I missed the early bus this morning, which is dangerous, because the next one is really unreliable. Sometimes it's 15 or 20 minutes late. Today was one of those days. So I got to the Harvard Square T station almost a full half hour after I normally get there on my way to work.
Instead of the amplified flamenco guitar guy who I usually see there, there were two young guys playing traditional acoustic viola and cello in that spot. No amplifier, just the two of them, their chairs, and their music stand. The cellist was an adult and seemed more experienced, the violist might have been a student or even the cellist's younger brother, he looked 15 or 16 at most. They played with a lot of verve and enthusiasm (or maybe it was nerves). Their intonation was a little shaky in places. I didn't recognize the piece, it had a sort-of gypsy-ish quality and was very fast, but I only got to hear them for about 2 minutes and then the train came, and since I was already late for work because of the bus, I had to get on it.
If this was another experiment to see if anyone would stop and there's a record on camera, they'll see me there, looking intently, first trying to identify if the smaller instrument is a violin or a viola and then trying to figure out what the piece is. And then they'll see another person dropping a bill into the viola case before he gets on the train.
I hope they come back.
There are always so many interesting topics for discussion on this site. Many of them get me thinking about blogging. It's clear from the threads that interest me that I still have some unresolved "issues" around practicing, teaching, and learning, and that watching my daughter go through musical instruction brings those feelings back.
Last fall, after a mixed Suzuki violin experience, I decided to just let my daughter play violin with me at home, and to let her have piano lessons instead. I thought this would keep her "in the game" until next year when they start string instruction in her public school.
She's been happy with that plan, but her violin playing has really fallen off. She hasn't opened the violin case in over a month. On the other hand, she's been enjoying and practicing piano. She knows Minuet in G, both hands, by heart. She even plays "air piano" on the table and in the car. It seems to calm her and help her focus, among other things. She enjoys her piano lessons and looks forward to them, and frankly she's a lot easier and more enjoyable to listen to when she plays the piano. She plays piano for other people.
I'm glad that piano is going well, but I'm still fretting over the violin experience, probably too much. As far as I can tell, the desire to play violin originally came from her, but I guess it's possible she did it to please or be like me in some way, and if that's the case it's better she find her own, different, instrument.
I live in a pretty competitive parenting environment, grew up in one, went to an Ivy League school, currently work in yet another intense, highly competitive, academic environment, and am finding it close to impossible to muster up enthusiasm for any more achievement-oriented goal-setting, in any aspect of life. In fact, in darker frames of mind, sometimes I wonder if it's even worth exposing my kids to music lessons at all, given how contaminated it seems to be in our society with all that achievement and competition stuff.
Instead I'm still looking for that elusive balance to model for my kids so that they can enjoy music (and the rest of life) for its own sake and be happy with it.
A "cold" is too benign a word for what I just went through. "The sniffles." Bah. Who makes this stuff up?
But I'm finally feeling better, and I still haven't practiced. It's been a week. More than a week--who am I kidding? I feel like I'm emerging from a cave. At least it's sunny outside.
I also had an evaluation at work today, which went surprisingly well. Fortunately my boss didn't evaluate my performance over the past two weeks, which was close to non-existent. She was also realistic and kind, unlike the evaluation sheet she was required to fill out, that had items like: "Takes the initiative in setting ambitious goals and regularly achieves them. Consistently maintains high standards and frequently exceeds them . . . " Again, who makes this stuff up?
Dropping off the face of the earth for an extended period of time made me realize that I have to achieve a better balance, somehow, between everything that I'm doing and not doing. Getting sick may have, paradoxically, kept me from burning out. Practically every day I was calling someone and cancelling something. I was saying no. It got old. But it also felt empowering: No (cough cough). Really, no, sorry (cough, hack, cough cough). No to ambitious goals! No to exceeding high standards! No! No! No! (cough, hack, hack, cough, cough, cough).
I caught the virus from my 3-year-old, but I think it hit me so hard because I was feeling so stressed out in general. Reading these blogs, it's clear that I'm not alone. I read the article about Joshua Bell busking this morning and I thought about myself. Would I have stopped and listened to him? Probably, just because he's a violinist and I rarely if ever see violinists busking. But I might not have--I might have been so intent on getting home or to work early so that I could finish and get home early, trying to keep my mouth covered, coughing all the while. I deal poorly with interruptions under the best of circumstances, and under the worst . . . I've thought about that a lot in the context of ADD diagnosis and treatment, too. It's hard for me to focus in the best of times. Being sick (or hungry or tired) makes the ADD worse. Does this make me a bad person? A philistine? A "ghost"? Unable to appreciate beauty? And therefore somehow morally deficient?
Rather than thinking there's something wrong with the people who didn't stop and listen, I find it more fruitful to think there's also something wrong with the situation. I want to be able to lead a life where it's okay to stop and listen to a busker, where I don't have to "set ambitious goals and exceed them" on a regular basis.
I'm glad I have overall such a good job and boss. And to have the opportunities to make better choices. I'm looking forward to practicing again. Finally.
For the past couple of days, I've been sicker than I have been in years. I'm not sure which illness wins the prize, there was the bronchitis when I was writing my undergrad thesis, and something equally nasty when I was writing my Ph.D. thesis. And then there were a few when my daughter was a baby, brought something home from day care, and because I was breastfeeding I didn't feel comfortable taking any drugs, and I was miserable for a week. I had a flu shot this year. And my boss is sick too--she has "just" a sore throat. I don't have the heart to tell her that's how this started too. It seems harmless for a few days until it turns you into a coughing, sneezing, shivering, nose-blowing pile of jello. I didn't go in to work today and I'm not planning to go tomorrow, either.
So, I haven't practiced for 3 days now. I got my violin back from the luthier but don't want to touch it in my current state. He cleaned it, put new strings, bridge, and nut on it, and it looks really nice. I don't want to sneeze all over it or start hacking every time I play something (if I could even get out of bed and stand up long enough to play through a piece, which is sort of debatable).
I don't actually get sick that often, but when I do, it's a doozy. How do you manage to "practice every day" if you're sick as a dog?
Karen Allendoerfer is from Belmont, Massachusetts. Biography
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