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Andrew Paa

Cruelty of the String

January 11, 2009 at 6:55 PM

The violin is a cruel, heartless instrument.  It sucks you in and brings you under a spell of complete lust.  It holds you there until the moment you can't stand it anymore.  You want to play it but feel as if your not worthy to wield it's immense power and infinite beauty.  Everyday you bring it up to your chin, in hopes that today will be better; that you will be able to make an at least presentable sound.  To your complete and utter dismay, you sound no better than you did yesterday or a week ago.  You put the violin down gently, though you are in anger at your own abitlies, since you don't want to damage the precious violin, the focal point of your lust. 

Currently, I am under my violins spell.  I love the sound, the feel, the look of violin and it's music.  I love to play it, to draw my bow across the taught strings to bring forth a new world of sound and colors.  I do not find myself worthy to play such an instrument for its beauty in both sound and appearance seem to ellude me.  I do not bring the violin what it wants, what it deserves.  I only bring to it mediocre playing.  My violin deserves better than me...perhaps it is time to let it have what it needs...

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on January 11, 2009 at 11:04 PM

Andrew, I understand you so much. The violin is the most beautiful but so so cruel thing! I am really attached to my violin and I often want to play a little after tough days and exams of sciences and maths and I come with many hopes and hope it will bring me this little sun in my life I need and ....  HORROR. I am so patient and gentle with my instrument but since it is not an live thing, it doesn't understand and surely not give it back! The violin is pittyless for those who are not perfectly suited for it. when you said it doesn't deserve you, I laught because I often say the same thing. My violin had a great opportunity that I will never have, it played with the Montreal Symphony orchestra and when I think it is in my poor hands now... lol I often think that I will just be the stupid one who will play my instrument only to bring it to maturity and that another one much more talented will really benefit of my beloved violin when I will die! But again, when I dissociate my emotions of my thinking, I think that any person with a good will to learn the instrument deserves a good violin and with this way of thinking everyone with a good will to learn is noble ennough for the violin!  But are we all crazy to want to play it and want to master it the best we can one day? I don't know! I guess not :)

good luck!


From Michael Divino
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 1:31 AM

I agree 100%

From Anthony Barletta
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 2:59 AM

Ditto.  The road to madness is paved with violins.  But what a ride!

From Benjamin K
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 4:48 AM

Maybe it's time for you to learn about and apply some positive thinking.

Do you really think that you do not make any progress at all? Over a week, over a month, over several months? None whatsoever? If that is truly so, then perhaps you need a different approach to practise, but perhaps you are just being too negative. Try to recognise your progress and use it to build up some more self confidence and a more positive attitude.

From Andrew Paa
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 5:50 AM

That's not exactly what this blog is's about the fact that I never feel like I can give the music my all because I never feel like I get it right.  I love the instrument and the music and I want to get it right for the sake of the music and the violin.  I wasn't intending for it to be about progress on the instrument.

From Benjamin K
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 7:01 AM

Well, you wrote that it frustrated you that you didn't seem to be able to play any different than the day before or the week before etc etc, that translates into "not making progress".

Besides, my point was that a positive attitude, positive thinking would likely have a positive influence on your playing, over time. Doesn't really matter if you call this progress or not, the end result should be that your play is going to change towards where you want it to be. The other point was that this may already be happening and you simply fail to recognise it, then if so, again being able to recognise that it does should also have a self-reinforcing positive effect. 

From al ku
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 5:20 PM

how about having fun with violin? ben is right, or we tend to feed into this viscious cycle of self-imposed anxiety and inferiority.  

perhaps violin is a conduit for us to learn about patience, or how to enjoy each moment, or find something enjoyable in each moment with what we've got.

From Andrew Paa
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 5:31 PM

Well, if you read the blog right before this one, you can see why I could be feeling this way because I may not be doing grad school auditions in favor of completely erasing what technique I have and rebuild a new techneique.  Essentially, it makes me feel like that 4 years of my life have been wasted because, without this change, I probably couldn't do what I want.  The work I'm about to embark on should have been started at my first lesson at Luther.  I'm ready to do the work though and am getting excited to do it.

From al ku
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 5:51 PM

well, you can bitch in the hole or climb out of it and blog about your climbing out process, grasshopper!

some have wasted 40 yrs and still march ahead!

and it seems that violin has nothing to do with relearning techs on it.

and if the original post was meant to be romantic with  a sweet and sour flavor,  apologize that i have missed the point.

From Andrew Paa
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 6:41 PM

Hey Al, that post wasn't a response to you.  You must have posted that right before I posted mine because I didn't see it, haha.  It was actually meant to be a tad sweet and sour and by a tad, I mean that was point, not that I feel inferior. 

From al ku
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 6:52 PM

i am kinda interested to hear what rebuilding tech really means here?  do you feel comfortable sharing some main areas?

on this site, i always get the feeling that violinists, those who are still alive:), always reinvent themselves day by day.  .  sounds like you want to redo in a major way.... 

years ago, pete sampres, the tennis guy, growing up with a 2-handed backhand,  took about 2 yrs to switch over to one handed backhand.  tiger in 2000, already number 1,  took a year or 2 to redevelop his swing and suffered in ranking for the time being.

even violinists i know redevelop bow grip, etc. 

still, attitude, however trite, makes the difference. 

