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Terez Mertes

What Sends Adults to the Music Stand?

August 21, 2013 at 2:16 PM

I recently posted an article at the dance blog, Grown-Ups at the Barre, that references the recent popularity of adults taking up ballet, either returning after years away, or starting up in their middle age. Although I am a “returner” and not a beginner to ballet, I am most certainly an adult beginner to the violin. And the two artistic endeavors, while quite different from the other, run decidedly parallel courses. So I’ll rephrase the question for a violin audience. To all the adult beginners or “returners” reading here, tell me, what sent you [back] to the music stand?

I love hearing the reasons why others have decided to pick up the violin as adults. Some people say it’s because it sounded fun, that they’d always wanted to try. Others started in fourth or fifth grade, dropped the practice, and now hungered to take it up again. My own reason was odd: I’d decided to write a novel with a violinist as a main character and felt that renting a violin, taking a few lessons, would help my research. Even though I’d never even seen a violin up close before, nor played any musical instrument prior. Although I harbored a hunch I would never be a natural musician, something about the violin, and its music, was calling my name. And after those “few lessons,” the urge to really learn, for myself and not just for research, grew stronger.

I’d heard my share of the stories, how hard learning to play the violin was, and I understood that as an adult beginner, given my personal constraints, mastery was unlikely. But you know what? Maybe I didn’t want something to master. I didn’t want to arrive, five years later, only to say “done,” check it off the list, and go searching for a new thrill. A lifelong challenge, you say? Fine, I’ll take it. Something in me craves the “long term project” nature of it. This endless quest for something so beautiful and ineffable, something almost Zen-like in its pursuit.

So I signed on for more lessons. And kept going, through seven years, through many a dry spell, a learning plateau, losses of motivation, bouts of renewed determination. I’m still so inelegant-sounding on the violin. Who would have thought all these years of lessons would have produced such humble results? The rage kicks up in me periodically. I’m used to being good at my art—I dance, I sing in choirs, I write—and having it come easily, naturally. On the violin, I’m just a graceless adult beginner struggling with something I’m not very good at, nor will I likely ever be.

And yet, something important is synching. I can feel it, deep, deep inside me, when I’m holding my violin. The first time I heard the sympathetic vibrations of the open strings ring out when I played the same notes elsewhere, it made my heart leap and something in my throat catch. The thrill of that hasn’t gone away. And I love how beautiful my violin is, how delicate yet strong, with its curves, its lines, the wood’s rich warm glow. I love holding the violin close, tucking it under my chin, right up next to me. When I have bad weeks of too little practicing, too little motivation, I miss this part of it, and always find myself whispering an apology to the violin when I finally return. “I’m sorry,” I murmur. “It’s me, not you. I’m so sorry.”

In my busy life—likely every adult’s life, unless you’re retired and/or childless now—I struggle with keeping up with practice, with motivation. But even at my lowest, I can’t imagine ever giving up on this journey. As an adult learner, it feeds me in so many different ways. I’m willing to bet other adults out there feel the same.

And to those of you who are nodding, I’d love to know: what sent you [back] to the music stand?


© 2013 Terez Rose


PS: you can find broader musings on the subject at The Classical Girl and the original article HERE at Grown-Ups at the Barre.



From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 21, 2013 at 3:05 PM
What sent me back? Good question. I stopped playing violin when I was 20, except for playing one Israeli song at a friend's wedding when I was 25. I started again at 45. I realized how much I enjoyed music and playing it myself in addition to listening to it. I realized that dropping the violin was my last and stupidest act of adolescent rebellion. I knew that as my children, who were then 12 and 8, grew older, needed me less, and finally left home, I would have significant free time and needed to come up with some meaningful activities. I knew it would give my parents, who were getting on in years and not doing well, some pleasure. So, I started up again. It was certainly the right thing to do and one of the best things I ever did. Now that I am about to retire, I will have even more time to devote to it. Thanks for asking a good question.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 21, 2013 at 5:00 PM
Ooh, Tom, this was just the kind of reply I was hoping for! Loved reading this. Funny how, at this forum, we're all connected via the violin, but really, there's so much we don't know about each member's journey in getting here.

