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Laurie Trlak

Goals, Dreams, Cold Reality

March 30, 2010 at 12:56 PM

Learning to play the violin is never an easy undertaking. It is a difficult instrument, and not one to be tried by the faint of heart. I have smiled when I've had young students who thought that after a few short lessons they would be playing like virtuosos, not realizing the technical heights they would have to scale to reach that lofty goal. Sometimes, however, even adults can forget that playing this instrument is not as easy as a gifted player makes it appear. However, raw ability is not the only factor involved for an adult in learning to play any instrument, let alone the violin; age, time commitments, and disability are among the things that can affect an adult's potential.

When I first picked up my violin again after many years of not playing, I had every reason to be optimistic. I was in my late 30's yes, but I was committed to learning to play the instrument well. I had not yet been diagnosed with MS, and the tremor which has caused me so much difficulty was still years away. I took lessons with a good teacher, and initially made good progress. I impressed her with my ability to work hard and be prepared at my lessons. The fact that I had played before and still retained some of what I had learned, in spite of not having played in 15 years or so, helped a great deal.

Then my teacher, who was busy with her own family and was pregnant again, cut back on her teaching and passed me to another teacher. This teacher wasn't quite as good, and her techniques were a little different. She pushed me a little too far ahead too fast, and I think my playing tone suffered for it. I wasn't with her too long and then she had to leave (something about her immigration status - she was from Singapore). So then I went to the man who is my current teacher. Now he is very good, if a little impatient. My tone improved, my intonation improved, my technique improved, and all around I was a better violinist. I auditioned for and was accepted at Ball State University as a music education major. 

I won't go into all the details, but suffice to say that the grueling schedule of a mus-ed major, combined with being a wife and mother, and driving 55 miles a day both ways (the distance from where I live in Kokomo to Muncie) took its toll on my health and my grades. MS, which I'd had for some 20 years at that point with no diagnosis, began to exact its toll, with extreme fatigue and memory problems. Unable to keep up with the course work at this point, after two years I dropped out and took an AA degree in general studies at IU Kokomo.

Unfortunately in the ten years since then my playing has not improved significantly. Some of that has been my own lack of due diligence, I confess - I can't blame it all on MS (as convenient an excuse as that may be). I have gone back to my old teacher (with him almost 2 years now), and he gets a little aggravated because I haven't kept up with scales as I should. I confess I've gotten lazy. I'm not sure anymore what my goals are., or what they should be. My teacher says I'm "too old" now, that I'll never be able to play some of the more difficult literature, and maybe that's true. I'm not ready by any means to pack up my fiddle and call it a day.

So where do I go from here? 15 years ago I had a clear goal in mind. I knew where I was going and how I was going to get there. Unfortunately I've had to take a major detour, and the way is no longer clear. I've lost my way, and I really need a compass to help me out of this wilderness! Should I be content with playing at church and the nursing home? Is that enough? Perhaps for now. Maybe I'll go to the city park and unpack my fiddle and just start playing sometime. And I shouldn't forget that I have a standing invitation at the local historical society to play at the mansion in town. So I will apply myself to my practice more diligently, MS notwithstanding and expand my repertoire. As long as I am able to play I will. I don't know how long that will be, but as long as it is, I will do it.


From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 30, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Best of luck to you.  Coming from a family where professional-quality musicians have been felled by MS, you have my sympathy.   MS is awful if you are a musician because the effects -- both motor, fatigue, and memory -- are there but to an extent unpredictable.  Your best goal at this point is probably to try to maintain what you have to the extent you can.  Anything more you can do is gravy.  Good luck.  Our thoughts and prayers are with you as you attempt to navigate this difficult period. 


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on March 30, 2010 at 1:09 PM

Hi, what you say is really true!  We can never take anything for granted with violin...  But with everything you went through, it's wonderful you can do this!!!  Many would have quited many times with MS so "chapeau"!  

