The amateur's bucket list

December 26, 2017, 7:47 AM · There's a new article in the New Yorker that I found particularly touching: LINK (For those with print copies, it's called "The Virtuoso".)

It tells the tale of an early Facebook employee, Eric Sun, who is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in his early 30s, and sets out to essentially fulfill his amateur-violinist bucket list before he dies.

His list includes playing with an orchestra as the concertmaster; playing a concerto with orchestra; playing the first violin part to the Mendelssohn octet; playing all the Bach unaccompanied sonatas and partitas; learning all the Paganini caprices; and probably a few more things I've forgotten.

It's worth reading; it's a touching story. I think some bits of it seem exaggerated for effect, but still, a nicely-done story from a mainstream magazine. (In particular, I found the "no amateur violinist would be able to play the Fiddler on the Roof opening written for Isaac Stern" claim to be strange; there's no shortage of amateurs in the Bay Area who are perfectly capable of doing so.)

Makes me curious, too: What would your bucket list be?

Replies (32)

December 26, 2017, 9:36 AM · My glioblastoma bucket list is: Get my affairs in order as cleanly and quickly as possible, and then die in like manner. Extending one's life through Herculean medical treatment in order to accomplish A, B, and C may be fine for some, but it's not for me.

Also, nothing against Eric Sun individually, but 99% of people will not be able have his kind of bucket list because they don't have his kind of money.

December 26, 2017, 9:47 AM · This was Yixi's thread: .

But regardless, I think my ultimate "take" on the piece is the power of "WILL," of how much a person can accomplish if by first "willing" the result and then doing the work to get there.

December 26, 2017, 9:49 AM · Yes Andrew, as usual I agree with you.
Edited: December 26, 2017, 10:23 AM · I agree with Andrew. My take on the work is how to live to the fullest during one's end of life.

Lydia, with great respect, I wouldn't view his action as a matter off ticking of his bucket list. Sure, to be fully alive till the end, one may have some lists and plans, but it's a lot more than that in this story that is what moves me. I'm sure you'd agree that his will to live and in some sense to transcend death can't be reduced to a list.

December 26, 2017, 10:13 AM · I would love to just always make progress and play the pieces Im assigned with control, awareness and a beautiful tone. If i get to Bach S&P's I will be happy...then my next goal would be to play better than Milstein haha ;)
December 26, 2017, 10:43 AM · It's so hard to know, isn't it? And depending on the cancer, violin may be the first thing to go. If I had all my mental and physical faculties under control, I'd probably choose to keep going in my current life as long as possible. Maybe spend more time volunteering in the classroom, and visiting friends in far places. As a mother, I don't think a violin bucket list would rank very high on my list of priorities--that kind of practice would take a lot of time that I could be spending playing games and biking with my 10-year-old. But I'd probably try to play weekly chamber music as long as possible, and maybe play one more orchestral concert, especially if it included Brahms, Mahler, or Beethoven.
December 26, 2017, 11:10 AM · LINK:
December 26, 2017, 1:04 PM · Do your best. No reason amateurs should NOT play advanced works because "they are not supposed to". A violinist is a violinist, pro or amateur. Let them play whatever they can do justice to, and keep moving forward.

I agree, the gentleman was well-off, and getting advanced level lessons twice a week is something many "normal" amateurs can't afford (or have the time for, regarding that matter). Yet he could have just let go of that Dream all the same, rich or poor. (Also, he did more than just play.)

I hope I don't offend anyone here, but I think said "rep bucket lists" are admirable, and can push the amateur towards higher echelons of violin-playing.

Also... there's no problem with amateurs aspiring to master the "top" technical works. It's a false assumption that players MUST be conformist just because they are not professionals. Nothing wrong in NOT aspiring to doing so either, as the repertoire is immense enough to keep players playing at different levels, probably for more than one lifetime. But why not Ernst or Beethoven Vln Cto (for musical depth), etc.?

(My advice would be, have a plan and go for it. Don't tarry or wait until dire circumstances, if you have "difficult" rep in your "bucket list.")

December 26, 2017, 2:08 PM · Sorry, didn't mean to start a second thread on the same article! I somehow didn't see Yixi's post before I started this thread. (The threads are taking different directions, though, so it seems to be okay.)

The advantage to the Bach and Paganini works chosen is that they're unaccompanied. Ernst would be unaccompanied as well, but represents a higher technical hurdle than most of the Paganini Caprices.

