Hilary leads a joyous and inspired life as a professional violinist, teacher and co-founder of Mozart for Munchkins. Whether in concert, in a music lesson or on the floor with her 22-month old son and a toy violin, Hilary hopes to help secure a place for classical music in our world.
While the gifts of leading a life in music seem infinite, there are a few gifts that consistently resurface in my life as a professional violinist, teacher and co-founder of Mozart for Munchkins.
The first of these gifts is that music is good for us. The study of music provides lifelong tools essential in our role in the world. It refines discipline and patience, cultivates social skills, sharpens our attention to detail and broadens our knowledge of other cultures. I recently came across a beautiful description that provided clarity on the power of music education: “And, like math, you don’t teach music in order to make musicians, and you don’t teach math in order to make mathematicians. We need these things. We need to learn how to be precise, how to listen carefully, how to collaborate closely.” (Author unknown).
The second gift of music is that it connects us. After eight years of rigorous conservatory training, I joined the faculty at a private music school in midtown Manhattan with thirty students. It was go time. I learned quickly that in order to be a good teacher, one has to first be willing to make a human connection. After the connection is made, then work on the violin can commence.
It has become a tradition in our household to turn on familiar musical favorites with our toddler (such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons) while my husband and I enjoy our morning coffee. Exchanging a quick glance with our little one when he recognizes the music instantly is powerful. Similarly, the non-verbal connections made between musicians performing with one another in concert can sometimes feel more impactful than verbal dialogue.
Our babies were just three and eight months old when my co-founder Sara Sherman and I launched Mozart for Munchkins, an interactive concert series for children and families based in New York City. Throughout the journey of building our business from scratch and refining a deeply heartfelt mission, it quickly became clear that we were taking on a responsibility to cultivate a connection between music and people, and to help secure a place for classical music in the fabric of our culture. Witnessing the sparkle in an infant’s eyes as they hear and feel the vibrations of the violin for the first time is otherworldly. Never before had I played a movement from a Partita for Solo Violin by J.S. Bach while letting a toddler gently tug on the scroll of the violin. The connection and energy exchange from musician to a person, no matter their age, is one of the most powerful connections I’ve felt. This connection is particularly vivid in the eyes of a child – a child’s honesty is unsparing.
Our concerts conclude with an “instrument petting zoo” where children are invited to touch and try out the instruments. With a bit of guidance, children and their families share the connection of discovering something new and wondrous.
The third gift of teaching music is that it reminds us that we are all students for life. The role of teacher and student are interchangeable identities as we ebb and flow through our lives.
As a young violinist, I remember my violin teacher’s glossy, chocolate brown violin that sounded like silk. I would practice every morning before school, and, while my parents listened from the other room, I would softly speak to myself imagining I was my own teacher. As a kid, this was the ultimate kind of “playtime”. The conversations that I had with myself were intricate, involved and meaningful. Practicing an instrument as a young child can be a lonely thing. I had the company of myself.
It is perhaps my greatest mission to help guide my students into becoming their own teachers. We are, afterall, our life’s greatest teachers. During lessons, I often place my violin on the opposite shoulder to enhance my understanding of what a beginning violinist might experience. My students benefit the most when I’m able to put myself directly into their world. Alongside our 22-month old son, my students are my greatest teachers. As Itzhak Perlman said, “When I teach others, I teach myself.”
Leading a life in music is a precious gift. Music is good for us, music connects us and music reminds us of our ever-changing role in the world. Sharing a love of music through Mozart for Munchkins has been one of the greatest honors of my life. It is our hope that our concerts become the spark that ignites and sustains a lifelong love of music in the lives of children and their families. Planting the seeds for a love of music will help to secure its place in our world, ensuring that the gifts of music are shared for generations to come.