The Well Aging Fiddler: Juggling for 7 1/2 months -An Update.

January 4, 2018, 7:29 PM · So, now I’m 68 years old and in my eighth month of violin lessons. What amazes me most about this musical instrument is how completely unforgiving it is. Each day is like the first day, with the exception that I have an increasing number of previous days where I’ve worked on it, and so each day I know what to expect as I approach my practice routine. Left hand, right hand, left wrist, right wrist, left arm, right arm, fingers, shoulders, posture, the movement of the bow, the intonation with the fingers, interpretation of the music, it goes on and on and on.

If I were a professional violinist, and asked what Plan B would have been if the violin didn’t work out, I’d say juggling. It would work. Because, often while I’m practicing, looking at where the bow is going over the strings, listening to where my fingers land on the fingerboard, glancing at my right hand to make sure my pinky is curved, my thumb is bent, my left hand is relaxed, and so forth, I think of that juggler on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Remember that guy spinning all those plates? Remember how he got them all moving but had to move from one to the next to the next and to the next? Well, at this point in my first year, that’s how I’m feeling.

On those occasional moments – moments that are a little more frequent than they were a couple of months ago – I can get it all together. For a few Zen-like seconds I have everything in place. Only then can I sense where I’m going with all of this work. Of course, I don’t get to that point until I’m well over an hour into my practice session. None of this comes right away.

It’s like the instrument and I have to warm into each other, as if my mind needs to go into something of a trance, as if I need to let go and just let it happen without thinking.

A couple of weeks ago I hit a wall. I wondered where I was going with all of this. For a little over seven and a half months, 24 lessons, scales, arpeggios, finger studies, and 18 separate pieces of music, I’ve faithfully slogged along. The only people to hear me play all of these songs are my teacher, Mirabai Peart, and my wife, Juliana James. Mirabai has been supportive and detailed in her guidance. My wife has been supportive and encouraging. I think my greatest moments have been when Mirabai looks amazed at what I’ve done, and when Juliana has come into the practice room and had a surprised look on her face saying, “Wow! You’re really coming along!”

Even then, however, I’ve wondered about these tunes. What’s the point of all of this?

Then it struck me. I have to give a recital, and not just a tune or two. I have to get up in front of people I know and play just about every one of these songs. I need to get this out of me and into their ears.

So that’s what I’m going to do.

On May 15 I will hit the one-year mark of taking lessons. A that point, I plan to play for as many people as there are who care to listen. I want to play on a Sunday afternoon, in a public house, and let it all go out there.

Why not? What have I got to lose? Absolutely nothing! Look, at that point I will have taken lessons for just one year. Expectations will be low. They won’t be expecting all that much, and to brag a bit, I ain’t all that bad. I’ll have perhaps 20 minutes of material. People can eat and drink before the recital, during the recital, and after. This will be fun.

It’s January. I’ve got around four months to get this together. You’re invited.

Stay tuned!


January 5, 2018 at 01:57 PM · I have no doubt your performance will key up perfectly. I only wish I could be there in person to say “bravo, fiddler”

January 5, 2018 at 03:24 PM · Playing the violin requires more mental focus, at least to me, compared to piano (also play that). I'm not saying that piano is easier than violin, but it's much more forgiving compared to violin. Of course, piano has its own challenges. You are right on the ball. Great update.

January 5, 2018 at 05:05 PM · You are brave!! Or, very confident. I turned 69 in December and after 4 years of lessons (started after I retired as university prof), I still cannot perform in front of others, I still get nervous with my teacher! Congratulations, I’m sure you will play as confidently as you write!!

January 5, 2018 at 09:10 PM · I've only been 'playing' for one month (not non-stop,I have to eat sometimes) and I totally relate to what you say. In fact to me trying to hit, say, eight notes consecutively is like trying to catch eight flies!

As to your "left hand do this right hand do this etc etc" it reminds me of what top golfer Sam Snead said about having all those "must do thoughts e.g. swing back slowly keep left arm straight turn shoulders allow hips to turn etc etc - if you did the same when eating you'd stick the fork in your eye."

When a golfer is on the top of his game believe me when I tell you isn't thinking even one thought about technique, as above, and is focussed only on where he wants his tee shot to land to set him up for his second shot to the flag and to be in the right spot on the green for a birdie opportunity.

I'm hoping someone will confirm that once you have the basics 'right' and have the music notation in your head that, in golf fashion, you're playing as if on autopilot - or near to, if I've explained myself clearly?

Anyway, congratulations to you for what seems to me like great progress and you come across as an upbeat positive character you will achieve the level of success you desire.

January 6, 2018 at 02:58 AM · Thanks for your words of encouragement. I'll keep you posted in February, March, April, and May. This is going to be fun.

January 6, 2018 at 05:06 AM · Good on you Michael. What a growth process this violining has become for you :-)

As a relative beginner to teaching I see the parallels - you must get up and perform; I must commit to setting a date for my violin students to perform in a studio concert, the first of something that should be annual or even biannual. Your courage is somehow giving me courage :-)

January 7, 2018 at 11:19 PM · I'd make it biannual with your students. Also, my teacher has started a series of informal performances among the adult students. The adults are a little more hesitant about getting up on stage. The kids just do it. So, we started some informal showcases where we simply play for each other. It's fun and has been quite successful in overcoming stage fright.

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