March 2011

Working or playing the violin?

March 14, 2011 02:10

It is monday morning. I am in the Theater in Basel. Normally I would have no chance on getting a practice room at this time on the 12th floor, but today I am lucky. It is "Fasnacht" in Basel and there is nobody practicing today. The Basler call Fasnacht the 3 most beautiful days of the year. Thousands of people belong to a clique, and like a traditional carnival, they are all in costumes. However, there is one really unique tradition: the Morgenstraich. At 4 am (no, I did not mess up pm and am) all the lights in the inner-city are turned off and thousands of people walk with huge lanterns, as well as little lanterns on their head. But even more impressing: they all play either the piccolo or the drum. Imagine thousands of little flutes, walking through the streets, accompanied by this rhythmical drumming. It is quite something spectacular. And although intonation or rhythm do not always have the highest priority, people have loads of fun "playing their instruments".

I am sure, that these people do not spend hours practicing with metronomes or tuners. They spend their time making music, enjoying playing together and being excited about the upcoming Fasnacht. It does make me wonder what happened to a lot of musicians and how it applies to myself. If we look at a youth orchestra, we see these youngsters sitting at the tip of their chair, hanging on to the conductor as if their life depended on it. I remember a concert where the string orchestra I was playing in, performed a wonderful Verklärte Nacht, and many of us played with tears in our eyes. However, looking to professional orchestra's, we often don't see people play their instruments, but "work their instruments". 


What happened? Where did we loose the joy of playing, like the joy that the people here at the Fasnacht, or like children are having? Somewhere along the line tuners and metronomes become more important. Maybe we had a teacher who would yell at us for playing the wrong note, a conductor who would tell us the entire section sounds like flushing a toilet (I am not joking, this has happened), our stand-partner next to us ran off with our life-partners (have heard more than one story about this), we have bills to pay, pensions to be build up, children to raise, etc. etc. Basically: life catches us, and we loose the ability to play. 


The sweet barista at Starbucks handed me a book last week, about creating motivating workplaces. One of the first things they talked about is about creating a playful environment. And I realized why we musicians have the best job in the world. It is our daily work to play. Play the violin, play the cello, the bassoon, whatever. We play with Beethoven, Mahler, Bach, Wagner. And then we rehearse to play together. But how many of us think that playing together means not being too late or too early, in tune with the others. But when we play, really play, don't a lot of those problems get solved automatically? If we play with our children and throw a ball, we don't think about catching the ball at the right moment, with the right hand. We just catch and when the ball drops, we smile and try again. We don't yell, we don't curse, we don't turn off. We run after the ball and go on with playing.


I have to go practice. And when it is out of tune, I will smile and try again. And I will keep smiling, even if it doesn't go as fast as I want. Because I do not "work the violin", no I PLAY the violin!!!



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