Thanks for taking the time to post this - really enjoyed it.

From Matt Pelikan
Posted on August 21, 2013 at 4:50 PM
Yeah, good question. My pattern was like Tom's: I played violin, which I enjoyed but wasn't passionate about, from 4th grade until I started college; gave it over almost entirely in favor of the recorder; and then, in my early 40s, suddenly had a burning desire to return to the violin and get to be as good as I possibly could (which isn't very, but that's a different story!). I really can't explain why I suddenly loved it, though there were definitely skills I picked up through school and sports that helped me learn and stay focused once I started again. I still play recorder, and added some viola along the way. But it's the violin that gives me the most joy (amid all the frustration), and I'm willingly putting a huge amount of time and effort into lessons and the "boring" work of practicing scales, exercises and etudes. There's no logic or identifiable reason: it just feels like something I need to do.

One observation: I do tend to be a person who always has one focal area around which I organize my life. It was long-distance running for years, and then bird-watching (I still do both, but less intensely than I once did). So violin may be filling a need for an "organizing principle" in my life, which could be (and has been, and presumably could be in the future) met by a variety of other activities.

From Krista Moyer
Posted on August 21, 2013 at 7:49 PM
I wanted to play the violin as a child, but played piano instead because there was a piano in the house, and my mother insisted. I dutifully played for 8 or 9 years before she finally relented and allowed me to quit.

Thirty years later I found myself trying to push my children, then 7 and 10 to learn an instrument, an enterprise they are not interested in at all. *Insert sad mommy face here.* I explained how much I thought they would benefit from it and explained that I never had the opportunity to play the violin as I had always wanted to. I stressed that I didn't want them to regret passing up the opportunity if there was something they really wanted to learn.

At that point, my 7 year old looked up at me and said "But Mommy, you're a grown-up. Can't you do anything you want?". It stopped me in my tracks. I realized at that moment that I had been putting limits on myself that weren't there.

My boys had watched me go from couch potato to marathon runner, teach myself (and them) how to knit, and do numerous other difficult things. They didn't understand why I couldn't play the violin if I wanted to, and suddenly, neither could I.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 21, 2013 at 9:24 PM
Oh, Matt and Krista, I loved both your replies so much! Thank you, thank you! Great stories, both of them.
From Timothy Lessler
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 4:44 AM
Wonderful question! I started playing when I turned 5, after watching Mr. Perlman play on Sesame Street and telling my parents I wanted to play. I sadly quit when I was 13 in favor of the guitar (much cooler at that age) after performing the Bach double. I picked it up again my 2nd year of law school as I was a bit stressed and bored with school (yes law school causes both). A friend had a fiddle lying around during a jam session, and I picked it up and squeezed out a couple in tune notes after not having touched the thing in over a decade. I remember the partygoers' mouths dropping, and thought...I need to take this up again. Anyways, I am now very serious again, trying to practice a couple hours a day and studying under a wonderful teacher. I got to (re)perform the Bach double last year, and get to perform Beriot Concerto #9 in December, and I play in a wonderful community symphony. I'd like to think...who knows where I will be in 5 more years of study. I can't believe how much I love practicing too (especially vs. my 12 year old self) :) Anyways, great story, Terez, and don't put any limits on yourself...I've heard of a few adult beginners who suddenly found time to practice and became quite good at their instrument. But as you know...the best part is the journey :) Happy playing and learning to you. BTW Krista I really love your story too.
From Parker Duchemin
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 7:16 AM
I learned violin at age 6 and studied enthusiastically until I was about 18. Played off and on for the next few years but let it slip away in my twenties when I began to be serious about a career as a university professor of English. Nearly thirty years later, at the age of 53, I suffered a severe heart attack which nearly ended my life. About 6 months later I had a vivid dream I was playing my violin again. I didn't mention the dream to my wife, but the next day, when I returned from work, I found that on a sudden impulse she had pulled my violin case out of the closet, opened it, and placed it on the table in full view. She always hoped I would play again. It was a sign, I knew it was time to give music a central place in my life. I made a few phone calls to colleagues in the music department at my university, and within a couple of weeks I was taking lessons with one of the first violinists in the Ottawa's National Arts Centre Orchestra, a wonderful musician. I needed to recover my technique, and I wanted to play the Bach sonatas and partitas, music full of the deepest spirituality. It changed my life. That was 18 years ago. I continue to take lessons a couple of times a month with the same teacher. We are both retired now, good friends, and we enjoy the timing. It keeps me attentive to my technique, and ever improving. I practice several hours a day, & often play duets with friends. I perform for my children and grand-children on special occasions. Sometimes I play in a community orchestra. I have also learned to fiddle, a return to my roots in Atlantic Canada, and I study fiddling with a master of the art. I've become fairly serious about it, as well as classical music, and have joined a Cape Breton group which performs in a pub twice a month all year. I can't imagine life without the violin. There have been no more heart problems. My father lived an active life until he was over a hundred, so I am hoping I'll have many more years with music before it's time to hang up the bow.
From Gene Wie
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 8:04 AM
Because we're finally at a point in our history where adults wanting to learn musical instruments are not automatically shoved away by teachers telling them "it's impossible."

