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Music Lessons Instill Self Actualization

By Daniel Broniatowski
Watertown, Massachusetts
Published: November 23, 2014 at 15:22

Self-ActualizationDear music teachers, performers, students of music, and parents,

Today I approach you with a principle that is often so overlooked in our music lessons and practice sessions that it is akin to mistaking the forest for the trees. It is a principle so important and vital that it is perhaps the most positively life-changing benefit that learning and practicing a musical instrument brings to our lives, no matter what your age. This, my friends, is the principle of self actualization.

Self actualization, as defined by Wikipedia, "is a term that has been used in various psychology theories, often in slightly different ways. The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one's full potential. Expressing one's creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to society are examples of self actualization."

In other words, self-actualization is the inherent desire to use one's unique talents and abilities to to what he or she is meant to do on our planet and for each other. We, in the United States, often take this principle for granted, but such thinking is only but a recent development in the long history of mankind.

An intuitive teacher, who really is a mentor, knows how to bring out the qualities of each individual student in such a way that he or she feels empowered to realize his or her full potential. Of course, this can mean different things to different people. Two fundamental questions arise.

1. If a student is young, isn't he or she too young to worry about such a big concept as self actualization?

2. What if violin lessons (or any other instrumental lessons) do not fit into the big picture for a student's life goals? What if he or she doesn't wish to become a professional musician?

Both of these questions can be answered by one statement:

It's not the destination that matters, but the journey.

In other words, it is the process of learning that makes life meaningful. I don't care if my students are learning violin, math, science, or history. We all are born with unique proclivities in life toward various subjects and it is the process of learning that truly allows one to self actualize. If a student is gifted enough with the ability to derive benefit from music lessons, he or she is gifted enough to learn the principle of self actualization by harnessing this unique talent.

But wait, there's more!

Learning, for learning's sake isn't enough. Whether learning math or music, a student needs to apply the subjects to real life to make them truly meaningful and relevant. For instance, what use is knowing the periodic table of elements if one never intends to use the knowledge in a laboratory? Similarly, what use is it to spend hours in the practice room if a student of music cannot communicate with an audience?

Sure, there are known therapeutic effects of playing for oneself, in addition to studying chemistry (if that's what keeps you sane), but to achieve TRUE meaning in life, we must use our talents to better our fellow man or woman.

How can this be done? Well, this is where you come in, my dear reader. The answer lies in your unique situation. You might not yet know the answers, and that's ok. These answers get revealed over time and one thing's for sure - You cannot force the answers. Being impatient with oneself is certainly not going to help. Furthermore, finding meaning is a life-long process. I am convinced that a life of meaning and purpose is what ultimately makes us happy.

Here are some questions though, that could help you find YOUR musical purpose:

1. What are my earliest memories of performing/learning my instrument?

2. Who am I playing for when I'm on stage? or Who do I wish to play for on stage?

3. What do I believe music can do for humanity? There is no wrong answer, no matter how idealistic you might think it sounds!

4. What do I, as an individual, have that no one else has that I can contribute to society as a human being through musical or non-musical channels?

As you can see, it's all about the I-You relationship. I conclude with some wise words from the great ancient Rabbi Hillel the Elder who said "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?"

Daniel Broniatowski, D.M.A.
Maestro Musicians
Music to Warm the Heart

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Time-outs and Comebacks

By Karen Rile
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Published: November 23, 2014 at 07:59


One minute you're a violinist, practicing and rehearsing six days a week. Then, boom! A giant project gets dumped in your lap at work, or your elderly parent has a crisis, or it's Thanksgiving and 37 people are coming for dinner.

One minute you're the parent of a violin kid, and then boom! She breaks her arm in a fall from the uneven parallel bars, and it's six weeks or more in a cast.

When your routine gives you pleasure and purpose, being wrenched away feels significant. You worry you'll never return. Or that if you do return, you'll have lost your mojo.

When my daughter was eight I got a call from another parent telling me to come immediately to the emergency room of the local hospital. I arrived, heart banging in my chest, to discover that she was okay, except for a broken right arm. Her gymnastics coach, who knew she was a violinist, greeted me with the words, "I'm just afraid of what her violin teacher will say!"

My daughter was lucky. After a painful night, her arm was reset the next day in the operating room and we were told that in six weeks she'd be good as new. The problem is, she didn't want to be good as new. She wanted to be good as she'd been where she left off.

Six weeks is, of course, a very long time when you're eight. But the time-out also felt monumental to me, even though I was old enough to know a thing or two about the passage of time. I was worried that my daughter would lose all of her carefully earned facility on the instrument. Only practice on the days that you eat, my kids' first Suzuki teacher had intoned. What if she forgot all her skills and found herself back at square one, miserable and frustrated?

