I just performed at another recital specifically for adult students. It's an annual event sponsored by the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School, where I study viola, and was organized presumably to give adult amateur students--those unloved orphans of the music world--an opportunity to practice their performing skills and also derive some emotional reinforcement from being part of a learning community of peers.
I call adult amateurs unloved orphans because unlike child amateurs, we are not generally very cute, and unlike adult professionals, we are not generally very good. Thus, we often end up apologizing abashedly just before we play publicly. After all, who wants to listen to someone who is neither cute nor good?
My own goal however is to play and perform as professionally as possible, even if the fulfilling of that goal takes the rest of my life to achieve. I have discovered that the very passion for music that first inspired me to have my children to study violin, is actually strong enough to inspire my own musical studies. Becoming a student myself freed me from trying to live through my children, freed me from envying their youth and their music-making. I like to think that it also vastly improved my relationship with them.
But it does take courage and humility to be an adult amateur. I'm constantly amazed by how many adults secretly long to be musicians. Inevitably after I perform, at least one adult will sidle up to me and confide wistfully their wish to do what I do, dare to be a beginner, dare to be less than perfectly proficient, dare to want something that may take 20+ years to accomplish.
What I find as an adult amateur is that having a good relationship with a teacher who loves working with me because of my status as an adult beginner is a critical component of my motivation. Earlier in my adult student life I tried working on my music untutored, but know now that having regular lessons is one of the best ways to make steady progress and stay motivated. The private music lesson is also one of the most therapeutic activities I know, for within that hour I regain the innocence and the excitement of youth, expressing untarnished hope when attempting something new, expressing childlike glee with each new discovery or accomplishment.
Perhaps switching from violin to viola has also helped to strengthen my sense of avocation. In an article of a recent ACMP newsletter a violist wrote (and I paraphrase) that someone somewhere always needs a violist. I've found this to be true, having been invited to join two ensembles on the strength of the fact that they needed a violist. For an adult amateur it is a refreshing and wonderful thing to be wanted. And playing in ensembles is another wonderful aspect of my musical life. Learning to tune in public, learning to be sensitive to group dynamics, and having a social network of other players... these things contribute immeasurably to my musical growth.
I will end this first post by saying simply that I believe the world would be a better place if more people not only listened to and appreciated music, but actually made their own. Society as we know it in 21st century U.S.A. seems to militate against such a thing. Earning power, competition, consumerism... these are the themes of our times. I however am overjoyed to be outside the mainstream, climbing my own private Matterhorn of musical aspiration. I am 55 now and want lots more time for one dominant reason... to be able to play and play and play.Tweet
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