However, a number of my adult students have come to me after contacting quite a few teachers and being told exactly that. It boggles my mind that people don't want to work with them...adult students value what they are paying for, practice efficiently because they understand the limits of time, and don't have stupid things like school orchestra chair placement to squander that precious time on.

From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 12:26 PM
I am NOT a returner to strings. I picked up viola at age 50 for the first time. Growing up, music, art, and gym were not offered in my school system. It wasn't until my daughter brought a viola home from grade school that I was first exposed to what particular instrument made what particular sound.

My daughter didn't want me to learn viola until she was finished with hers, so I waited for her to graduate high school. Then I hit learning viola with a vengeance. I'd practice 4 to 5 hours a day - this with a full time job, and still having my daughter living at home.

Now I'm down to roughly 2 hours a day, but I'm in a community orchestra and I am taught by a professional musician. By the way, I also ran into teachers who refused me as a student because of my age and lack of prior experience.

---Ann Marie

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 12:48 PM
I am having soooo much fun reading all these fascinating stories. I'm leaning in, absorbing every single word, relishing the quiet (or not so quiet) drama inherent in each one. Thank you so much, Timothy, Kate, Parker and Ann Marie. And Gene, I loved your comment, too. Yes, this is a wonderful time in the world, where adults are reassessing "what an adult is supposed to do/be". It's very much the case with adults taking up ballet classes, especially with the men, who had that gender scrutiny going on, back in their youth, further locking them out. I'm equally indignant, Gene, that teachers would say that to a student. Yikes. Glad I was never hit with THAT when I was exploring the idea.

Wonderful, wonderful stories! Hope they keep coming.

From Amy Barlowe
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 1:33 PM
What a wonderful blog with so many really touching posts that are good reminders of why I continue to play. For those of you returning to the violin who are interested in new and varied literature that does not need accompaniment, please check out my book, 12 Etude-Caprices in the Styles of the Great Composers. With detailed practice guides and appendices full of advice for developing technical and musical skills from improving intonation, to expressive use of the bow to varying vibrato, my book will help you find your own voice and encourage you to have fun expressing yourself within the realms of style and historical context. Here’s what people have said about it:

http://www.amazon.com/12-Etude-Caprices-Styles-Great-Composers/product-reviews/073906259X/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

and:
http://www.amybarlowe.com/About_Book.html

and here’s where to find it (among other places):
http://www.amazon.com/12-Etude-Caprices-Styles-Great-Composers/dp/073906259X

Hope you enjoy it!!

