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.
“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.”