June 2012

The Life of the Adult Amateur Player (3)

June 6, 2012 08:06

Not long ago I heard on the radio an interview with Princeton religious scholar Elaine Pagels, during which she quoted the Book of Thomas. Theological illiterate that I am, the words she spoke sounded completely fresh to me, and I was so excited by them that as soon as I got home I rushed to jot them down in my journal. Their central idea seemed to so beautifully express what it was that made my viola studies empowering.

The quote was: "If you bring forth what is within you, then what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, then what is within you will destroy you."

Hyperbole? Perhaps, but repeating the words now, I feel again that wonderful sense of connecting to something essential, something wholly reinforcing my conviction that being a viola student is one of the most important journeys I will ever take. And yes, it is also saving me.

When I discussed the quote with my sister and my brother-in-law, my sister ventured, "What if you don't know what is within you?"

Indeed. As an adult amateur player, my gift then is not necessarily musical talent. It is an even more wonderful gift, and one which I think might be far more common than musical talent: it is the gift of knowing that within me lives a longing to play, and play seriously. Do you too have that gift? And if so, do you know how lucky you are?

I firmly believe that for a large percentage of the population, a longing to play is likewise within them, although only a fraction ever bring forth, proclaim and honor their wish. In fact only this morning a colleague confided to me that at one time she had wanted to and tried to play violin.

So what stops adults like her from starting/continuing to study music? I suspect that it is primarily fear of failure. Inevitably they find other more superficial excuses such as lack of time or lack of money, but in fact those excuses generate the surface noise that drowns another voice insidiously whispering, "You would never be any good, so why bother."

Which leads me to assert finally that as a beginning or maybe by now even an intermediate violist, I am definitely not yet as good as I want to be, but after five years of applied study far better than I ever thought I could be!

But does it matter how good I am? What matters is only the richness that studying viola brings to my life... unqualified, intense richness. The musical and anatomical awareness with which playing fills me is like some inner river of vitality, inspiring and comforting me no matter what else goes on. I play for no one but myself, answering an inner call that is far more important to answer than the call to please an authority figure, or the call to be anything simply because it is approved of, or expected!

If you are reading this blog, you probably play. I hope what I write makes you appreciate that you do so, no matter your skill level. And if you don't yet play, what are you waiting for? Carpe diem!

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