From Anne Horvath
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 1:57 PM
I teach adult violin students. I've taught both from-scratchers (smiley face here; pun intended) and re-learners. Both types are rewarding to work with.

Most of my adult students play because they love the music, love the fiddle, relish the enormous challenge, embrace the infinite repertoire, harbor the desire to make something themselves, or want more out of life than the mindless, wasteful, soul-crushing consumerism that is our society's "entertainment".

Or, a varied combination of the above.

Hats off to all y'all.

Now go practice...

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 3:44 PM
"from-scratchers" - oh, that's so clever! : ) It took me a minute to catch on to the double meaning.

I'll have to remember that. "Yes, I'm an adult beginner who learned from scratch... and how!"

... and I liked your other comments, too!

From Thomas Dauzat
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 3:21 PM
I have wanted to play since I was first entering middle school. The wisdom at the time was that I was 'too late' to start such an instrument. (HA! If they could see me now), and my school didn't have a full orchestra, band only. So I was encouraged to pick a different instrument instead. What I got was the trombone.

Hey I loved the trombone, I really did! I played all the way through High school. I was in Jazz band too, we even won a contest to go participate in the Montreuz Jazz festival in Switzerland! It was great, but still, it wasn't a violin.

Anyway, the same story as many here. I went to college, spent some time in the military and the old trombone just sort of got left behind. So eventually I wanted to get back into music.

I started learning the guitar. While the guitar is a fine instrument it never really felt right. It just wasn't ME. And it wasn't a violin.

I then started gravitating towards piano. This was better, closer. I liked it. And yet.... yet,
tt still wasn't a violin.

Now I'm in my 40s and I finally realized the thing that should have been obvious years and years ago. The only instrument that actually is a violin, is a violin. So I started taking lessons. I know it's far, far to late to ever be a master violinist. But I'm 8 months in this feels better and truer and more RIGHT than anything has since my old trombone. I wonder what I might be now if I could somehow travel back in time and convince 10 year old me to make everyone understand this. But I can't do that. What I can do is, well what I'm doing. Take lessons. Practice.

I know I won't be able to become a true professional at this stage. What I CAN so is try and achieve the highest level of whatever potential I have inside me in the time I DO have.

And I will.

From Carry Perrier
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 4:01 PM
I am a newbie. Just started January of this year. I'm 42 and have actually wanted to play since I was very young. When I was young, we couldn't afford it. Once I was out of school and on my own I was too "busy". When I had my kiddos I just didn't think I could anymore. My youngest began playing the saxophone two years ago. He LOVES it and is fantastic. His love reminded me of my desire to play (that and all of the trips to the music store where I would always have to drag myself away from the fiddle section).

I found a used student fiddle on kijiji and went from there. I figured if I started there we wouldn't be out a whole lot of money if I didn't enjoy it. I did enjoy it and just bought my first decent fiddle a couple of months ago.

I was surprised by how I was able to pick things up relatively quickly. At least compared to how I thought it would go. My practicing has slowed down a bit over the summer, but I look forward to continuing forward.

I'm also very lucky that my wife and my children have been very encouraging of me in my new love. :)

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 4:09 PM
Carry, loved it! (Yes, thank goodness for supportive family members!) And Thomas, I found this so profound:

>I started learning the guitar. While the guitar is a fine instrument it never really felt right. It just wasn't ME. And it wasn't a violin. [...] Now I'm in my 40s and I finally realized the thing that should have been obvious years and years ago. The only instrument that actually is a violin, is a violin.

I think that really says it for so many of us (and, for me, again, this would be ballet, more so than the violin, actually). It reminds me of the way I love Paris to the exclusion of almost every other city (except San Francisco, which, fortunately, is cheaper/easier/quicker to get to). My thought is, there's Paris, and there's not-Paris. When my husband and I lived in Europe, we visited dozens of wonderful, wonderful cities. But they were always not-Paris (except when it WAS Paris). And I've tried other dance classes and while they are excellent and worthy substitutes for the more expensive, exclusive ballet, they are always not-ballet.

