August 2013

On Tension

August 29, 2013 11:58

I care too much. It’s amazing how debilitating caring too much can be. If no one is listening, I can relax into the music I am playing – nailing the legato and staccato strokes, feeling emotion slide effortlessly from my bow to the strings. It sounds good, I think to myself. This, I can do.

My husband tells me he does not mind hearing me practice. That going over the same phrase 50 times until it’s in my fingers is a natural part of the process. Sometimes, I can play as if no one is there, even if I know he is on the other side of the wall in the kitchen, because he accepts and appreciates every noise as a necessary one. Seeing how tolerant he is of our noisy boys, it is easy to believe that he truly does not mind.

But if another person is added to the equation, the music falls apart. My mother is visiting, planning the construction of her new home nearby. Now she too is on the other side of the wall, discussing the pros and cons of brick versus stone facades with my husband, and I am so nervous that for 10 whole minutes I can only manage to get my violin to emit stutters and screeches as I quake in the effort not to embarrass myself. Which then, of course, I already have because I am so tense.

Logically, it would follow that if I want to sound good, the extra effort put in towards that end would translate to better music, not worse. But playing the violin is not logical. Effort tends to equal tension, and tension is detrimental to playing. At least it is that way for me.

I look forward to the day when I can care less, so that I can play better. Weird.

3 replies


No Regrets Jam Session

August 14, 2013 06:42

We are many. Roughly a quarter of my adult acquaintance has expressed a desire to learn an instrument, or to revisit a musical past. They all tell me how brave I am, and sigh in frustration over their own lack of resources. My words to them are always “try it anyway”. No regrets, right? I’d rather fail than regret that I did not try.

It’s not easy, picking up an instrument for the first time while trying to balance a marriage, family, career, and an active social life. I can see why so many choose to ignore that voice in the back of their head that says “do this”. I couldn’t. The drumbeat repeat of “do this do this do this” would not stop until I acknowledged it.

It can be frustrating. The world in general doesn’t seem take adult beginners even semi-seriously. I contacted three potential instructors before I found one who would entertain the notion. Private instruction has been fantastic, but then the adult student is generally left playing in a vacuum. Opportunities to participate in group playing appear to be limited to young people, or strong musicians looking for structure and acclaim. Sure, there are some informal fiddling sessions scattered around bars; and there are some camps and retreats dedicated to the adult amateur. These can be rather unattainable for someone with so many demands on their time and finances. And while I appreciate fiddle music, and occasionally attempt it (not very well, I’m afraid), my focus is on classical music.

I searched in vain for some kind of beginner-friendly opportunity to play with like-minded individuals, and found that my area doesn’t appear to have such a thing. At least, not one advertised in the media I have searched. Last year, in an attempt to create such an opportunity, I reached out to some musically inclined friends who were willing to give it a shot. Unfortunately, I set too heady a goal for which we were not equipped, and the endeavor fizzled after the first meeting. Ugh. Failure – but no regrets.

Then this summer I met some people like myself during a camping trip. For the better part of a week we met informally each day with no goal other than to attempt to play music together for an hour. We didn’t worry about playing to an audience. There was no expectation of a certain skill set. We just picked some likely pieces and played for the joy of it. It was one of the biggest highlights of my musical journey to date.

In order to recreate that experience at home, I contacted a group of friends on Facebook and suggested we try it. We met last night as an offshoot of a larger gathering. Again, the only goal was to attempt to play together and have fun. This time, it worked. Together, two violins, a recorder, a mandolin, and two vocalists sat at a table in the corner and made music. It wasn’t always beautiful, or on key, (heck, some of us had different versions of the music) but it was fun. So much fun, in fact, that several other musicians wandered up and asked if they could come next week. “Of course!” we said. “Come join the party.”

I’m not the right person to start a grass-roots program for adult amateur musicians. But a growing number of us are out there. You probably know a few. If you reach out, we will reach back. Opportunities are thin on the ground for those of us not in the rarified atmosphere of professional musical enterprise. Consider holding an informal jam session and see who shows up. You might be pleasantly surprised.

2 replies


The New Addition

August 7, 2013 06:02

I bought the vintage 1890’s violin. While its condition was more delicate than the others, and it was the most expensive option, the sound drove me to it. I simply couldn’t pass it up. What I’m finding, however, is that I have to develop my playing to a higher degree based on several factors. First, the new bow is heavier than what I was accustomed to. While this is a good thing, it means that I need to break the habit of leaning into the strings all of the time. The weight is in the bow, so I don’t need to add any with my arm except as needed for dynamic purposes.

Next, I need to ensure that I am bowing straight and a bit further from the bridge than I did with the loaner. This instrument is not as tolerant of my sloppy habits. I’m not sure why this is, but I speculate that there must be a subtle difference in string length since I’m also finding that my fingering is a bit challenged the higher up the fingerboard I go. At any rate, getting rid of sloppy habits is a good thing.

One nice change is that I don’t need to press the strings with my fingers as much to get a clean sound. I like that, because it makes it easier to play fast. My instructor says I already play too fast, so this development is both good and bad. I may be exchanging some bad habits for new ones.

Another nice thing is that, although it isn’t as loud under the ear, my family tells me it projects far better than my previous violin. It is nice having fewer decibels blasting into my head at practice time.

The most surprising development of all is the realization that now I need a second instrument. We travel and camp often, and this violin isn’t as indestructible as the last. Trust me, telling my spouse I needed yet another violin while he is still patiently waiting for an iPad was not a fun conversation. He took it with good humor though. Yup, he’s a keeper!

For now, I am working to improve my playing to the level where I can utilize the advantages of this new violin. With some effort on my part, I hope to be worthy of it one day.

2 replies


More entries: July 2013

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