Junior Vika Nuñez teaches violin to children in the Hillsdale com­munity.
Courtesy | Vika Nuñez

To a tal­ented musician, not much sounds more beau­tiful than the idea of teaching the next gen­er­ation of aspiring musi­cians. Junior Vika Nuñez and senior Anne Ziegler are among a group of Hillsdale stu­dents who get to do just that.

Nuñez said although she enjoyed playing piano and viola growing up, she orig­i­nally didn’t plan to con­tinue with music beyond high school. She said it wasn’t until she started lessons with a new teacher in high school that she started to improve, and learned to love her instru­ments more.

“I got a really good Russian-Armenian teacher who came from a very old school style of Russian ped­agogy; he com­pletely reworked my tech­nique and threw a lot of old habits out the window,” Nuñez said. “He basi­cally told me that I could be a good player if I wanted to. That inspired me to work harder.”

Nuñez said she first started teaching piano lessons when she was a junior in high school, though at the time she really wished she could be teaching violin. Now, she teaches three violin stu­dents through con­nec­tions she has at Hillsdale College and through the Gull Lake Part­nership, which is a co-op for home­schooling fam­ilies.

“In the past few years, most of my stu­dents have been ele­mentary age so the chal­lenges with that are how to keep them focused even within a half an hour lesson,” Nuñez said. “There are serious tech­niques that I have to teach. To not teach them would be to set them up for remedial lessons in the future where they either have to relearn or quit because they’re dis­couraged.” 

Despite her focus on tech­ni­cal­ities, Nuñez makes sure to keep her lessons engaging.

“You take some­thing boring and you’re like ‘we’re going to have as much fun as pos­sible doing this,’” she said. “There’s a lot of room for impro­vi­sation, cre­ativity, and tapping into a child’s eye and saying, ‘what does the violin look like? What does it feel like having not been used to playing it your entire life?’”

Nuñez said the most rewarding part of teaching lessons is when they begin to love the songs they’re learning.

“When my student comes in and is excited to show me what he or she has pre­pared, that gives me so much joy,” she said. “Because they aren’t nec­es­sarily coming in and saying ‚‘look how I’ve figured out this tech­nique,’ they’re coming in and saying, ‘this song is so beau­tiful, listen to me play it,’ and then the tech­nique comes in and that’s how it makes their playing beau­tiful.” 

Six-year-old Tinsley Padget, one of Nuñez’s stu­dents, said she likes taking lessons from Nuñez and that she now gets excited whenever she hears someone else play violin. 

“I like learning new songs,” Tinsley said. “The only song I’ve learned is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Tonya Padget, Tinsley’s mom, said Nuñez has taught her daughter many essential violin skills, from playing the A scale to strength­ening the dex­terity in her fingers.

“She’s been really great, espe­cially with Tinsley being so young,” Tonya said. “She’s been able to keep her focused and come up with dif­ferent ways of keeping her moving.”

Eleven-year-old Maria Bana, another student of Nuñez’s, said Nuñez has helped her improve as a vio­linist, and that Nuñez inspires her because she would like to be a violin teacher someday. 

“She helped me on my tech­nique because I was kind of squeaking before and it was really bad but she helped me and now I’m better at the violin,” Maria said. “She’s probably the best violin teacher I’ve ever had.” 

Sherrie Bana, Maria’s mother, said Nuñez is a great teacher for her daughter, Maria, and she has done a great job at being acces­sible, since she is one of the few teachers their family knew would be pro­viding virtual lessons. 

“She spots the good in what Maria’s doing and cri­tiques really well so Maria can work to be a better vio­linist,” Sherrie said. 

Senior Anne Ziegler, another Hillsdale student teaching music lessons, said she started teaching piano as a sophomore, and cur­rently teaches six stu­dents, some of which have con­nec­tions through Hillsdale College and some of which are from the Hillsdale com­munity. Ziegler said her high school piano teacher inspired the teaching methods she uses today.

Senior Anne Ziegler teaches piano.
Courtesy | Anne Ziegler

“My piano teacher in high school was an incredibly good teacher and the way she taught was very pas­sionate and was very inspi­ra­tional,” Ziegler said. “It drove me to want to perform and play more and more. I wanted to pass on that same passion to other stu­dents and encourage them.”

Ziegler said her expe­rience being involved with aca­d­emics, music, and ath­letics in high school shaped her desire to teach younger, high-achieving stu­dents.

 “I wanted to get to teach kids who also have very busy lives with aca­d­emics and sports and show them that it is pos­sible to do all of that,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler said although teaching unmo­ti­vated stu­dents can be chal­lenging, the most rewarding part of teaching music lessons is seeing the stu­dents enjoy what they’re playing.

Ten-year-old Verona Young and 7‑year-old Frances Young both take lessons from Ziegler. Their mother, Joanna Young, said she loves how excited her daughters get about piano.
“They enjoy their time with her so I think they’re able to learn because they’re excited about being there,” Joanna said. “She’s done some great work with them on scales, posture, and musi­cality, more than just learning the song.”

Young also said her daughters see Ziegler as a role model.

 “She plays at our church during offertory some­times and we’ve been to some of her con­certs playing viola with the orchestra on campus,” Young said. “Just to see her play both of her instru­ments has been a great example of someone to admire and look up to and think about how maybe someday that will be them.”

Both Nuñez and Ziegler said they hope to con­tinue teaching music even after their time at Hillsdale. 

“I’m thinking about opening a studio on the side,” Ziegler said. “I will probably draw from the com­munity and from church.”

“I have in my mind this dream of being able to teach for the rest of my life, either part time or be part of a studio later on,” Nuñez said. “That is def­i­nitely some­thing I’d love to keep on doing.”