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Looking down

January 9, 2011 at 4:33 PM

There´ll always be one moment from my violin life that´ll stick to my mind;

I was preparing a violin test and I had decided to play the 1st mvt. from Bach A-minor concerto as my baroque piece. I was looking for a good edition of the piece in the locla musicstore when a fellow violinist I knew from orchestra came and we chatted a bit. She asked what I was playing and I told her I was playing Bach as well as a hungarian dance by Brahms. The violinist looked at me with a mixed look of pity, self-satisfaction and snobbery. Then she told me breezily that her teacher had decided that she should play Mozart 5th. I then showed her the notes of the Bach concerto and she said she didn´t recognize it. She walked off and I felt like an idiot, holding my Bach.

Later that term she announced another violinist that her teacher had decided she´d play Mozart 5th instead of Mozart 3rd because the 5th one was harder and more virtuoso. It was not a coincidence that the violinist she spoke to had recently started to play Mozart 3rd.

I felt like an idiot play the Bach, compared to Mozart. But when I was telling other violinists aoout my repetoire they were all sincerely interested and we had a good time discussing our repetoire. Thoe violinists were all better than me and playing more advanced pieces but the crucial difference was that they didn´t look down on my repetoire. They didn´t feel self-satisfaction or were snobs about the fact that they were better than me. And I didn´t feel the least bit jealous that they were playing more advanced pieces than me. All the repetoire we had was interesting and challenging.

I have encountered  violinists that were great snobs about their repetoire and would look down on any piece of music that was not as "good" or "advanced" as what they were playing at the moment. But I have also encountered violinists that are very advanced and have not once looked down on repetoire that´s less advanced that what their playing or judged people based on their repetoire. And to me, that´s the spirit.


From Emily Liz
Posted on January 9, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Wow, that's so sad. Thankfully I've never had an experience like that. If virtuosos play and record Bach concertos today, to me that's a good enough reason to learn and enjoy them! I pity people who have this hang-up about repertoire difficulty. After all, as a great violinist proves, it's incredibly difficult to make even "easy" pieces sound beautiful!

From Malik Chaney
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 1:27 AM

 Yeah, I try to be like that, As someone that has accelerated pretty quickly through the repertoire, I'm really proud that I'm playing Viotti and Kreisler, but the only time I don're have the patience to deal with a fellow violin player is if they don't take the instrument seriously. And though I've never had such an experience, I was in the intermediate division at Interlochen last year, and a friend of mine was looked down on by all the other violinists (he was last chair 1st violin) because he didn't know the Mendelssohn violin concerto. He really ended up developing a bit of a complex about it and it's sort of upsetting to remember. When people ask me how I progressed so quickly (at a stretch, I can play the Bruch and a lot of the Mendelssohn without too too much difficulty) I just shrug and tell them that I work hard, and that anyone that works hard will have the same success.

From Casey Jefferson
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 10:39 AM

I'll feel greater by playing a less challenging, or less advance so to speak, pieces, beautifully that'll touch my audiences and shed some tears, than playing oh-so-bombastic pieces that doesn't sound anything special.

I'd giggle my way off when I see people trying to play those advance pieces and sound like they're struggling (and don't be surprised, many think they don't!).

From Manuel Tabora
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 3:19 PM

It's unfortunate that this kind of snobbery is actually rather common in the music world. This is just too bad because I think that, to be a successful professional (in any field) you must not only be excellent at what you do, but you must also be the kind of person that others enjoy working with.


From Janis Cortese
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 6:05 PM

I have to wonder at the musicality of any musician who looks down on Bach.

From Royce Faina
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 6:36 PM

This does happen! I have and have had it happen too me! Your attitude is a welcomed shot in the arm! Fortunately my teachers in the last 3 years have been very encouraging and helpful and expect only my best and that I show that I am putting whole hearted effort to be the best me that I can be. keep up the great work! oh, by-the-way... if you look up Bach's Partita II on youtube Pearlman is there playing it. Certainly not a Paganini Caprice but if it's good enough for him it's good enough for you & I!

From Juergen L. Hemm
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 7:26 PM

Oh my, what a strange attitude your acquaintance displays. As if the "worth" of a piece of music (who is able to define that, anyway) were in any way related to its degree of difficulty. Taken to the extreme, that would make "Twinkle" scratched out by non-violin-player randomly caught off the street more "valuable" than a Bach concerto played by a star soloist - since everything is hard for a rank beginner while an established soloist surely has mastered the (dare I call Bach "basic"?) basic repertoire.

That's exactly why my hat is off to Perlman for recording his "Concertos of my Childhood" CD (works by Rieding, Accolay etc.) with all the warmth, virtuoso technique and musical prowess that seem to come so easily to this gifted player. Any piece of music deserves the best interpretation possible.

Recently I went back over all the pieces my teacher selected for me over the several years that I studied with him. Much of what was once utterly challenging and often beyond my violinistic range has now become manageable. Some pieces barely, some completely - all I can now play a lot better than when I first tried to tackle them. However, not one has become boring to me or could be judged to have been a waste of time. Efforts I had to spend earlier on controlling intonation, changes of position, precision of rhythmic execution can (now that the technical demands have been mastered) be spent on vibrato, dynamics, improving the dialog with the musical partner etc. I don't see how this change in execution affects the "value" of piece performed.

From Janis Cortese
Posted on January 10, 2011 at 8:36 PM

You know, this attitude is part of the problem regarding (well, IMO) the dwindling of audiences in the classical music world.  It's a bad idea to play music just to elevate yourself in status above everyone else around you.  I mean, it's competitive of course, but it's not about the individual ultimately.  It's about the audience.  And audiences will not pay good money to go applaud someone who looks down on them.

A good musician will realize that they are good and be realistic about their talent.  A poor one will assume that everyone else stinks ... and that ends up coming out on stage even if they try to hide it.  "Get a load of me, you ignorant peasants," or some such.  Not a good attitude to have if you're on stage.  A better one is to share your gift with joy.

*off soapbox*

From Karis Crawford
Posted on January 12, 2011 at 9:16 AM

I like Janis' comments!

I was very lucky to have grown up in an encouraging musical environment.  I was definitely challenged and there was a lot of competition, but it was healthy competition and nothing like what you have experienced here!  I have to agree that whoever looks down on Bach should reconsider their thoughts!  I used to hate Bach.  I thought he was boring and tedious ... but then I started really working on and studying the solo sonatas and partitas, and they provide a wonderful challenge.  Some are much easier than others, but the control that you have to possess to be able to play even some of the easiest movements is remarkable.  Even Mozart has its challenges!

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