Sure one must remain optimistic but, as you said, so many thing remembers us that violin is really not that accessible or easy as it appears.  One one hand, it is more accessible than ever but perhaps it's just an impression? Music is beautiful but also crual and unforgiving for such things as ilness, lack of time, age etc.  It is a two face discipline. Beautiful and not that beautiful... It's easy to fell into the poetic vision of music while forgetting the "crual" side of it.   Knowing this,  setting goals becomes quite tricky I agree! 

However, bravo to you to keep on despite everything!!!  This is truly admirable and probably demonstrate more "real love" of music than many super naturally talented we see all over the place that don't like music that much (Maybe cause they take it for granted, don't know what it means to miss it or have to work very hard to just play "acceptable"?)  And...be proud to be amateur cause it's probably the most difficult thing... (often looked at as a "joke",  just one lesson a week if not even,  often playing on VSO, expect to play well in contests and rehearshals with expeditive cheap treatment such as not beeing allowed to warming rooms even at an advanced level where you play demanding piece, when adjucators treat you as a number... many have families and jobs and have to practice when already exhausted mentally and physically on the their poor little free time...)  So amateurs have their share of merit according to me and it's very admirable even if we would all dream of more!   

Bravo!

Anne-Marie


From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 12:16 AM

 Do you still want to teach?  I'm assuming your kids are older now, maybe the music ed degree wouldn't be as grueling as it used to be.  I don't think anyone could fault you for dropping out back then with all you had going on.  But maybe it's time for a new teacher, or a new course of study?  The negativity that you're getting from him ("too old") sounds depressing.  I think you need a teacher who concentrates on what you can do, rather than what you might not be able to do.


From Laurie Trlak
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 1:32 AM

Yes, I do still want to teach. The problem with finishing my mus-ed degree is financing; I had student loans discharged because of permanent disability after my diagnosis in 2002 (that's a whole long story). Getting more student loans at this point is probably not possible.

I have actually thought of finding a new teacher, perhaps even going to Muncie to do so. Unfortunately my professor at Ball State is no longer there (he's in California now), but I don't currently have transportation. I haven't made a definite decision yet, beyond that I will definitely continue to play!

Thanks for the encouragement. :)


From James Temple
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 8:03 AM

Reading your post, to me I get a negative flavour of lots of reasons why you can't/didn't do things that seems to be both dragging you back and muddling you.  

Perhaps consider dumping all of the past and all of the negativity.  You have written it down now, so file it and forget it.  Get rid of all the "maybe i'll do this or that" stuff too. 

In your shoes I would want to recover my motivation.  So I would work out what I am genuinely and realistically capable of, see how that matched up with my ambitions, and then get on with it.  

For me a teacher has to be motivating - and If I didn't feel motivated, encouraged and challenged I would change the teacher.

However, if you are telling your teacher that you will practice scales, techniques, rep or whatever - and then not doing it diligently, then you are both wasting your time and it would be unsurprising for a teacher to lose heart.  Teachers quickly tire of hearing what in the end are excuses and then they focus their energy on more committed students. It's a fact of life - teaching and learning is a two way contract.  

It seems to me that you have been meandering along for a long while.  The only one who can generate some focus is you.  People can be as sympathetic as we like, but it doesn't help really - it just provides you with further justification for not meeting your true potential.  So I have taken a different (and potentially unpopular approach) and say - make some decisions and then get on with it. 

Good luck.  

 

 

 


From James Temple
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 8:03 AM

Reading your post, to me I get a negative flavour of lots of reasons why you can't/didn't do things that seems to be both dragging you back and muddling you.  

Perhaps consider dumping all of the past and all of the negativity.  You have written it down now, so file it and forget it.  Get rid of all the "maybe i'll do this or that" stuff too. 

In your shoes I would want to recover my motivation.  So I would work out what I am genuinely and realistically capable of, see how that matched up with my ambitions, and then get on with it.  

