I didn't start on the violin. My musical journey started long before formal lessons began, with my sister being enrolled in group piano lessons. Four years my senior, she was a natural teacher, and often came home from her lessons and taught me what she had learned. After listening to her practice and trying to mimic what I heard on our family piano, my mother decided it was time for me to take lessons of my own, and at age 4, I was enrolled in group piano lessons as well.
Since I had been listening to my sister play for a few years already, I caught on quickly. But this only made me a lazy about practicing; after all, no kid likes to practice all the time. I begged my parents to put me in violin lessons. Having no connections to the music world and with few violin teachers in rural New Brunswick, my mother told me I would start violin when our public school system offered it in grade four. Mom can still recall the day I came home, eyes shining, to tell her that we had been allowed to touch the instruments (we still couldn't play them- that came weeks later!).
My teacher and musical mentor for the next nine years was Ms. Fran Dearin. She was a Newfoundlander who had come to my hometown to pioneer a strings program and had earned a reputation for being firm and extremely effective. She did not disappoint. We learned more than how to play the violin in those classes. We were taught to work hard, to commit to a process, and to use music as a means of giving back to our community. Throughout elementary school and beyond, many of my closest friendships and strongest life lessons were built in Ms. Dearin's classes.
One such lesson was learned the hard way. Ms. Dearin had us fill out weekly practice records, and to keep us accountable, they needed to be initialled by our parents. Well, by this time in my violin career (year two) I had fallen back into my old habits. Although I had never practiced consistently, the skills I had learned in piano lessons still meant that I didn't need to work too hard to keep up (or so I thought). I abandoned practicing altogether and started forging my mother's initials in my practice record. When I started to fall behind, I was caught in a web of lies. If I practiced, my mother would then notice that I hadn't been asking her to sign my practice record. When the truth finally came out, the consequence at home was mild compared to the disappointment on Ms. Dearin's face. The lesson was solidified. There is no shortcut to consistent practicing. It was a relief to move forward from my bad decision and start to improve again.
After a few years of group classes at school, Ms. Dearin recommended that I take private lessons, which she did routinely for students at that point. Many of my friends and I studied with Paul Campbell, whose tutelage took me through high school. Due to financial strain on my family, I would have stopped taking private lessons altogether at one point. Paul's generosity and kind heart wouldn't allow it, and he gave me lessons for free until we could pay again. He told me, "I've done this before for students. I've never regretted it." I don't think either of us could have anticipated the impact his generosity would have on my life, and on countless other musicians that have come to fruition because of his decision.
Paul's generosity motivated me to work harder. After all, you can't show up to a free lesson without having practiced. I soon took on a few tiny students of my own, which funded my own lessons. It was also during these years that I visited Newfoundland with my high school orchestra in grade 10, where I met Nancy Dahn and toured the campus of Memorial University. At the time, I did not know that this trip was setting the foundation for my post-secondary studies. I spent four happy years at Memorial, and under Nancy's guidance, graduated with a bachelor of music degree in violin performance.
When I moved to Toronto to continue my studies at The Glenn Gould School with Erika Raum, I was an even smaller fish in a very big sea. I had been teaching violin students for almost 10 years at this point, so it seemed natural to pursue that avenue. After graduation, I found myself teaching for the Toronto District School Board, in a role not dissimilar to Ms. Dearin's, with multiple young classes of strings students in the public school system. I also taught privately at a few music academies and freelanced in orchestras on the side.
My true calling into teaching happened later. Once I got married started having my own kids, I realized that travelling to students on the other side of town was no longer reasonable, given the new demands at home. I decided to instead bolster the studio I taught out of my home, and see if I could turn that into something a bit more substantial.
The demand for violin lessons in my neighbourhood combined with my new-found entrance into the world of parenting meant that I had the right skill set and contacts to attract and retain students. Before long, I had hired a few other teachers to help support the load, and they were coming up with more ideas about how we could continue to expand into the community. Soon after, Upper Beaches Music School was born.
Playing the violin is a monumental part of my identity, and I try to play as much as my personal and teaching schedule will allow. But my dedication to teaching and bringing music lessons to my community has taken on a new priority. It is a humbling feat to look back at all the students my former teachers have influenced, and to now follow suit in my own career.
Why do I play the violin? Music is a common thread with which the fabric of my life has been woven. I've forged deep friendships, made life decisions, and met countless treasured colleagues because of my choice to pursue this career. After over 30 years of making music, it would be difficult to imagine life without my violin. But then, why would I want to?
This post is part of a series which features Toronto's professional musicians, some of whom teach at Upper Beaches Music School. To read more posts in this series, click here.
Rebecca Lane is the director, founder, and owner of Upper Beaches Music School. She teaches at the school on Saturdays, but most days you can find her chasing after her three young children, one of whom is in the Suzuki violin program at UBMS.