July 2015

Going on a Bear Hunt

July 9, 2015 12:26

“We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared. Uh-oh, a river! A deep cold river. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it. Splash, splosh! Splash, splosh! Splash, splosh!”

bearThat is an excerpt from one of my kids’ favorite books when they were little. We read it so many times that we memorized it and would holler out random lines during the day just to make each other laugh. If I had to, I could probably still quote the whole thing (along with “Fox in Socks” to tell the absolute truth).

I like to set goals. As a “type A” listmaker, goals are important to me. Rather than showing me how far I have to go, goals generally give me incentive to improve and grow so long as I set reasonable ones. The only time when that works against me is when the timeframe to reach those goals extends too much past my original outline. Each goal is a bear hunt, and the obstacles are the techniques I need to master to get to the bear cave. Take too much time, and I lose heart. Giving up is like running from the bear. You’ve put yourself back at square one with only the adventure to show for it.

Recently I discovered that the biggest obstacle I have is myself. There came a time when I realized that I haven’t improved much in recent months on a piece I have been working on for over a year. Moreover, there’s still a long way to go in my perspective to get to performance level on it, which is the ultimate goal. As the potential performance time began to approach, my panic grew and I really began to reconsider whether violin is for me.

Forget the fact that I haven’t been practicing as I should, right? Rather than take the hint offered by my teacher’s gentle nudges about playing with a metronome, or using more bow and paying attention to the dynamics & articulations, I continued to practice as I had in the past and expected to get better. When that miracle never materialized, I actually considered quitting.

Why wasn’t I practicing the way I should? To tell you the truth, I was afraid (still am, a little). I didn’t want to practice with the metronome because it is tricky. Using more bow feels weird. Releasing right-arm tension is really challenging. For a while there I thought it would be easier to fail than to fix the issues that are holding me back. So I moped, and I cried about it, and I whined on the internet.

The other day I saw someone brave enough to record themselves playing the same piece and post it on the internet. It wasn’t perfect, but it demonstrated a good mastery of some of the techniques I clearly was not applying, and it sounded good. Inspired, I recorded my version and requested critique. What I got back was a collection of extremely well thought out opinions that reflected the direction my teacher has been trying to get me to take on my own. Rather than feeling defeated by this, the experience really helped me recognize why the steps I had been skipping were so important. The nicest part about it was realizing that I’m doing more right than I was giving myself credit for. Honestly, the piece could sound better at this point, but it definitely doesn’t sound as bad as I thought – something my critics pointed out as well.

Sure, we all want to get to the bear, but first we have to swishy-swashy through the meadow, squelch-squerch through the mud, splash-splosh across the river, and stumble-trip through the forest. Sometimes that means pushing past our comfort level. It’s going to be tricky, weird, and challenging; but in the end I’m going to find that bear and we’re going to make beautiful music together.

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