July 1, 2012 at 12:51 AMI have found, with my students, that something very important for them is having the opportunity to play their instrument with other children, whether it's in Suzuki group class, school orchestra, youth orchestra or some other kind of regular playing situation. It's important for adults, as well, whether they are amateurs or professionals. If violin is just a solitary activity, it's hard to stay motivated to practice and improve. The problem is easily solved if you are in an orchestra, but it also may mean that you form a quartet, play chamber music, join in a Celtic music band, play at church -- there are many different ways to fulfill this near-universal need to make music with other people.
Do you have the opportunity to play in a group? And feel free to describe your group, or your feelings about this matter, below.
The orchestra program is called "New Horizons Orchestra", and I learned NHO has groups in several locations. The local one is run through Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana. It does have a "starting from scratch" level, but somehow I wound up playing with a group of string musicians who had either played in their youth and were returning to their instruments, or had started as adult beginners a few years before. The lower limit on age is 50. We have one member who's almost 90. The median age is -- mmmmm... not sure -- maybe upper 60's?
The director is a cellist who teaches both privately and in one of the local school systems. He's perennially over-caffeinated, and his resulting enthusiasm is contagious. The group's motto is "Your best is good enough!"
In the three "semesters" that I've been involved, we've worked on and performed Mozart, Brahms, Broadway tunes, hymns, and much more. When we resume rehearsals in late Summer we'll be working on a movement of the Elgar cello concerto. The rest of the semester's curriculum is still a mystery.
I never thought when I began playing with NHO that I'd become so completely enthralled with it, but it has become one of the great joys of my life.
Laurie, you must think I am weird, for me, it is this solitary activity that is the most rewarding and motivating factor that keeps my practice daily and improve technically and musically. I do play with others from time to time, usually when invited by others and rarely on my own initiative. When I do that, I learn certain things that I don't get by working on solo pieces alone. But the deep satisfaction always comes from working alone. When playing with others, I feel a lot of obligations to others that is social but is not always necessary musically relevant. I do enjoy that from time to time, but what keeps me going is that I can be left alone to work on the pieces that I really want to learn. In a sense, practice violin for me is not unlike doing yoga and meditation.
I LOVE practicing and playing alone, but without opportunities to play with other people, either in orchestras or smaller ensembles, I've learned that one runs the risk of becoming one of those who 'runs with scissors,' so to speak.
Currently I play at least once per week with a Scottish fiddling group and there are numerous 'jam sessions' available around town most days of the week. My classical Suzuki teacher also offers twice monthly all-student group sessions that have also proved very helpful. There is a chamber music class I'd also like to participate in but as previous posters have said - time is an issue. You have to make time for things you want to do, but even then there are limits if one is to maintain balance.
I know that too much ensemble playing without enough individual time can wreck havoc on playing: one's intonation tends to go sharp if too much orchestral work (in order to hear one's own instrument over the rest: I suspect that is one reason orchestral tuning keeps rising, at least in some groups); the finer edges of sound get lost; and there can be a loss of creative energy.
But to not enjoy playing in groups, at least once in a while, well...there's a very crude analogy available, but I won't employ it.
I like to do a lot of things alone, but perhaps surprisingly, playing violin really isn't one of them. I think my dislike of playing alone contributed to why I quit playing in the past, twice. This time around I started blogging on this site to combat isolation and keep me going, and that has helped (although I admit, I still find it a struggle especially during the summer when orchestra is not rehearsing). This fall will mark my 6-year anniversary of playing again.
At least once a week I go to bluegrass jams. Originally I got into bluegrass through my mandolin playing, although now I usually play fiddle instead.
One of these days I'd love to try playing in an orchestra, but given my schedule I don't see how I could squeeze that in along with everything else.
Playing with others is great fun, and good for developing your technique. It's best if you can play with people who are slightly better than you are - it gives you great incentive to improve.
I strongly recommend to anyone that they find others to play with. Every now and then everything clicks and the result can only be called magic. When you have one of those moments you realize exactly why you're going to all the effort. It really is worth it.
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