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Goals, and other scary thoughts.

Dottie Case

Written by
Published: January 4, 2014 at 5:36 AM [UTC]

I had a curious experience recently---being that I started playing violin at age 36, I had asked to join an 'adult beginners' group on FB. I recently discovered a reply from the moderator of that group, who very kindly and politely declined my request to join. She explained that she had seen me here on, and could tell that I was a teacher with a busy private studio, and since the group was intended for adult beginners, it has a 'no teachers' policy.

I certainly had no problems with that, but it started me thinking about the sort of 'moving goalposts' phenomenon that must have taken place at some point. I began to wonder, at what point in time had I crossed some invisible line that would disqualify me from describing myself as an adult beginner? I suppose some of it is semantics...I had been thinking of 'adult beginner' as describing 'one who began violin as an adult', and the group may have been thinking of itself as more along the line of 'adults who are at a beginner level'. Still, it was a surpise to realize that somehow, it's become a bit illegitimate to describe myself as an 'adult beginner'.

It just happens that I'm thinking about this for another reason as well. I find myself in the position of having more time in my schedule this year than I've had for several years in the past, and for the first time in maybe 10 years, I'm able to structure my time to allow for the sort of violin focus that I had when I was truly an 'adult beginner'. As I've been sorting through old music and thinking about how to approach my new focus, I realize that in some ways, I don't really know how to set goals for violin. While it's true that I worked hard when I took up violin, it's also true that in many ways, my progress always ran way ahead of my goal setting. By the time I'd been playing 2 1/2 years, I was already far more accomplished than I had ever dreamed of becoming when I started, and then everything after that point has just been a surprise, to me as much as anyone else.

I haven't 'studied' for the last 10 years or so...I've been caught up in the busyness of teaching and playing in orchestras, sometimes on a sort of auto-pilot, while finishing my graduate work, etc. But just lately, I've thought back and asked myself what I was doing when I was still 'studying', and why. I knew that I was not really ever going to perform most of what I worked on (though I did do Mozart 3 in juries one year),but the point was to be able to have the experience of playing great music, while learning how to play with more skill. As I think about how to make a plan to progress this year, for the first time ever, I find myself asking if perhaps I've not reached quite high enough.

That scares me to write it...not because I think I have any particular 'gifts' but maybe because there is a certain security in having a role and an identity. It discomfits me to think about reaching higher in a way that may take me to ......where?

I suppose that when one has no real goals, then it's impossible to 'not' meet them. Since I always knew, by dint of my late start, what WASN'T possible, I'm not sure I've ever really thought too hard about what IS possible. And it feels almost greedy and self-indulgent to grab for more.

One thing that was true for me, beginning as an adult, is that there's a great deal of the standard repertoire that I'd never done, due to lack of time. My formal studies stopped after Mozart 3 and Bach am and I've never played some things that 'everyone' plays, like the Bruch, etc.

So for now, I'm going backwards, in reviving and reviewing 'old' works while getting in the study groove again. I find that I have many more tools to bring to the process than I had back then. And then, after that...we'll see. I think that the road ahead will crystallize some during the reviewing section. And I think at some point I need to jump in with both feet and set a goal or two, even if that feels scary to start.

From Jennifer Kendrick
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 4:17 PM
It's always good to challenge yourself and reach for the sky. Even if your sky is a bit closer than others lol. It brings confidence, which I think truly shows through playing something well. It also brings inspiration and joy through playing. I think you're taking a good step going back. Violin is great for always digging into new avenues that one might not have had a chance to touch. Purely because there are so many avenues! It is a great tool for journey and developing a persons life. Especially after how long you played :) I wish you the best of luck!

Also, which beginner violin group on fb is this? I was looking for something similar. It would be great to find a community like that! I am an adult beginner as well. Thanks!

From Karen Collins
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 5:39 PM
Dottie, I really enjoyed reading your blog post. It's great to read about an adult beginner who's progressed beyond the "adult beginner" stage - I never knew that could happen, and thought we'd always carry some sort of "AB" tattoo visible to more accomplished players ;-).

I belong to that facebook group you mention, and I'm sorry you have not been allowed to join. I think some of us would love to hear the input and perspective of a former "adult beginner" who is now no longer that much of a beginner. In the meantime, I hope you keep posting here.

From Dottie Case
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 6:21 PM
Karen, I'm not offended in the least, but I do think that, when I was a beginner, I found it really useful to hear what others had to say about the journey I was on. Your suggestion to post here for adult beginners is a good one. I'll give that some serious thought.

Thanks for your comments.

From Lydia Leong
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 8:42 PM
You've got an amazing story! How long did it take between your beginning to play, and your going pro with it?

i used to moderate a Yahoo Group called BAVS, Beginning Adult Violin Students, that's adult beginners and returnees. Teachers were welcome and present. I believe it's still in existence, but it's no longer the dozens-of-messages-a-day that it used to be.