December 26, 2017, 2:22 PM · Mine keeps changing as I grow as a musician and learn new things. Being the concertmaster of an orchestra was on mine for a while; then I was concertmaster of the community orchestra I was in for several years. I'm very glad I did it and had the experience. It was exhilarating, I learned a lot, and the confidence I gained was priceless, but there were also more administrative duties than I expected. And it was sometimes more pressure than I wanted or was comfortable with.

Then I moved and I am not in a position to be concertmaster anymore because the orchestras here have more accomplished players. I've started playing the viola regularly and playing more chamber music, so now I have viola pieces and chamber music pieces on the list. I've also been principal viola on occasion, and that's about the right amount of responsibility: some, but less than concertmaster.

I continue to want to play all the Beethoven symphonies, but I don't know when/if I'll get a chance for #4 and #8. I've played all the others, but those two are not often programmed, especially by community groups.

One thing that would be cool is to see if I could perform the violin 1, violin 2, and viola parts to a major work. So far I think I've only done that for Dvorak's 8th symphony. It was fun though, and it gave me a unique perspective on the piece that I treasure.

I think I would just keep on keeping on as long as possible, learning new things and playing music I loved with people I loved. My violin hero is the former concertmaster of my old orchestra. She was in that orchestra for ~78 years, retired at age 95 and passed away at 96. She was concertmaster for 50 of those years, and during that time raised money at concerts for the troops during World War II.

December 26, 2017, 2:34 PM · My bucket list is fairly typical I think for an amateur: play a 'major' romantic concerto decently (not hacking through it nor assuming a very fast tempo), play Bach's Chaconne and other if his beautiful partitas and sonatas, and play many of the best chamber music out there as 1st violin.

Hindrances: achieving quick solid double/triple stops and fast, stratospheric notes. All in tune of course.

December 26, 2017, 2:41 PM · Okay, not assuming imminent demise, mine is pretty typical as well: achieving enough technical proficiency to play all solo Bach, with all the implications this would imply vis-a-vis other repertoire. (Not Paganini, maybe, but facility with most chamber and orchestral parts, mid-range romantic concerti, etc.) But at present I'm doing little to advance that goal.
December 26, 2017, 3:13 PM · Lydia, no need apology. I'm glad we can have different discussions about Eric's story. Personally, I don't believe in bucket list chiefly because I'm no longer goal-oriented but I became more of a system-oriented person. I know what will make me thrive so I look for a proper system to put myself in to maximize meaningful existence, during each phase of my life. Right now, it is attending conservatory to brush up my orchestra experience and learning theories. Next year, I hope to get into a violin performance diploma program in a local college. I don't need the diploma, but I think the structure and the rigor of the music learning in this way (and among young aspiring musicians) should bring something very worthwhile in this stage of my life.
Edited: December 26, 2017, 5:05 PM · Play (at a decent level of musicality) all of the Bach, Telemann, and Reger solo string works on violin and viola; as well as the cello suites on viola, cello, and bass (arranged as necessary.) Be able to sight read all four more fluently in all clefs and registers well enough to read 20th century (a)tonalities- I’ve never had perfect pitch.) Don’t know that Paganini would ever be within reach. Play cleanly in the stratospheric first cello parts in the Boccheirini quintets. Play all four instruments well in good local community orchestras in the same year. Learn baroque violin and read through the Corelli sonatas with period musicians.
Play Bach and Faure on a real church organ. Play the Goldberg Variations at a little less than Gould tempo.
December 26, 2017, 5:25 PM · I agree that there is plenty of room for two threads connected however loosely by that same article. I will observe that there will be many possible responses to such an article... it was written, after all, for that very purpose. Some see pragmatism where others see poetry. That's okay.
December 26, 2017, 5:27 PM · I would probably try to learn all the advanced repertoire & just enjoy playing rather than aiming for perfection. However, if death were that imminent, spending time with family would probably rank higher than violin.

His mindset on "not taking the time you have for granted" is inspiring.

December 26, 2017, 9:53 PM · Absolutely, Gemma
December 26, 2017, 11:45 PM · Perform the following WITH orchestra:
-Prokofiev's First Concerto (learning next year!)
-Ravel Tzigane (learning next year, using for solo competition w/ youth symphony!)
-Shostakovich's First Concerto

Perform the following IN orchestra:
-Shostakovich Symphony 10
-Brahms Symphony 1
-Mahler Symphony 6

Perform the following in a chamber ensemble:
-Schnittke Concerto Grosso 1
-Entire Shostakovich Quartet Cycle
-Entire Bartok Quartet Cycle
-Entire Hindemith Quartet Cycle
-All Late Beethoven Quartets