I suppose the same is true for me and stringed instruments. I inherited my mother-in-law's mandolin, and it's a gorgeous, antique instrument, and tuned just like the violin, but I'm sorry. It's no violin. Guitar? Easy as anything to pick up, learn, start playing. Sorry. It's too not-violin. Even the viola. Sorry. Not-violin.

Oh, the lovely, inimitable violin. Here's to those of us who can't settle for less.

And I'm continuing to LOVE these stories! More, more!

From David Knutson
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 3:52 PM
I'm 57 and other than a brief 3 yr stint with the trombone in high school I have never played an instrument. One day I was on the internet looking for info on rings for my truck and as sometimes happens my search brought up a bunch of totally unrelated links - one of which caught my eye. It was a young girl playing May it Be from LOTR. I was mesmerized. I spent the rest of the day watching this video and others playing the same type of music. By the end of the day I was hooked. I had heard violin played before with symphonies or chamber music. It was enjoyable, but never inspired me to participate – that was for experts and seemed out of reach to me. Watching this one person playing such a beautiful song with such seeming effortlessness ignited a desire in me to do the same.

That was 2 years ago. I’m taking weekly lessons from a great teacher and practicing as much as I can squeeze into a busy life. The fire is still there, even though the progress is slow. I delight in the little victories. Last night I tried a new song and was able to play it through on the first attempt – not well, but in time and mostly in tune.

I cringe each time I hear someone describe how difficult the violin is to learn. I am not a prodigy by any stretch, but I don’t find it difficult. Seems to me getting all 10 fingers working independently to play piano would be difficult. On violin, I only have to work getting 4 to work alone. Rather than difficult, I consider the violin exacting. Place the finger in the exactly right spot and apply the bow with the exact feeling, and the violin sings. Miss on either of those and the violin croaks. It took only a few months to get comfortable with holding violin and bow and to learn (without tapes) where the exact spots were in first position. I practice now to acquire the reflexes, muscle memory and ear to make hitting the exact spot more – predicable. That’s not difficult either – just takes time.

I practice to improve my skills. I play for the pure enjoyment of making my girl sing. I have all the time in the world.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 5:43 PM
David, well-put, and I love your attitude of "this is NOT difficult to learn," because it reminds me that, even in my first year, I was making music, feeling stirred by it (and by the miracle of doing it!). Reaching higher levels of proficiency, I will still argue, is hugely difficult. But that's why I have a fiddle tunes book alongside my other lesson books. When I get too bogged down by the technique stuff, I can just go back to the sweet simplicity of playing a catchy/pretty/melodic tune.

Dang. Thanks for reminding me of that. : )

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 7:41 PM
For me, the question comes in two parts: why return to music, and why the violin. That's because I started at age 8 on the cornet, and put in 8 or 9 years pretty seriously - high school band, a local brass band, etc. At that point, it was a combination of two things that led to my Great Musical Hiatus. The first one, that slowly built over time, was a reaction to all the family pressure to play; this resulted in my having a love/hate relationship with music that I could eventually no longer sustain. The second event was one of those abrupt, profound life changes: our music teacher, who held the school band together through sheer force of will, was struck by a train - ironically on his way to a concert we were to perform at another school.

Fast forward 25 years or so. I hadn't touched an instrument in all that time, but I had built a collection of about 700 vinyl albums (mostly pop) and was immersed in music constantly. One morning I woke up and realized that I was fitting chords to every piece of music I was hearing, whether on the radio or just in my head. I realized that if I got a guitar and learned those chords, I could play all of that music.

That was the beginning of my return. Several years later, while playing guitar at someone else's house, I saw a mandolin hanging on the rack alongside his other guitars. I picked it up and figured out a few chords, and wound up borrowing it and taking lessons. Another friend was taking up banjo at the time; the two of us got involved in the local bluegrass scene and started honing our chops.