For me a teacher has to be motivating - and If I didn't feel motivated, encouraged and challenged I would change the teacher.

However, if you are telling your teacher that you will practice scales, techniques, rep or whatever - and then not doing it diligently, then you are both wasting your time and it would be unsurprising for a teacher to lose heart.  Teachers quickly tire of hearing what in the end are excuses and then they focus their energy on more committed students. It's a fact of life - teaching and learning is a two way contract.  

It seems to me that you have been meandering along for a long while.  The only one who can generate some focus is you.  People can be as sympathetic as we like, but it doesn't help really - it just provides you with further justification for not meeting your true potential.  So I have taken a different (and potentially unpopular approach) and say - make some decisions and then get on with it. 

Good luck.  

 

 

 


From Hiroki Ikari
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 8:46 AM

Never let anyone or anything stop you from dreaming and making those dreams into a reality. We all have challenges to face and to beat for us to reap the harvest of our toils.


From Laurie Trlak
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 3:00 PM

James, I'm sorry if the tenor of my post seemed to you to be a bit self-pitying. I didn't intend it to sound that way. The point of this blog is dealing with the limitations on musicians imposed by disability. Sometimes I don't communicate that very well, when I have something to say, which is not often. My point in this post was simply that at this time in my life I do feel a bit without direction, which is exactly what I was trying to say. I'm not sure which way to go, what my goals should be. It just means that I need to re-evaluate. The post was meant to be introspective, and to that extent it was. In a sense it served the purpose of helping to "think out loud" and clarify what I want to do, in addition to the words of wisdom received from those who have responded.


From Laurie Trlak
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 3:09 PM

Tom, Anne-Marie, Hiroki, thank you all for your encouragement and your prayers. You guys are such an inspiration to me! And writing this blog always helps me clarify my thoughts.

Laurie


From Tom Holzman
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 4:24 PM

Laurie - you are the one who is an inspiration to all of us.  Like violinist Adrian Anantawan, born without a right hand, you push the limits.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrian_Anantawan  I still remember my mother, as her right side grew gradually weaker from MS, adjusting her piano playing and finally, like Leon Fleisher for so many years, ultimately playing left-hand only pieces.   She was always an inspiration in her determination not to give an inch to the MS if she could avoid it. 


From Terez Mertes
Posted on March 31, 2010 at 4:56 PM

 Bravo to you, Laurie! The path does get horribly murky for adult students - so much less clearly defined than it seems in one's youth or one's 20s and even 30s. Life just doesn't always like to cooperate. Nor do families, nor geographic or physical limitations.

One step forward, one day at a time, that's my motto. Tiny steps, at that.

Echoing Tom, I so admire you and your efforts. Keep it up, even when "it" gets hard to figure out.


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on April 2, 2010 at 2:03 AM

Terez and Laurie I agree! 

We all have such periods... (where we ask ourselves these: is it worth it, what will I really get from this, is this my limit, is it totally pointless, what if I had started young, what do I expect, if I can't have it should I quit, is violin just pure self torture for nothing?)

 

I've often felt so trapped, (not as much as you with MS.  So I won't start telling my novel about my chronic freezing hands, coordination problems, embarassing experiences linked to this and demanding school that leads to poor practice and make a so viscious circle full of frustration and psychological dilemmas etc, ) but still ennough to understand how you feel!

I know what looks like "negativity" comes from...  And honnestly which violinist never felt like this???  It's sure that someone who has physical limitations (but not mental) will have such periods...

I just think that what John tells is that once you feel like this or realize this, one has the choice to do like Ray Charles or this wonderful violinist (obviously not everyone with disability of some sort have this coaching but you know what I mean) or as an "extreme" example I could name Beethoven who succeeded wonders even deaph. 

We all just have 1 life and have to try to make it the most worthy possible. This is never easy but keep going on, you already have a very nice start!

Anne-Marie

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