December 27, 2017, 1:30 AM · My family knows that before I pass I want to play "Rhapsody In Blue" and own a Mercedes SL650. So far so good.
But for now, I practice daily on keyboard, trombone, trumpet, clarinet, oboe, alto and tenor sax, mandolin and cello so that I can record "Moonlight Serenade" and dance with my wife.
December 27, 2017, 2:19 PM · Sorry if this is going too far off topic, but do you think someone can be both an amateur and a careerist? What I mean is, could a conservatory student branch off and play 'fun bucket list repertoire' in their spare time, and not have it impact their formal training?
December 27, 2017, 2:33 PM · A conservatory student's repertoire needs and flexibility will probably depend on where they are as a player. Someone prepping for a solo career, for instance, can and should learn "fun" things that will appear on their future recital programs, and that repertoire is likely to be part of their formal training. (My teacher, a soloist, has a staggeringly huge repertoire, for instance -- much like Ms. Matesky's list, minus the orchestral works.)

A student whose practice time needs to be solidly concentrated on their pedagogical repertoire and technical work probably can't branch off as readily. Also, the less well-formed their technique, the larger the time investment they have to make to learn something in the first place.

December 27, 2017, 2:37 PM · If I knew my time was coming up, I would be more concerned with destroying the people on my enemies list. Maybe it's time? Tomorrow is not promised after all.
Edited: December 27, 2017, 2:46 PM · I have already mentioned my "goal pieces" elsewhere on the forum, but here goes again:
Enescu Impressions d'enfance
Lalo Symphonie Espagnole
Bruch concerto
Telemann's 12 Fantasias (1 soon to be "completed" in terms of learning - maybe - woot!)
Roumanian Folk Dances (soooo close to being "completed" in terms of learning!)
Bach Sonatas and Partitas
Now that I have a copy of it, the Paganini Caprices - as many as possible, why not?
Some more modern work, Dutilleux, Ratauvaara, etc.
Ravel Tzigane (I love how gloriously over the top it is.)
December 27, 2017, 2:47 PM · You're right, I could've phrased that more clearly. What I meant was can a serious student also have violin as their hobby, in the same way amateurs do (in addition to their formal training).

Thanks Lydia, that makes sense.

Paganini Caprice 24 is on my list

December 29, 2017, 8:51 PM · My violinist bucket list is rather typical. I would like to be able to play in all positions with vibrato, be able to play "Flight of the Bumblebee" and "Pirates of the Carribean" (I know its spelled wrong, sorry) solos decently and play in a chamber orchestra or a small group with my best friends. Very mainstream, sorry.
December 29, 2017, 11:20 PM · Gemma, there was an interesting thread relatively recently on why many professionals don't play much, if any, chamber music for fun. That applies to learning repertoire for fun as well, and I suspect it applies to a lot of pre-professional students as well as actual pros.

I think there's both a time component and a professionalism component. Many pros are so busy that they want their spare time to go to friends, family, and other components of work/life balance. Also, many pros are concerned with their reputation, which means that they do not want to present any kind of public performance that isn't up to the playing standard that they feel is expected of them -- which often means that they don't perform "for fun".

I sometimes think that players with professionally-marginal skills might have a better life in music as amateurs -- where they're free to play what they want, whenever they want, without needing to worry about how it will affect their ability to earn a living.

December 30, 2017, 9:38 AM · If I knew my demise was imminent (well, even more imminent than it already is...), I sure as hell wouldn't waste what time I had left practicing the violin.

Bu that's just me...

December 31, 2017, 2:30 AM · Isn't there a difference between a bucket list (essentially do-able without over-stretching the imagination or breaking the budget) and fantasy fiddling? Not possessing a magic wand I'd like to spend my dying days playing second violin on a top-flight instrument in a top-flight (and highly tolerant) string quartet.
Edited: December 31, 2017, 6:33 AM · I agree with Steve, but I'd be playing viola.
December 31, 2017, 6:44 AM · My Grandfather told me that he would call me a violinist when he heard me play the HOT CANARY. LOL Vietnam ended that idea for me. But his favorite piece was MELODY IN F which I did play for him while he was in his death bed.
December 31, 2017, 7:00 AM · unrelated to violin, but if I would be diagnosed with a terminal disease I would probably quit the violin or at least stop setting any violin goals anymore, instead make a bucket list of people I still would like to see and have a nice chat with before I die, and start checking off that list.
January 1, 2018, 6:57 AM · Jean, I agree with that. For me, however, the bucket list is not so much something you start when you know your time is coming to a close as much as it is what you work towards now, assuming that you never know when it might end. For me, don’t wait for retirement if you can work on it now. I’ve known too many people who either didn’t get there or were limited when they did.

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