And now we reach the final question: why violin? In my case, it was even more accidental than my foray into mandolin. My banjo-playing friend had moved to a new house, and their stove was shot. We were converting to gas, so we gave him our perfectly serviceable electric stove. My friend had picked up a cheap violin some time before, and later found a funky handmade violin in an antique shop - so in return for the stove, he gave me his original violin.

At first I wasn't too serious. Since a violin is tuned the same as a mandolin, I knew where the notes were, and I would take the violin (err, fiddle) to bluegrass jams and mess with it a bit when I wasn't playing mandolin. Then I started visiting another friend who played classical violin, and we started playing together. Brahms, Corelli... another door was opening, leading into tantalizing landscapes beyond. I realized it was time to get serious about the violin, and signed up for lessons.

Three years later, I'm finally becoming less timid about appearing in public with a violin, although I realize that this is a lifelong pursuit. And yes, I believe that the violin is one of the most difficult instruments to play. For that matter, it's one of the most difficult activities of any sort that I've ever encountered. But when things work, it's so wonderful that I don't begrudge the effort at all.

So now I'm fiddling my buns off at bluegrass jams, playing small ensemble pieces with friends, and - in yet another twist of fate - find myself playing viola in a local orchestra. I'm loving every minute of it; I've found something that will keep me going for the rest of my life. (And that should be a long time, if the orchestra is any indication: the two members that passed away this year were each 92 years old, and playing right to the end.)

From Kate Little
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 9:54 PM
Hi Terez -

You wrote the statement: "I understood that an adult beginner would never come close to mastering it [the violin]." This is a broad and strong claim on behalf of all adult beginners. What evidence is there to support this assertion, and why do you believe it?

Kate

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 22, 2013 at 10:14 PM
Charlie, loved it!

Kate, thanks for reminding me that the above statement should only reflect my own opinion, based on the comments and such presented to me. I tweaked the wording to clarify that. As for why I think as an adult beginner I could never master the art, the Bach S&Ps and all the concertos? Maybe because my own professional-level violin teacher confesses that it's something she'd love to quit teaching and devote the rest of her years to doing. Or because of all the wonderful, gifted violinists here whose thoughts are similar. Heifetz mastered it, along with another dozen or two of the greats. (Yes, it could be argued many, many more have; I just don't have the time to list 'em.) This is my thinking when I ponder the term "master." On a humbler "mastery" scale, and again, speaking for myself, I'll just say I know my energy and time constraints and that I lack something innate. Practicing 5x a week, much less daily, is a struggle. But hey, I'm not letting that stop my journey. And I'm always delighted to hear of other adult beginners who take the craft infinitely further!

From J Ray
Posted on August 23, 2013 at 12:29 AM
For the love and enjoyment of music. I started my son on lessons, and soon found that I could help him better by learning the material myself together with him or a bit in advance.

I'm surprised that more people haven't given this answer here, but understand fully the time constrains on working parents, and that many might not even consider it.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 23, 2013 at 3:00 AM
J Ray - you have a good point about the fact that not a lot of parents are reporting in on playing/learning at the same time. I would have loved for my son to WANT to play the violin, so that we could have played together in any humble capacity, but he's simply not a musical instrument kid. The violin was always "Mom's thing." I feel like quite the oddity in my community here; I am definitely the only parent taking violin lessons. Maybe if I'd lived in a city environment and not a semi-rural one, it would be different. But I think it's GREAT, that you started in that way.
From Laura Lyon
Posted on August 23, 2013 at 4:20 AM
I picked up the violin for the very first time approximately 10 months ago - at age 50. I had played piano from age 6 through 26. I played well and was one of those people who looked forward to practicing and just playing. From age 26 on though I was only able to play piano sporadically for lack of an instrument and other demands in my life. All the while, I missed making music. Ached for it actually.

While it would seem natural that I should return to playing piano when the need to make music started overtaking me again, the truth is that I had always yearned to play the violin. It's voice calls to me, and when I began itching to bring music back into my life in a meaningful way, I decided to quit "wanting to play the violin", and start "doing".

