a successful professional musician someday.
I had just moved to Provo, UT from Rochester, MN. In Minnesota, the Suzuki Violin Method wasn't as widespread as it was in Utah. Nevertheless, we found a teacher in Rochester who was willing to teach me my final Suzuki book. She must have been in her late seventies or early eighties at the time, whereas I was just 13 (a very impressionable age in my life). She had a lot of spunk. Her apartment always smelled strongly of potpourri, which I found eclectic and slightly amusing. But I knew she cared about me, as she always threw all her knowledge and energy and passion into every lesson, willing to laugh with me and challenge me and drill me and correct me. There was one thing she corrected me on in every lesson, it seemed. I was in the habit of saying, "I can't," when things got hard enough. The techniques she was throwing at me seemed far too difficult to achieve. But she never let me get away with that. She'd become very stern and insist that I NEVER say, "I can't!" I took that lesson to heart, and it's served me well in the years since. I pass that expectation on to my violin students . . .
Then, there was the time the associate concertmaster of the Utah Symphony heard me perform at a music function (also at age 13) and gave me a huge compliment, saying it was probably the best version of Praeludium and Allegro he had ever heard. I never forgot that. Suffice it to say, more than twenty years later, after I had moved back to that area, gotten married, and earned a master's degree in music, I tracked him down and asked if I could take a lesson from him, even though he had retired from teaching at that point.
I'm so glad I had teachers who cared enough to truly teach meaningful lessons and say things that made an impact. The wisdom I gleaned from their decades of experience was truly invaluable. I believe it's a good idea, as I mentioned in a previous post, to try to learn something from every teacher, even the ones you don't think are all that wonderful or helpful. Doing so might possibly change your life. But just figure out when to take their advice with a grain of salt and when to take them literally!