The following was written by fiddler Alyssa Miller, a teenager from Vermont and former student of Jerry Holland.


I was sitting in the room with a famous professional musician. His name was Jerry Holland, and he was trying to teach a group of students and myself a fiddle tune. Everyone had learned it except for me, so he sat and whistled five notes over and over and over. They just wouldn't sink into my seven year old brain. It was the middle of summer and I was starting to feel hot. My sweaty fingers slipped on the strings. I just wanted to get out of the room and eat the sweet brownie in my lunchbox, then jump into the lake next door to cool off. But I couldn't until I learned this tune. I wanted so badly for Jerry to pick up his fiddle and show me where my fingers should go, but he insisted on whistling. Was he embarrassing me on purpose?

I couldn't understand why he was making me struggle. My friends all sat around me and I could tell they wanted to get out of that room also. I was the one holding them up. My face heated up and I could feel the pink embarrassment coming into my cheeks. It must have taken at least half an hour of frustrated attempts before I could play those notes. I was ashamed that it had taken me so long. If I was in the beginner group and I still couldn't learn as fast as them, should I just quit playing fiddle? I was ashamed that I had struggled. Nobody else was having as much trouble as me.

I know a lot more about that day now than I did when it actually happened. If you had asked me then, I would have said it had been a rough day. I think that day I learned something that still affects me. Those five music notes are more than they appear to be. I learned determination and persistence. I also learned that everyone struggles. It's nothing to be embarrassed about. After I had learned the notes, no one thought I was slow, or stupid. Their hands were probably as sore as mine were, but that didn't stop them from clapping. They retold the story to others who hadn't been there. I had thought that when you struggle, you were weak. That is so wrong. Struggling can make you stronger. They were proud of me for that. And you know what? I'm proud of that day too. It helps me get through rough days, assignments, or events when I remember back to that experience.

These days, my greatest strengths are musical and kinesthetic. I think struggling was able to make me a stronger musical learner. I find that when I'm memorizing biology vocabulary, it helps to put the words to a beat. That helps me remember them. I think I'm a little bit of interpersonal also. I am tuned in with other people's reactions, and they influence how confident I am. My learning experience those seven years ago was successful because of the people that supported me. I thought they were fidgeting because they wanted to leave. Really, they were anxious to see me succeed because they knew, even before I did, that I could do it. The whole time I was struggling I kept saying, "I can't do it!" If they had listened to my protests, I wouldn't have learned my valuable lesson. Instead they told me they knew I could get it.

I hope that someday I can be as good a role model as Jerry Holland was for me. It must have taken unbelievable patience to help me. He believed in me completely. Everybody has days when they feel so alone. It helps me to know that even at a struggling failing moment, there was still someone who knew I could do it. I want to help someone the way Jerry helped me. Now I am in the advanced group. When a beginner does a solo, and it is so squeaky and out of tune that you can't even tell what it's supposed to be, I'm not wishing for it to be over. I'm so glad that they are trying something new. I make sure to tell them, "good job", and to keep playing. If everyone had someone to believe in them, I think they would benefit a lot. Role models do matter. Even though Jerry's gone, the lessons he taught me, and his unconditional support is something I still hold with me today.

Alyssa Miller, 2010.

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