We had organized our family's routine around practicing, rehearsals, and lessons (not to mention 8 hours of gymnastics practice every week.) Now, all of that was gone. What would we do with the extra hours? After a few days we settled into our new normal of sleeping later, reading more, watching TV. It was relaxing, but I felt uneasy. We'd been on some kind of treadmill and now we were off. Was the violin-phase of our lives now over? (Gymnastics sure was, after that accident.)

Six weeks later, as promised, the orthopedist removed my daughter's cast and told her that it was fine to resume practicing; in fact, he said, the bowing motion would be excellent healing therapy for her arm. When we got home my daughter asked me to help her unpack her violin. Gingerly, she took up the bow, supporting her right arm with her left at first. Then I handed her the little instrument. Her sheet music was waiting for her on the stand just where she'd left it six weeks earlier. She placed it the on the string and began to play: a wobbly sound that grew slowly fatter. Tears streamed from her eyes. It was as if she'd never stopped.

I'd never wish a broken arm on any child, but for my daughter (and for me) the experience was a great lesson. Because everyone gets blindsided now and then, and it's good to know you can come back.

Over the years my daughter, like many violinists, has had a few of setbacks that kept her from practicing, sometimes for weeks. The timing was always terrible, often an injury as a result of over-practicing towards some goal, which would then need to be abandoned. Recently, she developed arm pain after practicing too hard in preparation for a competition at her college. The doctors told her the injury wasn't serious but prescribed healing rest. Her teachers and dean advised her to drop out of the competition. Forget it, they said. It's just a small blip in a lifetime of healthy playing. She knew that her teachers were right, but the time-out was more painful than the injury itself.

I'm sitting in my room and all I want to is practice, she texted me. That was a few weeks ago. Now her arm is healing and she's back. The disappointment is behind her.

A successful comeback after an unplanned hiatus give you courage to plan some well-timed sabbaticals. An occasional break from routine gives you the opportunity to rest, recharge, and to expand your mind in new directions. A couple summers ago my daughter had an chance to spend a few weeks backpacking in Europe after an orchestra tour. At first she worried about how she would manage to keep her instrument safe and to practice during her trip. The logistics of dragging a violin through a series of youth hostels and small aircraft seemed so daunting that she decided to leave her instrument in London while she traveled. It worked out fine. Within a month she was back in the US, refreshed and rested, and practicing again as though she'd never skipped a beat.

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In Memory of Virginia Baker, my Violin Teacher

By Francesca Rizzardi
Berkeley, California
Published: November 22, 2014 at 23:27

My violin teacher, Virginia Baker, passed away last Saturday. She was almost 92, so I had imagined that one day I'd be writing these words on my Violinist.com blog. But until today, I couldn't have imagined I'd write the rest of what follows.

She was my teacher for about eight years. As I was already 50 when I became her student, I realize now that she probably didn't expect that I would remain her student for so long. But I learned from her daughter, also a
violinist, that if I had started much younger, I probably would have already switched teachers as my development as a violinist dictated.

Virginia was also our neighbor, recommended to me by another musician neighbor. For a long time I wasn't sure she was a good fit for me as a teacher, but in the past few years I came to see how perfect she was for me--her
insistence on discipline, self-awareness, building a solid basis, and not forcing too much music theory on me. (But I did learn to appreciate the latter!)

We also had a lot of outside interests in common. Our extracurricular discussions sometimes stretched out the lessons. I welcomed these breaks as a chance to escape having to play because for a long time, I was afraid to play
at my lessons. Then one day I decided to just forget that I couldn't play as perfectly as I wanted. From then on we chatted less and I played, and advanced, more.

Virginia had all her "marbles" up to the end. The only "old age" impediment was that she had to have a hearing aid especially tuned for hearing music. One day she noticed a funny noise coming out of my violin. She said to me, "Do you hear it?" I had to admit that I didn't. After a little more listening, she said, "Just a moment ... Ah, it was my hearing aid!" (Whew.)

Virginia had a long, rewarding, career as a violinist. She told me many stories over the years but I don't have all the details straight so I won't try to elaborate. But she was approximately age 90 when she "retired" from the
Berkeley (California) Symphony and the UC Berkeley Young Musicians Program (YMP), where she taught every summer. Both of these were already retirement jobs. I know that she played for the Pasadena Symphony for a long time. In
her (much) later years, she had a few other beginning students and students from YMP, but I was the last one left.

Virginia's health failed quickly over the past couple months and she recommended another teacher to me. I've learned over the years that I need the violin in my life. I've also learned the hard way that the more I play, the more bad habits I develop without ongoing lessons. So I will move on.

