June 6, 2012 at 3:06 PMNot long ago I heard on the radio an interview with Princeton religious scholar Elaine Pagels, during which she quoted the Book of Thomas. Theological illiterate that I am, the words she spoke sounded completely fresh to me, and I was so excited by them that as soon as I got home I rushed to jot them down in my journal. Their central idea seemed to so beautifully express what it was that made my viola studies empowering.
The quote was: "If you bring forth what is within you, then what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, then what is within you will destroy you."
Hyperbole? Perhaps, but repeating the words now, I feel again that wonderful sense of connecting to something essential, something wholly reinforcing my conviction that being a viola student is one of the most important journeys I will ever take. And yes, it is also saving me.
When I discussed the quote with my sister and my brother-in-law, my sister ventured, "What if you don't know what is within you?"
Indeed. As an adult amateur player, my gift then is not necessarily musical talent. It is an even more wonderful gift, and one which I think might be far more common than musical talent: it is the gift of knowing that within me lives a longing to play, and play seriously. Do you too have that gift? And if so, do you know how lucky you are?
I firmly believe that for a large percentage of the population, a longing to play is likewise within them, although only a fraction ever bring forth, proclaim and honor their wish. In fact only this morning a colleague confided to me that at one time she had wanted to and tried to play violin.
So what stops adults like her from starting/continuing to study music? I suspect that it is primarily fear of failure. Inevitably they find other more superficial excuses such as lack of time or lack of money, but in fact those excuses generate the surface noise that drowns another voice insidiously whispering, "You would never be any good, so why bother."
Which leads me to assert finally that as a beginning or maybe by now even an intermediate violist, I am definitely not yet as good as I want to be, but after five years of applied study far better than I ever thought I could be!
But does it matter how good I am? What matters is only the richness that studying viola brings to my life... unqualified, intense richness. The musical and anatomical awareness with which playing fills me is like some inner river of vitality, inspiring and comforting me no matter what else goes on. I play for no one but myself, answering an inner call that is far more important to answer than the call to please an authority figure, or the call to be anything simply because it is approved of, or expected!
If you are reading this blog, you probably play. I hope what I write makes you appreciate that you do so, no matter your skill level. And if you don't yet play, what are you waiting for? Carpe diem!
Now at the age of 41, I answered that "what could still be" feeling and joined my community orchestra and am toying with the idea of taking lessons again. I was good once and feel that I could be "good enough" again someday (if my battered rotator cuff will allow) if I could just do it...my vibrato and overall technique is weaker, my violin needs a good luthier to give it a once-over, and I just need more time in the day to practice. It's not out of the realm of possibility. I do it because I love it and it is a part of who I am even if it wasn't always front and center in my life.
Both times when I started playing again it had to do with a personal relationship: the first time when I broke up with a boyfriend and moved out and into my own apartment, and the most recent when I wanted to help my daughter. And then it took on a kind of life of its own. It felt like reconnecting with a part of myself that had been lost, or dormant.
I don't think I'm ever going to quit again.
“Indeed. As an adult amateur player, my gift then is not necessarily musical talent. It is an even more wonderful gift, and one which I think might be far more common than musical talent: it is the gift of knowing that within me lives a longing to play, and play seriously.”
To me, what you described IS a musical talent. A big one in fact! I can’t imagine any good musician can get somewhere without this kind of passion and clarity about their chosen instrument.
I think what stops adults from starting an instrument could be fear, led by a whole bunch of false assumptions about adult’s ability or flexibility in learning. I’ll let neuroscientists explain how our brain works, but I just simply refuse to buy into any stereotyping of older people. I’d like to prove people wrong sometimes:) As I mentioned in my previous comment on your previous blog, be aware of self-fulfilling prophecy. One can’t make it if one believes so. So the strategy I’ve been proposing is to never self-talk down within and to, as it were, pretend (or act as if) that I could when I’m fear for something I’ll fail. The kind of noise "You would never be any good, so why bother" is a challenge and it’s kind of fun to prove people wrong on that. As I said it’s only a strategy, not a delusion, just in case people think I’m overoptimistic.
“But does it matter how good I am?”
I think this is an excellent question and no one can answer for us but ourselves. It is a loaded question too because what do we mean by “good” and,if it does matter, to whom and in what sense? For me, anything that I've seriously committed to do will become meaningless if it doesn’t matter how good I’m doing it, but to be good (in whatever sense)is nearly not as interesting to me as to be better.
"I don't think I'm ever going to quit again."
In fact, I agree that what prevents many adults from playing is fear...
They do not have more time to spend on facebook, yet they do because it's easy : )
It takes a huge passion and some humility, lots of humbleness to be an adult beginner.
I still remember how stupid I felt as a teen beginner in the midle of tiny kids better than me. But the joke ended when I started to catch those kids up. Today, I'm no longer worst (I'm talking of average musical kids, not prodigies of course!) and am happy to have done these sacrifices. I hope I will be able to manage through my studies without too much dammage and take it back more seriously as when I was a teen again!
Thanks for your refreshing blogs!
"If you want to have something you never had, you must do something you never did" (unknowned source)
We must not be afraid...
It's so easy to say "I'll never be as good as so-and-so" and use that as the reason for not being as good as one can be. That's the 'fear' I see most often among my friends who used to play, or are just beginning again. When there were fewer yardsticks around, I hope/believe each person more easily reached her/his natural stature with less onus?
I found these sentences on this beautiful video (equestrian sports) but it is true about any serious discipline!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsCCRg3jx-0 (epic music, I highly recommend it after a crazy day at work and before practicing :)
Here is the translation:
Without errors, victories would not exist
Without training, no accomplishments
Without trials, no hope
Without weaknesses, no progression
Without efforts, no pride
Without challenges, no goals
Without devotion, no passion
Without confidence, no chance
Without courage, no success
Without feeling/intuition, no team work (with our instrument)
That's what we are... we are violinists! (they say equestrians of course in the video)
If that doesn't inspire one to play, I don't know what will : )
I've gotten better than I ever thought I would, but oh so far from where I want to be. For me fear wasn't an issue....rather, it just wasn't reason enough NOT to. I still can't believe I ever had the ....@#%...to get up in front of people and play this thing...in "Public" ! YIKES!!
But I do...frequently....whether they enjoy it or not!.....because for me there's just no backing down. I HAVE to learn this and do it well...I have no idea why.....
The only comparison is useful is to compare different stages of our own progress. Sometimes I'm not even sure about that, as even a machine has it's good and bad days.
I think that same hesitancy translates into adults wanting to take up a musical instrument. Which is a shame, really....
Rosita -- I find myself looking forward to your blog posts in the same way I look forward to the arrival of "Strings" magazine in my mailbox every month. Thank you for expressing so well what so many of us are thinking and feeling!
Today is a very special day for me. It's not only my 32nd wedding anniversary -- it's also the 2nd anniversary of the day I started violin lessons. I'm celebrating both with a new (actually used, but new to me) violin. I've had it for less than a week, but I can feel improvement in my playing already! It's so amazing how a little bit of wood and wire can possess so much Soul -- and how it can impart so much joy!!!
wish I was on the east coast--the camps sound fantastic.
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