From sharelle taylor
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 9:45 PM
Hi Dottie, I enjoyed your post and always have appreciated your different perspective.
I think I know the group you are referring to on fb, and although I am a member, I rarely have had input because I'm not entirely sure of the demographic it reaches. There are a couple of posters there who are extremely competent [and lovely] adult returners, who in their bios have discussed playing to quite a proficient level when younger then coming back as adults, and then there are outright adult beginners - as you yourself would have been - and we all seem to progress at different rates depending on a mixture of goodness knows what.
I recall the group beginning in response to some frustration for adults who were playing Suzuki and getting stuck at Book 4 (am I right in that recollection?). I agree with previous comment that the group could benefit from insight from an adult who was there, got through, and is now in a position of being able to teach, but at least there is :)
I'm one of those droogs who is really slack at being specific about goals (which is a challenge in my work, because I am expected to present a goal focussed persona and encourage clients to set goals for themselves), that approach doesn't work for me. I need a general direction - north vs south - but not Pacific Highway vs New England Highway.
It's nice to see you posting again.

Posted on January 4, 2014 at 10:23 PM
As somewhat of an adult beginner, I can say that what has helped me improve over the years is mostly about the music, what would you love to play next? and then work towards it, one piece at a time and enjoy making music out of that process, no matter where it leads. It's never going to feel like it's enough but that's what will keep you improving right? Regards!
From Christina C.
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 10:40 PM
Wow Dottie, I had no idea... your story is quite amazing. Happy New Year & I look forward to follow-ups on this.
From Joyce Lin
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 10:47 PM
Dottie, so sorry you were turned down. I'm also one of the members in that group, and would have loved to have you in the group as well. This group was born out of a discussion here at Adults are quitters?! Marianne and Dale have done a great job keeping out spammers and advertisers, and the people in the group are courteous and supportive bunch.

Jennifer, here is the FB page: Adult Starters - Violin/Fiddle

From Dottie Case
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 10:57 PM
Joyce, please understand that I was not offended or disagreeing with the group's decision. Every group has the right to define itself however it wishes... it just made me reflect on the change in my own self-definition.

Tina...I suppose you would have a perspective that no one else reading this would, since not only have we played together in orchestra a few times, but you shared a stand with my student James for the Beethoven 9 concert. (Note... Christina is an excellent violinist who is, on occasion brought it in help flesh out our strings). Maybe you'll note some improvement in my playing the next time you come. :)

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 11:31 PM
I really dislike this AB nomenclature. For me a violinist is just that. It tends to hammer home the idea that adults are limited like in Karen's post above. We'll I had a 34 year old adult beginner a few years back who was tackling Saint Sean's 3 at the end of her third year.
The only handicap adults have is this little thing called time.....
But then you can learn to be more efficient to balance that out....
Love these dots....
BTW Simon Fischer's 'The Violin Lesson' is one of the most inspiring books for adult violinists I have ever come across,
(geriatric not beginner childish violinist)
From Christina C.
Posted on January 4, 2014 at 11:36 PM
Hi Dottie,

Improvement's always good, but you've come a long way in a short time.

I also didn't see you previous blog until now.... so returning a belated "Hi". We're hoping for a visit in March.

From Marianne Hansen
Posted on January 5, 2014 at 4:30 PM
I am the founder and one of the moderators of Adult Starters - Violin/Fiddle on Facebook (and a long-time member of Dottie, thanks for the kind words. Our policy is to restrict the group to adults who began playing when they were grown up, or who played as kids and returned after a hiatus. This almost always means that we are amateurs, and we have generally declined to add people who play professionally or teach (regardless of when they started playing). We are, essentially, a support group for folks whose lives revolve around non-musical concerns, but who choose to add the violin to their lives, sometimes rather late in the game. We are also a group where people talk "socially" a lot - chit-chatting about their recitals, their lessons, their search for a new instrument, a problem they had with their teacher - without expecting solutions, but only empathetic fellowship.

I am sympathetic to the idea that people like Dottie, who turned a "late" interest in music into a career may have useful and interesting things to say to, for example, a librarian who barely manages four practice sessions a week - and those divided between baroque and bluegrass. I am also very grateful to the teachers who have asked to join the FB group who wanted to share their wisdom.

There are, however, many opportunities for the transmission of this sort of information. There is substantial overlap between and the FB group - I'm guessing more than 60% of the FB group members are members here as well. Dottie is sharing her experience on a blog, and we see from the comments that several members of the group have already read it. Many of our members read this group, post here, and ask questions here, to which they receive responses from professional musicians. There are blogs, online learning communities, maestronet, many teachers spread all over the world, an abundance of expertise. We are all on the web; we know how to find these resources, or we can ask how to, here, on FB, or in many other places.

I think it is all right to have a discussion group which does not duplicate the other venues, but concentrates on doing one thing well - letting people talk to others like themselves, who are fitting music into busy lives. As I told one teacher who asked to join the group, we have abundant resources for information, but not so many for sympathy.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on January 5, 2014 at 10:41 PM
Dottie, what a wonderful realization! I suspect that you were concentrating on all the right things: learning to play the violin and then playing it as much as possible, rather than on "being" a violinist. You will certainly enjoy the next leg of your journey; go for it! There is so much wonderful repertoire to explore, and that will carry you into some really interesting technique study as well. I hope you will tell us all about it, I think it can be very inspirational to others who have started playing a musical instrument as an adult. I hope you'll also share with us about your work with adult beginner students!
From Dottie Case
Posted on January 6, 2014 at 12:06 AM
Laurie, that's it exactly! Thanks for helping wrap it in those words.

I've been giving some thoughts to doing some blog posts on the 'adult starter' journey, both as reflected in my path as well as through the eyes of my adult students. Thanks for the feedback, all.


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