“I’m never going to stop doing this,” is the first thing the slim, silver-haired woman says during an hourlong interview in her East Mountain studio. “I don’t want to ever retire.”
Margaret Hawn has been teaching piano, viola, cello and above all violin to East Mountain families for 50 years. Most of her pupils have been children, some as young as 3 years old, but a few have been elderly adults. She has probably had thousands of students. “I have no idea how many,” she says with a shrug. “It’s sad but I can’t remember some. They come and go, but some have been with me 10 years.”
However, there is no question that in her quiet, calm but highly assertive teaching style, she has had an impact on not only the musical skills and tastes but the psychological state of mind of two generations of East Mountain residents.
And on her family as well, which includes her pianist husband David Hawn (a retired Sandia Labs engineering systems designer), six children and 18 grandchildren with the 19th due in August. Great-grandchildren? “Not yet.” Three of her children, including Kirstin Daugherty, who teaches music in Tijeras, have themselves gone on to become skilled musicians and teachers.
Hawn seems to be that rare individual who early on finds her niche in the world, settles into it and stays there. She has lived in New Mexico since she was 7, taught music since she was a college student more than 50 years ago, been married to David for half a century and lived and worked in her house off Sedillo Hill Road since 1981. Barring accident or illness, she may continue living the same easygoing life in her sunlit home for a lot longer.
However, at 73 she has cut back her teaching load to focus on a single packed 10-to-12-hour day once a week and accepts few new students. She hands off cello players to her daughter Kristen and no longer teaches groups. After a decade preparing East Mountain musicians for the annual performance of “Messiah” at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Tijeras with six rehearsals, she has given up that role, too.
She is choosy about new students and accepts few. “It’s not how talented they are but how serious they are,” she says. “They have to go home and do the work for themselves. There’s no teaching, only learning. We can throw out the information but they have to do the work.”
Nevertheless watching her teach one of her older violin students, high-schooler Dylan Zimmerman, there seems to be nothing old, weak or passive about her approach. She stands close to the longtime teenage pupil, catches his hesitations while he reads sheet music, corrects the up-and-down motion of his bow and while looking him in the eye advises him to learn the music better “so you can concentrate on the technical things.”
Describing her method, she says, “I’m more a coach than a teacher.” She adds, “My personality is not right to work with everybody.” Hawn goes on to recall, “I had a student 10 years ago who was not doing well. I sent her to another teacher and then I saw her in a symphony orchestra later. She wouldn’t have played that well with me. With some students you can click and with others you don’t.”
Some of her former students have gone on to become orchestral stars, in Chicago and Scandinavia, for example, but Hawn talks mostly about the impact of music on the young children who are her favorite students.
She follows the famed Suzuki method. One of its dicta is that students learn best between the ages of 3 and 7, when, she says, “they absorb everything like a sponge.” For that reason, she laments the fact that music is not generally taught in elementary schools. “If they have music in school, that gives them motivation to keep going on with it “They would benefit from starting at a much younger age.”
Another Suzuki principle, according to Hawn, is “practice slowly—don’t make more mistakes than you have to.”
A third principle is the “golden triangle” of teacher, student and parents. Hawn puts so much emphasis on the last corner of the triangle that she requires parents of young children to take six lessons before their children can even start “in order to learn the basics and relate to the struggle their kids are going through. I teach parents how to work with their children at home.” She adds, “Without the parent they’d be lost.”
While her youngest pupils are closest to her heart, kids with problems pose special challenges, and offer special rewards. “I think music helps them so much,” Hawn says. “I had a boy who was autistic and he was having trouble excelling and had angry outbursts with his mom. But he always did very well with me.”
She continues, “Another mom had a hyperactive boy. She came to me crying saying if it weren’t for me….” She leaves the sentence emotionally hanging, then adds, “Now he’s a very talented violin maker in New York and has won some prizes.”
Hawn has not succeeded with all her problem pupils. She recalls a girl in mid school, who “had a lot of talent and did very well at work she had studied.” But both her parents were absorbed in demanding and possibly dangerous jobs and the girl would tell her caretaker she didn’t have a class when she did. The girl quit after a year.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Hawn, as musician and teacher, is that she has hearing problems and has long worn a hearing aid. “I played in the symphony and the chamber orchestra in Albuquerque,” she says. “Now my ears are problematic. With a student my hearing aid is good, or when I am playing by myself, but I can’t play in a big group because the sound is so overwhelming.”
Like many people of her generation, Hawn remans more comfortable with traditional means of communication than with web sites and social media. Nevertheless, she has a web page, hawnstudio.com and an email address email@example.com as well as her phone contact for students, 505-286-2140.
For anyone who is as devoted to teaching music as Hawn is, the profession can be a way to make an impact on the lives of others. A profile of famed violinist and teacher Aaron Boyd in The New York Times was headlined, “Immortal Fingers: Music Teachers Live On Through Their Students.”
The article quoted Boyd as saying of his own mentor, “A personality as strong as his goes from us into others. I had this feeling that even when he dies, he has already become sound.”
The author of the article, Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, added, “Music teachers enjoy an almost genealogical immortality through their students, regardless of those pupils’ later fame. Because music making is practiced through the body, teachers imprint their students with the specific physical traits of their craft: gestures, tics and preferences that those students may in turn pass on to yet another generation.”
Listening to Hawn discuss her teaching and watching her relate to students over the years, it is impossible to doubt that she has had, and continues to have, an equally profound influence on generations of East Mountain residents.