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Krista Moyer

On Tension

August 29, 2013 at 6:58 PM

I care too much. It’s amazing how debilitating caring too much can be. If no one is listening, I can relax into the music I am playing – nailing the legato and staccato strokes, feeling emotion slide effortlessly from my bow to the strings. It sounds good, I think to myself. This, I can do.

My husband tells me he does not mind hearing me practice. That going over the same phrase 50 times until it’s in my fingers is a natural part of the process. Sometimes, I can play as if no one is there, even if I know he is on the other side of the wall in the kitchen, because he accepts and appreciates every noise as a necessary one. Seeing how tolerant he is of our noisy boys, it is easy to believe that he truly does not mind.

But if another person is added to the equation, the music falls apart. My mother is visiting, planning the construction of her new home nearby. Now she too is on the other side of the wall, discussing the pros and cons of brick versus stone facades with my husband, and I am so nervous that for 10 whole minutes I can only manage to get my violin to emit stutters and screeches as I quake in the effort not to embarrass myself. Which then, of course, I already have because I am so tense.

Logically, it would follow that if I want to sound good, the extra effort put in towards that end would translate to better music, not worse. But playing the violin is not logical. Effort tends to equal tension, and tension is detrimental to playing. At least it is that way for me.

I look forward to the day when I can care less, so that I can play better. Weird.


From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on August 29, 2013 at 9:15 PM
I guessed that you began violin as an adult, and confirmed this when I checked your bio. I also notice that you studied piano as a child. Think back to those times - were you as aware of your parents in the next room, who were likely hearing every wrong note you made? Did this bother you back then?

I'm not saying that it's possible to ignore the unnerving effects of having your practice sessions listened to. Indeed, I think that's why many people (including myself, how about you?) left music in their teens. (Fortunately, some of us found our way back.)

Many people will say that they don't mind the sound of you practising. But deep down inside, I'm sure many of us don't really believe them. Maybe they're just being polite, and at best only accept our screeching and scratching in the hope that it will someday get better (and soon, oh please, let it be soon).

The best way get in some good solid practice is to do it when others aren't around. Sometimes it's a matter of timing: do it at home before anyone gets there. Or sometimes I'll find a quiet place outdoors at lunchtime, far away from anyone. I think it's important psychologically to be completely isolated before we can perform all the exercises and experiments that we need to do - and make all the strange noises that this involves.

From Jayanthi Joseph
Posted on August 31, 2013 at 8:43 PM
It took me a whole year to get used to practicing in the practice rooms at the University. The walls are painfully thin and there aren't many other violinists practicing during the day. I guess it just took time and repetition for me to adjust. I think it helped my stage fright a little too!

I also find it difficult to practice in my normal way when we have guests. I find that I tend to play through pieces when company is in the next room; instead of doing actual work. It's weird, I agree.

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 2, 2013 at 11:50 AM
I've had people tell me, directly, that they *do* mind hearing me practice. Family members included. When I was younger, this really bothered me. Still does, sometimes, I can't deny it. It's probably a big reason that I've never practiced enough.

However, it's taken me ~40 years to realize that there are other responses to this than the two I was choosing (tensing up and modifying my practice routine, or not practicing). One thing that has worked surprisingly well is to use that as a teachable moment, to explain why I am doing what I am doing. I explain that this isn't a performance, it's practicing, and then I explain why a particular passage is hard and what I'm doing to solve the problem. They usually just nod and say "oh," but they've stopped complaining.

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