From Andrew Paa
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 9:09 PM

Hm, well, he means essentially redevelop my entire approach to the violin.  Chosing figerings which require the least amount of removal of contact with the violin.  He worked with Heifetz for 4 years, so he's very much into minimal motion, economy of motion.  Really using the bow as an extension of the arm, moving the wrist a little to use a lot of the.  Using accents/emphasis to make up and down bows equal.  Better planning and getting what I hear to come out of intrument through a more solid and complete technique.  Really developing my left hand to play correct intonation on almost the first try.  Essentially, he wants to give me a soloists technique like Heifetz.  Heifeitz is known for telling students and people he heard play that they should be able to site read stuff like Paganini.  This is not to say that I haven't worked on these things before, because I have, but some of this stuff hasn't been emphasized, ie, the economy of motion.  I know, this all seems very basic, doesn't it.  Part of the problem is that, I can do this stuff sometimes, but its not consistent and we would work for consistancy and a mature, solid technique.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on January 12, 2009 at 10:22 PM


an awfiul lot of violinst haven`t got a clue about economy of motion...



From al ku
Posted on January 13, 2009 at 12:44 AM

andrew,  you are blessed heading in that direction.  don't worry, be happy and think and work hard:) 

in case you are not aware, most student readers here wish they can trade places with you for that kind of guidance!

From Benjamin K
Posted on January 13, 2009 at 2:31 AM

Yet, again, I am advocating positive thinking in relation to "relearning" your technique. I don't believe for one second that "unlearning" bad habits and "relearning" with better technique means that anything before has been a waste of time, nor do I believe it means starting from scratch.

We learn from our mistakes, most of the time we learn much faster and much more efficiently as a result of having made mistakes. It won't take you another four years to change your technique.

You will be doing this even faster if you tell yourself "I have come this far where others have given up, I will be able to master this new challenge as well, no big deal, I can do it!". That's what I mean by positive thinking ;-)

From al ku
Posted on January 13, 2009 at 3:59 AM

ben, i can't speak for andrew, but to me, high level violining is perhaps on some level like a horse race that goes on for 15-20 years.  the competitive nature of climbing the violin pyramid is understandably nerve wrecking.  detours are like facing bigger mountains of unknowns where the society puts so much pressure on maturing musicians younger and younger.  remember, andy grove of intel used to say, only the paranoid survives.  so, to give andrew the benefit of doubt, it is only human to mentally go through the stages, to come to terms stage by stage, and in the long run, i am sure he will be just fine!

the other element in the equation, often missing,  is someone that can mentor the student beyond violin playing,,,to prepare mentally for the tough road ahead.  beyond positive thinking, i am talking about positive living.  often, one cannot be sure or that lucky that the violin teacher can do both areas justice.  i think it is much tougher to prepare someone to be mentally tough in the violin arena than to teach someone violin per se.  it is a very very tough book!

From Benjamin K
Posted on January 13, 2009 at 7:50 AM

Al, I didn't actually mean to criticse him, I meant this to be supportive and reassuring, like saying "don't panic, you'll be fine as long as you don't worry too much".

I think you will find that those who are on top of that violin pyramid you describe, more likely than not, they will have gotten there as a result of positive thinking.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on January 13, 2009 at 3:20 PM

I agree with Benjamin K about positive thinking.  Thomas Quasthoff was a thalidomide baby, born with no legs and only stumps, with a few fingers, where his arms should be.  He is very determined.  Now he is one of the world's best baritone-bass singers.

Your blog leaves me with a lot of questions.  Have you had the same teacher for four years and never noticed until now that your playing style is bad?  Is it coincidental that your decision to tear it all up and start again is occurring at the time you should audition for grad schools?  I'm guessing that you are scared stiff of these auditions (everybody is) and you've found a way to delay them by four years.

Have you talked to your teacher about this?  He is the person who knows your abilities best.  I'm sure that he thinks more highly of you than you do.  You might also want to have a consult / lesson with another violin teacher, one you respect, and get another perspective on your playing.

I have a practical suggestion for you.  Keep a practice log.  Write down what you did, how you did it, areas you need to strengthen, and areas where you feel you're doing reasonably.  You must write at least one thing you're doing reasonably well every day.

From Andrew Paa
Posted on January 14, 2009 at 4:44 AM

I have gotten many perspectives on my playing ranging from much improved to not being ready for grad school yet; this came from lessons with old teachers to lessons with prospective grad school teachers respectively.  Also, this wasn't a sudden realization; I applied to less prestigious programs because I found out from the grad school teachers that I wasn't ready for their programs.  I had been advised by my summer teacher, who I deeply respect, that I may not be ready for grad school.  Also, my first teacher at Luther indicated that she wasn't sure if I was ready for it either.  However, my problem is that my technique is really quite unstable.  Somedays I'm right on, other days I can't even keep my hand on the violin.  People have off days of course, but off days shouldn't mean I can't even play the instrument.  Also, I know I've improved but it's not nearly enough to get me to where I want to be (I could barely play a scale in tune 4 years ago).  I should be better than most other people in the violin section at my school, but I'm not and most of the people ahead of me are not performance majors, nor are they music majors for that matter.  I have great respect for them though because they play and study just because they enjoy it so much.  I need a reliable, impeccable technique.  Also, I want to be the best I can at my instrument and if that means postponing grad school for a year so I can be ready and apply to some outstanding programs, then so be it. 

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