Most of us have been in quarantine for about two months. And many musicians around the world have been struck by the loss of performance opportunities, in-person classes and rehearsals, etc. But as a violin student, I have found that quarantine has nonetheless been spiritually enriching.
I suppose that many practitioners of music -- or anything, really -- have experienced along their journey a certain apathy. Bombarded with performances, audition dates, demand to practice, many of us might forget the very reason we’ve picked up our instruments in the first place. This experience is true to me.
Before the quarantine, I’ve been starting to get bogged down by deadlines. Way-too-long practice sessions adjoined by academics -- I was desperate. Practicing lost its original joy as I faced the necessity to “get something done,” and subsequently entered into an unproductive death spiral. I started to focus on the outcome rather than process, and learning techniques/ passages became matters of mindless tasks racing against the clock.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with hoping to improve. But being too anxious to improve is different: The idea that during a practice session one’s mind is filled with anxiety, eyes darting towards the clock every fifteen minutes or so, instead of fully focusing on the instrument is not only counterproductive, but also dangerous. An activity that was previously done for fun suddenly becomes a matter of cramming.
So this is why quarantine is beneficial: all deadlines, performances suddenly vanish, and one is left -- one again -- with their own instrument and peace of mind. In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, the flow experience as applied to violin -- when you’re so focused on the sound, vibration, musical passage that you forget everything else -- is not only when you improve the most, but also when you are the most happy. It’s a concept that I’ve forgotten about, and which can be enlightening for both starters and current students amidst quarantine -- where we are able to truly explore process over outcome because we are not in demand of doing anything.
Thus, after a short hiatus in practicing, I’ve come back to playing the violin with a new mindset: It is in thinking about not accomplishing anything that you accomplish something.
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