I have an extremely capable and kind teacher who seems to enjoy having adult students as much as her younger ones. She guides, corrects, and challenges me, but the truth is that without my own strong personal motivation it would never happen. I want it. I work for it. It is happening - music - darn good music at times too!

It's been every bit of the wonderful journey I had imagined it would be, and the fun thing is that I am just really getting underway. I have no illusions of being a master at this - but I do have absolute confidence that I can play really well and love every moment of doing it. At the end of the day, isn't that really what all of us play an instrument for?


From Thomas Dauzat
Posted on August 23, 2013 at 1:00 PM
I also like what David said about it not being difficult. Reminds me of one of the I think most important things my teacher has told me.

"...If you doubt yourself, you will fail."

From Timothy Lessler
Posted on August 23, 2013 at 9:14 PM
Hi Terez,

Regarding Kate's comments, I must agree that such statements are not productive, and your statement is only true in one sense of the word master, and not in other senses. I grew up in the martial arts culture where mastery is said to come from within. There are many true masters of the martial arts that started as adults.

An instrument is, or should be, an extension of oneself. Yes, there are only a handful of people who can play like Perlman, etc., but there are many who are master violinists (think Grappelli, great fiddlers, excellent violin teachers) in that they have successfully allowed the violin, their craft, and their music to be an extension of them as a person...understanding the instrument, playing with the control and ease of walking around the block, having developed their unique style, regardless of whether or not they can play every with every complicated classical technique. This is mastery in my opinion, and this is the mastery that we all can strive for, no matter what age we start! As an adult beginner, it is VERY possible that one day you will look at yourself in the mirror, after a wonderful performance bringing joy to those around you, and you will say, ah yes...I am a violinist. Even simpler, a quick google search defines a master as: a skilled practitioner of a particular art or activity. Why cannot you be that? Happy playing and practicing :)

From Herb Steiner
Posted on August 23, 2013 at 10:41 PM
I am pleasantly surprised to read so many responses from people who started violin as adults. I, too, bought into the myth that starting after age 6 was like climbing Everest. This is great news.

My own journey started with my mother's ambition for her sons to play musical instruments. Mom made me practice, which I hated, and made my brother and I perform, which I hated even more. Going away to college meant emancipation from mom's watchful eye, and I put the violin aside. At age 30, and married with children, an accidental meeting with a neighbor who told of an open musical house every Friday evening around the corner in Brooklyn Heights to which anyone could bring their instrument and play music. I had never heard, much less played a string quartet. I went to those musical evenings and joined in. I was hooked. That was 45 years ago and I have not stopped playing.

It is rare for a week to go by without a quartet session. I have been concert master of community orchestras and consider my violin my best companion. This month I purchased a violin made by David Gusset in Eugene, Oregon and love its sound which, of course, makes me want to practice even more.

So....thanks mom.

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 23, 2013 at 11:55 PM
Laura – how did your post miss my eyes this morning? Sorry! That’s amazing, your switch from piano to violin after 25 years on the latter. Brava! Herb, wonderful story, and it is my hope that some day, when I have more time in life, I’ll chance upon a musical evening environment such as that.

Thanks for your additional comments, Timothy. I’ll just leave it at a “thank you” and respect those of you who disagree, and felt I misspoke. I told my truth, shared my story. Apologies if it irks anyone else. That hadn’t been my intention.

From Kate Little
Posted on August 25, 2013 at 4:25 AM
Terez –

Personally, I am not irked at your comments, and in re-reading Timothy’s do not infer that he is either. There is no need for apology. As the topic was raised, we are simply trying to further the discussion regarding adult-beginners and mastery. Discussions in which there is disagreement leading to an exchange of ideas and information are generally fruitful. It would be beneficial to all for the conversation to continue. Certainly we can, while agreeing that no one has intention to offend others in the process.