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When a classical music concert stops feeling like one: Review of Ray Chen in concert in Melbourne.

By Daniel Tan
Melbourne, Australia
Published: November 22, 2014 at 23:03

This can also be read here at my personal blog.

Last night I had the absolute pleasure of attending the penultimate concert of Ray Chen's national recital tour of Australia with Timothy Young (Piano) in partnership with Musica Viva Australia. The warm wooden interior of the acoustically superb Elizabeth Murdoch Hall (Melbourne Recital Centre) provided an ideal setting for the two hour feast of repertoire to follow. (No literally, Ray described in concert how he sees concert programming like a multi-course meal).

Ray ChenAs someone who has attended many classical music concerts, and performed in many, the air of anticipation prior to this concert was like something I have never experienced before. The energy in the room before Chen and Young walked onto stage was palpable, the audience obviously eager to get proceedings underway.

The two walked onto stage to hearty applause before launching into the evening's entree (the leafy green salad as it were) of Mozart's Violin Sonata No.22 in A Major (K305). Whilst a very palatable opening, something about the choice of repertoire didn't seem to sit that well with me personally. There were many nice moments throughout, and both performers clearly seemed to enjoy themselves but despite this I was left a little wanting after it was through.

Luckily, the main course for this evening (Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No.2) proved to be a fully satisfying choice. This in my opinion is where Chen really came into his own. (This was made more interesting by the fact that I am also learning this sonata currently). The playing was diverse, exciting and had much variety of colour, musical idea and emotion. So much so I had to control my urge to clap after the first movement was over. The rest of the sonata proceeded in this fashion, and you could feel the entire audience along for the ride with the performers. The sonata concluded to thunderous applause bringing the pair back onto stage 3 times to bow before interval. In actual fact, I felt quite relieved at he end of this portion of the recital, realising only after this was because I pretty much held my breath throughout the entire sonata.

The after interval palette cleanser was Bach's Partita No.3 in E Major. This provided an opportunity for Chen to show of his sound and his Strad, and this did not disappoint. From the very opening of the Prelude, the audience was clearly taken by his warm and rich sound, which reverberated stunningly around the hall. Whilst his interpretation again did not quite do it for me personally; to sit and bask in his wonderful sound whilst watching his flawless string crossing and intonation was none-the-less very enjoyable. Again, this was rewarded by heavy applause and cheering.

Finally onto the dessert for the evening, a trio of Sarasate; including two of his Spanish Dances (Habnera and Playera) followed by the famous Zigeunerweisen. From the word go, it became evident that Chen and Young's virtuosic flair, combined with the repertoire choice would produce a very tasty dessert. Indeed none of the pieces left anything to be desired, with wonderful extroversion and risk taking combined with strong ensemble and technique. The applause became progressively louder as each piece concluded, with the cheering and applauding becoming a standing ovation at the conclusion of the revealed program. Upon conclusion of the third bow, Chen grabbed the mic to announce an encore; "if you can stand more Sarasate...". The audience went wild and the pair launched into Introduction and Tarantella. This was the first of what would be three encores for the evening (the other two being Meditation and Theme from Schindler's List). I'm fairly sure the audience would have kept spurring them on to play more if they had been able to, but sadly after the three encores were through, it seemed like our concert was officially over.

At this point, it would be remiss of me not to applaud the wonderful work of the pianist Timothy Young who proved a worthy partner for Chen, matching him in his virtuosity, flair and technical security. His playing had the perfect amount of sensitivity and the two clearly have a wonderful partnership (both onstage and off-stage). This was further evidenced in the post concert Q&A which was well attended.

There are a few other things well worth noting. Firstly, it is clear how effective Chen has been in galvanizing a younger audience to see classical music live. The audience was significantly younger than I'm used to seeing at other similar concerts and Chen was mobbed after the Q&A for photos and signatures (myself included). The second, is how charismatic he is both on and off stage. Whilst his playing clearly connected with everyone in the audience, the portions of the recital where he interacted and bantered with the audience removed any sense of pretense or snobbishness. With the audience's cheering and thunderous applause at the end, begging for more encores, I no longer felt like I was at a classical music concert. Everyone felt free to enjoy themselves, the music, his awkward humour and the incredible atmosphere at the end. It was thoroughly refreshing.

I greatly admire what Ray Chen is doing for classical music in making it more accessible for people. Not only does his playing deliver in a major way, but so does everything else about his personality and off-stage efforts. I thoroughly enjoyed this concert and will jump at any future opportunity to see him live again!

Chen and Young answer questions post concert.

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