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Arashi Lilith

Why I Am Willingly Drowning Myself In Alto Clef (and waking up at 5am to do it)

July 4, 2012 at 4:16 AM

I'm in a string orchestra (boot)camp this term at my community college, which means I'm currently in freaking-out-exhausted-will-I-ever-play-this-right mode. I'm glad to play with kids, if only because they're much more polite and much less scream-y than the kids I used to work with back when I was a teacher's aid for emotionally disturbed kids. But really the best part is I'm on a similar level to them, and they don't take things seriously enough to give me dirty looks (or allow my paranoia to imagine said looks) when my poor sightreading leaves me bow still, silently trying to catch up with my eyes. Technically I think I have some advantage, but they have fluency and I just gotta catch up quickly. It helps that the teachers also have to explain things simply, which is a breath of fresh air in the classical world of music if you ask me.

I'm the principal violist in this string orchestra, which is to say, I'm the only one save for an instructor who seems more inclined to share a stand with the cellos. That may change... After all, it's only the second day.

I'm a violinist generally speaking; I received the viola for my 20th birthday, to mark a year of violin and to help with the technical milestones to come. However, a lack of time and sheet music has left it unloved until I needed it, with the exception of a little bit of scales and general fiddling around, and that one time a string broke as I was busking with a friend. Now I must play it day in and day out, for our concert is next Thursday.

Though I'm still a little unsteady on viola, I kinda have to do this. It's not that I'm being made to; it's that I have realized that I only ever get good at something with some serious immersion and pressure. I am good at deadlines, in a weird way, and I go a bit crazy without one. Still, I'm more than a bit crazy on a good day, and I want to be equally competent on viola, because, well who wouldn't? It's pretty, and I like pretty things. However, my determination has set me up for wading through sheets of alto clef an inch thick; not to mention my muscles screaming for explanation as to why the violin grew in their language of soreness and exhaustion. It'll pass, it always does eventually, and as someone with 19 screws in their spine a little soreness is nothing. It's just strange to feel that feeling again, like when your pinkie is mad about having to reach allll the way to the Cing and wants you to feel it's suffering, for instance. The real price is getting up at 5am to commute to school, making me scary-diurnal and so separating me mentally from my nocturnal-working programmer boyfriend.

It'll all be worth it I hope! My fingers get mad stage fright, yet my mind is unaffected, does this happen to others? Either way I know no matter how immersed in the sea of viola the challenge will always be playing in front of others and trying to get my muscle memory to cooperate in doing so. I have anxiety disorder to the point where I'm kind of surprised that a doctor hasn't suggested beta-blockers before, not just for performance but for not panicking in school. Meh, may as well see if I really need them, I guess.

I must forever challenge myself, always playing just a bit above my level, or I will not improve. This is my mantra through these two weeks. Tomorrow I have an extra lesson with my violin teacher to help me understand how to play everything. After that, I honestly have no excuse to not be practicing from sunup to sundown. I'm hoping to convince my dad to let me go to my favorite violinist Emilie Autumn's album release party after, and it's in Chicago, so I have a lot of impressing to do. Not to mention, sleep is for the weak. Or is it week? Whatever, I can always sleep when I'm dead.

Wish me luck!

P.S. One of the kids called my viola a muddy sounding weird looking violin. I'm gonna count that as my first viola joke received, which I know must count somewhere as an achievement in a video game version of my life.


From Emily Hogstad
Posted on July 4, 2012 at 2:39 PM
Have fun in this new realm. If you're like me, Schradieck for viola will get you reading alto clef in no time. Google Schradieck viola and you should be able to find a free copy. I don't know if this is in the public domain or not...I know the originals for violin are, so who knows.

However, when ssomething makes you sore, STOP DOING IT! (Sorry to yell.) Point blank. Stop doing it. Because that means you're either doing it an inefficient way, or doing it too much, and both scenarios lead to injury, some of which can be severe and impact your ability to play for years to come (not exaggerating). Just don't push through it. Use it as a chance to stop and say, what am I doing wrong? Where exactly is it hurting? Why is it hurting there as opposed to anywhere else? Am I tensing up at certain spots? Why? etc. Thinking about stuff like that is still practicing (actually, it's probably better than practicing). This is especially important as you seem to be a driven perfectionistic highung person when it comes to music, just like me. And if you get sore or your muscles get very tired, stop and work on other things, like inputting tricky parts of your music into Finale Notepad so you can hear what they sound like, or drilling yourself with alto clef flashcards (free online), or watching videos of violists on Youtube (or the rep you're playing this summer). All of these things will help you when you come back to the instrument physically.

Have you studied with a violist teacher? (I.e., someone who viola is their primary instrument, as opposed to a violinist/violist like us who switches back and forth?) It would be worth it to have even just one lesson with them, so they can explain the differences from a "native" point of view.

Good luck...your blog is very entertaining. :)

From Christian Lesniak
Posted on July 5, 2012 at 2:27 AM
I agree with Emily. Be careful with tension. Every musician should be looking to cultivate the minimum necessary tension at all times, and come to a point where we understand sources of it, rather than having it creep up from mysterious dark places. It can be helpful to reacquaint oneself with the feeling of just holding the instrument, in order to test out whether it is possible to operate with more ease than the previous day.

And with beta-blockers, (having never taken them) I would be weary to not have to feel like they are necessary for performance. In my opinion, there are philosophical modes that we can cultivate as to why we play and perform that can be helpful in framing our fears as less negative than they seem. That, and the act of performance helps make us more confident.

Anyway, it's awesome that you are game for so many challenges. Stretching ourselves is a good way to get taller.

From Arashi Lilith
Posted on July 5, 2012 at 5:51 PM
Thank you for your replies and concerns! Most of the tension I have is from back surgery. I have scar tissue and nerve damage and lots of little things that make it kind of nuts that I can even play violin. I need a new chin rest, that's where the worst of the pain is coming from, but my public transit card that my dad pays for failed so my violin money is going into getting me to school. I'm gonna try to borrow some money to get one within the week though. The other pain is just muscles adjusting, I had the same stiffness when I picked up violin at first but it goes away within a month or two if I practice diligently without overworking myself. It's a balancing act but nothing I'm not used to.
As for the beta blockers, for now I self medicate with tea, and I have a cannabis card. I mostly thought of them because the latter of those things is expensive and my insurance doesn't cover it, so I'm always looking for alternatives medication-wise.

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