The Well-Aging Fiddler: When More is Less

May 21, 2018, 8:08 AM · I did my self-directed and promoted first year recital. Lots of people came. The venue was wonderful. The service was friendly and quick. The pizza was delicious. Everyone was in a great mood, conversation was active, people mingled, and it was like a party.


I did what I said I’d do. I played 20 songs in 20 minutes. I did a couple classical pieces, some Celtic music, Irish music, American fiddle tunes, a couple of pop songs, and even “Twinkle, Twinkle” just for the heck of it.

That’s the good part. Now here is the rest.

If I’d stopped at 8 or 9 minutes it would have been fine. If I’d stuck to the handful of songs I could really pull off, it would have been modestly impressive. If I’d left them wanting more it would have been good.

But I’d reached too far. In my desire to perform virtually every song I knew I’d stretched myself, and my audience too thin. I forgot a basic truism. Leave them wanting more. I’d gone and given them the whole kitchen plus the sink, garbage disposal, and compost. Plus, a solo first-year violinist playing for 20 minutes without an accompanist is a bit much for anyone.

Ah, hindsight.

I should have listened to my teacher. She told me to only perform those pieces I felt really good about playing. She was right. Unfortunately, she and I haven’t been able to get together for six weeks. She has been on tour in Europe and when she returned her health took a nosedive and she’s been quite ill. Although we’d planned to get one or two lessons in before my recital, we were reduced to emails and text messages. She wasn’t well enough to come to my recital. Although she cautioned me about doing all these songs I didn’t listen.

So that’s it. Bad timing, circumstances beyond anyone’s control, and a little hubris can warp the mirror.


Alas, this wasn’t the triumph I’d presumed it would be. I didn’t feel the wash of thunderous applause. Flowers were not tossed to the stage, agents didn’t come begging me to sign contracts, there were no recording deals, and my tactful audience was gracious, and honest. They were polite in their comments. Indeed, I did not hear the phrase, “That was good,” and if I had, I wouldn’t have believed it. I knew it didn’t go as completely as I’d assumed it would go.

So how does a person bounce back from something like that? How does a person deal with an experience that did not evolve as assumed and hoped? How do people get through bad reviews?

Just let time pass. It will hurt for a little while, but not forever. This isn’t the end of the world. As the great British actor, John Gielgud once said, “A bad review will ruin your breakfast, but not your lunch.”

Feel free to lick your wounds for a little while, but don’t get obsessive about it.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and the evening drowning myself in two ice cream bars, and a bowl of popcorn while binge watching reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Why not? If this wasn’t a great excuse to blow off my diet, I don’t know what is. This might have been a great time to get loopy, but I don’t like drugs. Marijuana? Forget it. I just get paranoid and sleepy, so what’s the point in that? It’s little more than an expensive nap as far as I’m concerned. While I do like a glass of wine, I learned long ago that drinking alcohol when feeling down is a really bad idea.

I’ll stick to ice cream and popcorn.

It’s now the next morning, and I’m fine. In the long run it’s just a matter of perspective. There is little to be gained from Monday morning “what if’s” and so on. Simply learn from what happened and move forward.

Also remember – while it may have been a big deal in my own head, to my audience it was only part of the experience of meeting some great people, having some laughs, and listening to a little music for 20 minutes while waiting for the pizza to arrive. Not a bad way to kill a couple of hours.

So, for the next time:

  1. Listen to the teacher.
  2. Just because you can get through it, doesn’t mean you can actually do it.
  3. Less is indeed more. One well-played song beats five dubiously played songs.
  4. Keep a sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and let it go.
  5. Remember to tip your server. That poor woman was expecting a sleepy afternoon, and then we showed up and had a party. I gave her an extra $20.

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May 21, 2018 at 04:28 PM · 65 here, I started playing about a year and a half ago, know probably 10-12 songs, but not ready to perform for an audience, however , you are an inspiration to people like us, thank you for your story.

May 21, 2018 at 06:41 PM · At 69 and violin playing for four years I still haven't been able to take the leap and perform in front of others, however that day will come ( someday soon I hope)! Thank you for sharing, you are indeed an inspiration!

May 22, 2018 at 12:02 AM · Thanks for the inspiration, Michael! I appreciate your sharing of lessons learned.

I started violin just over 3 years ago and could not yet play anything for an audience. I took 3 lessons about a year and a half ago, but otherwise self-taught (so far). What I play is not yet music but I detect huge progress since starting, and I'm confident I'll be a decent amateur musician someday.

Right now I'm hacking away at some Corelli and Handel sonatas, and one by William Croft and the easy Vivaldi concerto in A minor. My son is a pretty good musician, and he will play harpsichord and organ voices on his electric piano and together we will eventually present a little baroque program to family and friends as my first concert. Hopefully in December but, as you recommend, not until I'm really ready to play the pieces as real music....

May 22, 2018 at 01:16 AM · As always you are so right, and your advice applies to everybody, from beginner to professIonal. I like your posts. Keep writing here please :-)

May 22, 2018 at 01:38 AM · Suzanne! Will!!

Do this. Just find four people you know and play for them. Just do one or two songs. That's it. (Trust me, 20 is a bit over the top.) Then do it again. Little by little these little performances will get you out there. Thanks for the kind words, I appreciate it.

May 22, 2018 at 02:24 PM · This is a great lesson to learn, not just with quantity but with level. The worst audition of my life, which had long-term negative consequences, went as badly as it did mainly because I played too difficult of a piece. I'd been playing for 10 years by that point and should have known better but I was a stubborn teenager. Having this lesson now at the beginning of your performance career, when you are old enough to appreciate and process it, is very valuable. You'll move on to bigger and better things!

May 22, 2018 at 08:36 PM · Nice post.

May 23, 2018 at 08:41 AM · Michael,

Well done!

You did NOT fail. You've come a long way in a short time and you had the courage to come out from the shadow into the light and put your talents on show. Thay my friend is - victory. Always do the thing you fear and the fear diminishes and disappears.

AND you've been honest and learned valuable lessons in the process.

Great stuff.

May 23, 2018 at 03:50 PM · Thanks, Karen, David, Will, and

Another insight I had to all of this takes me back to when I was an English and Theater teacher. I often taught the same course two to three times a day. Usually, these classes were back to back. When I wrote a new lesson, I'd teach it to my first period class. If anything didn't work, I'd edit it out for the following classes. Subsequently, the second and third classes always got a tighter, more focused, and confident lesson. If I look at my recital last Sunday as a first period class, I would have edited out half the songs and the whole thing would have flown much better in a second recital. Since I didn't get that opportunity, I created a set list for the imaginary second class/recital that never happened. Then, yesterday afternoon I threw the windows open and played. It went well.

May 23, 2018 at 06:05 PM · I'd say just going out and playing in public was a pretty significant success.

Looks like you've learned something, too, which at this early stage is really more important than how well you played at your recital.

May 24, 2018 at 08:15 PM · It takes something to play for an audience - of any size. I have only performed for wife,two sons and my dog. The dog is the toughest critic-he leaves the room when I play double stops or octaves. re-learning from scratch when 85, I"m still at it at 92.


May 26, 2018 at 10:22 AM · Every dog who has heard me play viola has left the room when I play, no matter what I'm playing, and they never return until they see the viola is back in its case. Given the level of orchestra I've been playing in lately, either they don't like viola at all or they expect fully professional-level playing.

May 26, 2018 at 10:10 PM · Michael, in some ways you could look at your recital as a success. You learned something, and no one threw anything. :)

Thank you, as always, for your fun posts.


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