October 2008

Re-defining Life

October 14, 2008 12:58

It was a terrifying moment.

I was literally one step away from putting my violin down and never picking it up again. One call to the symphony board to resign my chair, one call to my teacher to cancel lessons, and endless calls to back out of every gig I had scheduled from now through early next year. I was sick of sounding dry, unimaginative, and tense especially when I didn’t know why.

I knew I had been struggling for some time with motivation especially in practicing but this feeling went so far beyond that. I actually felt repulsed by the thought of even playing. So I stood there trying to figure out why on earth I would willingly torture myself for 20 some years and then have the audacity to convince myself that I liked it!

Being an impulsive person who often jumps headfirst into the shallow end of the “proverbial pool”, I have had more than my fair share of regrets. I believe that Heifetz once commented to a concertgoer who told him she would give her life to play like him to which he responded “Madam, I did!” I realized, thinking about that comment, that I was literally resenting my violin for the life I had led for the past decade.

Looking back, I had always been consumed with everything violin and I loved it. The rehearsals, music camps, new rosin and gadgets, lessons, performances, gigs and being on stage, even practicing – there was nothing I didn’t like about my violin. But, up until my college days, I was involved in a number of other activities as well – many that had nothing to do with music. Looking back my music making was effortless – I loved to play, was always improving in some way, and remember very little stress associated with those times.

But as any serious musician will attest to, it’s far too easy for other parts of life to be sucked into the black hole of our passion never to be seen again. Friendships, various hobbies, R&R time, and even families can and do suffer. For me, I don’t write anymore, swim, bike, hike, ride horses, read books or even curl up for a nap with my dog and cat on the carpet in a big, fat ray of sunshine. I’ve lost track of how many family events I missed because I was gigging somewhere. All but my closest friends have even stopped asking me to hang out with them because they know I’ll be “practicing”. But the crowning moment was when my eight year old nephew, who lives only sixty miles away, asked “Aunt Debbie” recently if he would see me again before 2009. He had been joking, but it hit me hard at how skewed my priorities had become.

It was with relief that I came to the conclusion that when I lost my (life) balance, I lost my passion. Ironically enough this was only reinforced in my mind the very next day as I was coaching a viola player recruited from the percussion section in a local youth symphony. As I tried various ways to show the student how to balance “left and right” hand technique and not get obsessed with one or the other, I couldn’t keep a rueful smile off my face for I’d found my answer.

Balance is critical - passion is a must, and obsession is a death sentence.

So here’s to slashing my practice time in half this weekend, hiking with my 10 lb fur-ball and reading a book afterwards while soaking my sore feet. I’ll be the loudest one cheering for my nephew in his first swim meet, and I’m going to learn to say no to gigs I don’t even need. My standard excuse is changing from “I can’t, I’m practicing” to “Sure, my violin needs a break…and so do I.”

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