If I understand your response correctly, you feel that you will not master the violin for two reasons, one of which is that violinists whom you respect are of the opinion that no adult-beginner can master the violin, and have convinced you of the same. This is your truth and story that you shared. The danger in adopting this assumption and broadcasting it further is that it places limitations on both the speaker and recipients, leading to self-fulfilling prophecy. Why would anyone on a journey wish to do that to herself? And why would anyone want to consciously do that to others? It would be more productive to question this assumption that was handed out, figure out for oneself to what extent it is true, and share those findings. My guess is that any adult-beginner or returnee, would consequently come much further along the journey towards mastery than she would otherwise, and that she would be happier for the greater progress.

At the very least, it seems to me that anyone (and I refer here to the 2-dozen or so violinists from whom I have heard similar statements in the past 2 years) holding opinions that place limitations on others should refrain from broadcasting them, as they are performing a disservice to the community of learners.

From reading your posts, I infer that you are a kind and nurturing person who would not wish to inadvertently discourage others, who chooses her words carefully, and who works to be as thoughtful as possible towards others.



From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 25, 2013 at 4:04 PM
Thank you. And I'm done discussing the issue.
From Cecille Gove
Posted on August 26, 2013 at 3:08 AM
All of your responses are so interesting to read. I commend each of you for doing something like taking violin. I started playing the flute a long time ago and never could get a real good sound, don't know if it was the flute or me, probably me mostly, but my flute wasn't a professional model anyway. I thought I would try stringed instruments instead of woodwinds because then I wouldn't have to worry about having enough air to blow into it. In 2006 I thought I would try the violin. I took a few months of lessons and felt since I spent so much money on flute lessons that I should go back to that but I never did. I tried the mandolin instead for 2 years. I came back to the violin in 2010 and had a wonderful teacher for 2 years then he moved. I have since taken 1 lesson from another wonderful teacher. I love trying new things and trying the violin is very interesting - a good project for me. I admire anyone who can play it because I've heard it is the hardest instrument to learn. One thing I like about the violin is it is versatile - you can play any kind of music on it. I've also taken some lessons on the banjo. I don't know which is my favorite instrument - I don't think I have a favorite - I just like learning an instrument. It is so challenging and so much fun. I guess trying to learn one well will always be in my blood. It is a great stress reliever. Your comments sure have encouraged me and motivated me to try to move forward with the violin as an adult.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 26, 2013 at 3:24 AM
Cecille, I loved your reply! I love that you've tried other instruments - I've got a vintage mandolin here at my home that I really should give a try to learning. And, as other posters have commented, sometimes learning one, or taking on another, helps one develop skill in the original instrument. And I agree with you that one of the violin's advantage is its versatility. I might just yet turn into a fiddler versus a classical violinist. I guess the fun is in not worrying and focusing on just the enjoyment of making some music. Right now, it's fun to toy around with both.

Thank you for sharing your story!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 27, 2013 at 1:29 AM
Fellow V.com member and blogger Rizky Ramadhan has told a wonderful story of learning to play the violin against the odds in his native (?) Indonesia. Although he wasn't an adult beginner, or returner, his story (or the end-result, at least) is so encouraging to all aspiring musicians struggling against odds. I thought people reading here might like to check it out. (He has a few posts now, one of which is featured in "top blogs" on 8/26/13.) Here's the recording he linked to his 8/22 blog. It's so lovely, doubly so, given his struggle to teach himself in the absence of any available teachers. Listen to it here: Beau Soir on YouTube
From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on August 27, 2013 at 10:42 PM
Terez, why must you "turn into a fiddler versus a classical violinist"? You can be both! Tomorrow evening I'm fiddling with a bluegrass band at a local pub, and next week our orchestra's rehearsals start up again so we can see whether our individual summertime practice of Peer Gynt works out.

So much music, so little time...

From Terez Mertes
Posted on August 28, 2013 at 3:24 AM
Charlie, that sounds divine. I LOVE Peer Gynt.

Yes, you're right; doing both is the way to go.

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